It’s not the software, it’s how you use it

What drives collaboration?  It is not the latest collaboration software, offering eye-popping features and kick-ass integration.  It is the desire of teams to collaborate.  Like the proverbial horse, you can lead a team to collaboration, but you can’t make them collaborate.

On of my projects now I’m working with an amazing team of great software developers.  The team is small, there are 6 of us.  The velocity of the project is great with 2-week sprints delivering minimally viable product at each iteration.  The team simply must collaborate in order to survive and to keep on top of the project.

Before I joined the project, the team chose Basecamp from 37signals.  Basecamp wouldn’t have been my first choice.  Having used Quickr, Connections, SharePoint, I find Basecamp somewhat primitive, lacking features that I’m used to with other packages.  But it is not the strengths or weaknesses of Basecamp that determine my teams’ ability to collaborate.  It is the team’s desire to collaborate that drives collaboration.

All team members religiously engage in discussions, posting updates and tracking their progress on Basecamp.  Basecamp has also become a vehicle for outbound communication from the team to other stakeholders in the organization.  When the project will be done, all of the project’s history and all of its intellectual capital will be in Basecamp.

It is a dream come true for many organizations trying to foster internal collaboration, trying to harvest the wealth of knowledge locked in employees’ heads and often lost with them.  It is a problem that organizations try to solve with this or that latest software.  But if there’s no desire to share, if collaboration is not being fostered, then no amount of bells and whistles can fix it.



IBM Lotus Connections 2.5 – Book Review

The wonderful folks at Pearson Education sent me a copy of a new book from IBM Press IBM Lotus Connections 2.5.  The book was written by a team of some very talented people at IBM, including Tim Speed.  Several years ago I had an opportunity to work with Tim Speed on a Domino 6 upgrade project.  Everything I know about executing a proper Domino upgrade project, measuring a server’s performance and gauging hardware resources I learned from Tim Speed.  So having Tim’s name on the list of authors set certain expectations for me.  And I was not disappointed.  The book arrived at a perfect time: we at PSC were in the process of deploying Connections 2.5 internally and I was able to use the book right away learning what was possible and how to use some of the new features.

Let me begin by saying that this book is not for the faint of heart — it is very technical.  Other than some opening sections about Social Networking, the book gets real technical real quick.  Lotus Connections is arguably the best product to come out of Lotus in a long time.  But for us, the long time Lotus experts, Connections is very different from other Lotus products that we may be familiar and comfortable with.  The book got me to appreciate the complexity of Connections, the architecture and the design behind it.

The book does a good job explaining what is involved in deploying Lotus Connections in an organization and how to install it.  The book covers the options for connecting it to different LDAP directories, using different databases and platforms.  The different scripts that need to be run as a part of installation and configuration and the various “behind the scenes” configuration variables make this book invaluable for anyone who has to configure and administer Lotus Connections.

For a consultant specializing in advising organizations on best practices of planning and deploying an enterprise social networking platform, the book offers some very valuable tidbits.   And the section on using Lotus Connections covers Day-In-The-Life scenarios, which would help any Lotus Connections evangelist help their coworkers learn how to make Enterprise Social Software work for them.

Of course, the book is not without its faults, although most of them are not with its content but rather with the organization of the book itself.

First of all, I found that the Index of the book was a disaster.  The multiple levels of indentation, the run-on indents that span multiple columns and pages, the mixing of proper and lower case words — all of it made the Index very confusing and nearly useless.

The organization of the book seemed done rather haphazardly.  It is a reference book written by techies for techies: if you want to do THIS, here’s a section that explains how to do it.  But the poorly organized Index makes it fail as a good Reference.  And if you’re looking for a book to guide you through the steps of installing, configuring and setting up Lotus Connections, this book is probably not going to work for you.

And on the content side, the book made no mention of SharePoint.  It would’ve been good to see a section on integrating Lotus Connections with SharePoint.  Instead, the authors decided to include a section on integrating with Confluence – an odd choice.

In conclusion, this book was written by a team of very talented and knowledgeable individuals.  They compiled good reference material for everyone working with Lotus Connections: administrators installing and managing Connections, developers extending Connections through APIs and widgets, evangelists and consultants supporting social software deployments in organizations.   The book, however, falls short of being a great reference book based on its organization and index.  It may be better in an online version, where it is fully searchable.  A free online edition is available for 45 days through the Safari Books Subscription service.

Jive Software Fall Road Show and Some Lessons

The Jive Software’s Fall Road Show was in Chicago today. The topic of discussion — “Integrating Social Media with Your Marketing Strategy”. I’ve been following Jive software for some while now but this is the first event that I attended. I think they have a great product, which parallels the needs of most organizations out there. And today they did a nice job talking about social media and their experiences helping companies build social network sites using their software. The seminar was not focused on selling their software, there was no sales pitch. This was more of an educational opportunity, telling a story of what to do if you want to build an online social community around your company.

Some interesting facts to consider:

People participating in your social network are more likely to spend more money with you.

People participating in your social network are likely to be loyal to your brand.

Later the same day I was on a sales call visiting a large organization. One of things they mentioned is that they tried a small pilot of Lotus Connections last summer. The pilot was well received by the summer interns, but now the interns are gone and they are not sure what to do with it. They thought that the software was good but they weren’t sure if the corporate culture was right or ready for an online social network. In addition, they were concerned with how to monitor the content being posted. Armed with the well-formulated thoughts from the seminar, we talked about the 4 steps to a successful social network: Plan, Design, Launch, Monitor.

A good plan and a well-designed site will go a long way to ensure a successful launch. Make sure you know who you want to be in your social network, design a community to meet their needs and figure out how to attract them. The software selection comes 3rd in the planning process. It should not be the main driver for how your community will look and act.

I am hoping PSC will be able to help these folks as they take another stab at building an internal social network.

PSC Begins Rollout of Lotus Connections

This week we at PSC started to roll out Lotus Connections. We haven’t quite opened it “to the public”, so to speak, that’s coming in 2 weeks on the 25th. At this point, a few of us are beginning to use it building up content.

PSC is a small company but dispersed: consultants working at various client sites, some consultants working from home, others working from the office. We intend to use this social networking platform to keep up with everyone and everything that goes on in the company.

I’m looking forward to exploring different ways Lotus Connections can be used.