Enterprise 2.0: Reports from the Frontier

First after lunch is a panel that includes Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps from NetAge, who I saw present this morning, plus Sujatha Bodapati of ProdexNet (an IT services company with a large Indian offshore development lab) and Carole Boudinet of Volvo IT (which doesn’t make cars, but provides IT services such as SAP customization within the global group of Volvo companies), discussing more on the people side of Enterprise 2.0.

Stamps started out with a case study about Shell wherein they put the technology in place for collaboration, then had to develop new ways of working together in order to develop the internal networking skills. Boudinet continued on with information on how they developed a collaborative environment and culture at Volvo with global virtual teams, once the technology was in place to support such collaboration.

Volvo, as customers of NetAge (ah, the focus of this panel becomes clearer…) developed 10 keys to virtual team collaboration:

  1. Be organized
  2. Plan ahead
  3. Show respect
  4. Be clear
  5. Seek confirmation
  6. Dare to ask
  7. Give response
  8. Seek understanding
  9. Address problems
  10. Resolve conflicts

They developed a virtual team guide and exercises on getting started with virtual teams, and developed an iterative rollout process including assessment, coaching and exercises, then moving on to implementation of the tools and rules. They’ve developed a network of “culture ambassadors” who promote the Volvo culture and help people to adopt the culture.

An audience member asked how this helps Volvo do its job better, and it turns out that they can now gather ideas for their various manufacturing processes from participants around the world throughout their organization. This has helped them to save money by tapping into knowledge that already existed within their company.

Sujatha Bodapati then talked about collaboration challenges in their organization, with major operations in both the US and India, resulting in internal issues of culture, geography and time zones. They use email for customer and HR interaction, when a document trail is required; message boards and wikis for individual projects and technical details; online chat for quick clarifications and real-time collaboration; and web conferencing and desktop sharing for formal meetings, brainstorming and prototyping sessions, debugging, and technical support. I found this last bit to be a particularly good layout of how to use multiple communication channels depending on the type of communication required: very similar to the presentation that I heard from Craig Roth at a recent conference. ProdexNet uses a number of different processes for virtual team collaboration, including regularly-scheduled meetings and informal phone conversations, and encourages smaller team sizes of 5-7 people.

Besides talking about ProdexNet’s internal collaboration, Bodapati also talked about how they’re building a product for NetAge, and how during the entire 19-month project there has been no face-to-face communication between them: in fact, she just met Lipnack and Stamps yesterday for the first time. She sees excellent written communication skills as a key to this type of collaboration, since Stamps apparently wrote an incredibly clear set of product specifications ProdexNet to work from. They used BaseCamp for technical team collaboration, and online chat for development and debugging details. Since I often work with clients remotely, I agree that this can be done as long as there are clear communications, no resistance to using the technology required for collaboration, and a corporate culture that is open to virtual team collaboration. I have worked with many clients where we execute projects flawlessly without ever meeting face-to-face; on the flip side, I’ve had local clients who I met with several times per week but who couldn’t get past their own corporate politics and power games to allow collaboration to occur.

She stated that the bottom line to a successful virtual teams is the human interaction and attitude: willingness to take the time to communicate clearly, to have flexible work hours for time zone overlap, to travel when necessary for face-to-face interaction, and to use the right tools at the right time. An audience member asked how you “enforce willingness”, which I found pretty funny.

Lipnack finished up the session with a case study from an unnamed global financial services company, and how they developed collaboration across their global teams. They married sociology best practices with enterprise wiki technology, driven by the HR department — how’s that for three concepts that don’t often end up in the same sentence? The final result, based on before and after surveys, was a pretty impressive 34% increase in virtual collaboration.

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