Failure to Collaborate Threatens All Large Software Projects

There’s a famous quotation from the classic movie Cool Hand Luke that applies to many business situations; “What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.” In many post-mortem evaluations of failed projects, inadequate communication is cited as a primary reason for team turmoil.

Companies have responded by making it easier to communicate. Many of us carry smartphones enabling us to receive and reply to e-mail messages anytime, anywhere — even on vacation. We also have instant messaging and text messaging that allow informal conversations with anyone regardless of location.

Now that we’ve solved the communication problem, many people argue that over-communication has become a major burden. In particular, managers are overwhelmed by the non-stop blizzard of messages that rage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There simply isn’t enough time to think through and understand every message.

The real problem is no longer failure to communicate. It’s failure to collaborate.

Teams and workgroups need more than the ability to send and receive messages. Exchanging messages certainly qualifies as communicating but it’s not exactly collaborative. High-performance teams must be able to share knowledge while using it to generate new ideas.

I’m a big fan of software tools. Technology has created the information overload problem and technology can solve it.

There’s an abundance of software tools available that enable collaboration. They fall under the three broad categories of document, content and knowledge management tools. The terms are often used interchangeably however there are differences among the three.

Types of collaboration tools

Document management is a structured means of storing, locating, and tracking business documents. The files can be word processing documents, spreadsheets, images, audio or video recordings, or any other file type. Multiple revisions of the files can be saved showing how the information evolved. In addition, security controls define who has read or write access to the documents.

Content management is focused on creating documents and controlling changes to their contents. This solution is used when two or more people are creating or modifying a single file such as a word processing document. Additions and changes are controlled by the software to avoid conflicts.

Knowledge management is about capturing worker experiences and making the information available to others. Most companies do this by creating word processing files or spreadsheets. While effective in capturing information, this approach leaves much to be desired in sharing it. A knowledge management system stores information in a database making it much easier and faster to search and retrieve.

Collaboration tools solve two large and growing problems. The first problem is information overload. Most of us are nearly drowning in a vast sea of computer data. If it’s not managed, it’s useless.

The second problem is information sharing. It’s great if one of your employees seems to have all the answers but what about everyone else? What happens if that gifted employee leaves the company?

Communicating has gotten much easier making failure to communicate less of an issue. Of course, progress brings new problems. Now we have to deal with failure to collaborate.

Don’t let it happen to your team!

While there are a variety of commercial vendors offering software products, check out for information about open-source content management systems.

Updated: June 7, 2012 — 10:12 pm