Chad Jackson

A Framework to Reclaim a Tarnished Yet Worthy Term: Collaboration

November 17, 2010

How do you feel about the term collaboration? I know. I know. The ‘sigh and roll your eyes’ reaction is a pretty common one. And in fact I react that way myself more often than not. Over the past ten years, collaboration has been used left, right and center to describe just about anything and everything in the product development realm. And as a result, no one really knows what it means anymore. Ask ten people for a definition of collaboration and you’ll get twenty back.

A Framework to Reclaim a Tarnished Yet Worthy Term: Collaboration

How do you feel about the term collaboration? I know. I know. The ‘sigh and roll your eyes’ reaction is a pretty common one. And in fact I react that way myself more often than not. Over the past ten years, collaboration has been used left, right and center to describe just about anything and everything in the product development realm. And as a result, no one really knows what it means anymore. Ask ten people for a definition of collaboration and you’ll get twenty back.

But here’s the rub. I like the term collaboration. It truly does describe the act of two people working as a team. And if there’s one thing we know, product development is a team sport. But also we may have no choice. There really is a dearth of good alternatives for it.

Regardless, I think the situation is salvageable. I think the root of the problem is the use of the term collaboration has lacked specificity. When you use collaboration by itself, you don’t know if someone is talking about resolving a problem in building a 3D model or coming to consensus about a decision in a phase-gate process. With that in mind, here’s some more specificity around collaboration.

Limited to Remote Collaboration

As a point of clarification, let me start by saying that all of the collaboration mediums shown below are limited to remote collaboration scenarios. That means at least some of the parties involved in the collaboration are remotely participating. If everyone’s in the same room, then most of the communications are face-to-face. That’s not to say there aren’t technologies to help there. However that’s not the focus here.

Medium and Real-Time Aspects of Collaboration

When it comes to the communication aspect of collaboration, there are many mediums that can be used. Additionally, the interaction can be in real-time or intermittent.

 

Textual communications specifically are a special scenario. Almost any of those textual technologies shown can enable real-time of intermittent communication. It just depends on how responsive the individuals are that are collaborating. Audio, screensharing and video conferencing have made tremendous strides in recent years.

What’s interesting is that during a collaboration, multiple mediums are often being used simultaneously. There’s often someone sharing a presentation while also on a conference call. But there’s also the side conversations in instant messenger, micro-blogging to twitter and sending emails. Today’s collaboration is a study in multi-tasking.

So far, we really haven’t talked about anything that’s specific to product development. In fact, any of these points really are applicable to any type of company and almost any functional organization. In the next post on collaboration, we’ll dive into more specific examples of collaboration in product development, the types of activities that need to be supported and the different types of digital deliverables that provide context.

So what do you think? Does it make sense to reclaim or keep using the term collaboration? Are there any types of collaboration that have been missed? Sound off and let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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