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In today’s operating environment the ability to bring dispersed teams together is becoming a critical business advantage.
Teams (focused on, for example, software development or support) often operate from scattered locations, their collaboration fittingly facilitated by technology. It is a time-honoured and cost-effective way of sourcing the best talent and input without having to hire for every new requirement or delay development due to a lack of available skills.
A jumble of bug and ticket tracking, communication and collaboration tools supports the intense interactions and vital outcomes of such teams. But do these tools represent the best technology has to offer?
In short, they don’t.
While these tools do a great job of connecting teams and managing the flows and processes of projects and tasks, their ‘softer’ shortcomings are apparent in a virtual setting. Essentially, they do not offer a means to replicate the rich collaboration and knowledge transfer that naturally happens in teams that are physically close.
This problem can be overcome by using social business software (SBS) to augment the interactions of technology teams.
How does SBS help?
SBS tools use social media concepts such as newsfeeds, focus groups and messaging to facilitate conversations on topics of shared interest in organisational communities, thus bringing the ambience of physically close teams to virtual teams.
As one would share food, health, travel and shopping discoveries on social media, so developers like to talk shop in a social sphere. Leading SBS tools make it easy to share, document and manage approaches, methods and discoveries, thereby enriching collaboration and knowledge transfer and supporting hard project, or support, deliverables.
By comparison, tools that have a familiar place in the tech department, such as Jira and Basecamp, are highly structured — a digital checklist.
They set out the necessary workflows and ticket items that allow teams to keep track of software project deliverables, but do little to capture and use high-value learnings from conversations, such as fault-finding and trouble-shooting, reflection, user-feedback and retained learning which naturally occur within a development environment.
Talk AND action
This doesn’t mean that SBS is all talk and no action. Conversations can be both structured and spontaneous, and it’s easy to separate the two as important threads naturally prevail. Incorporation of hashtags and @ signs further allow for easy trends analysis and the search of conversations.
Another problem with using only traditional project tools is the limited scope given to users. Tickets are assigned to a limited number of people, which puts the talents of others out of range when seeking solutions to problems.
SBS tools, by contrast, allow questions to be put to a broader audience. It has often been our experience that someone in an organisation comes up with a breakthrough idea without being personally involved in a project.
SBS tools are also immensely useful with ‘on-boarding’ new team members, whether they are new recruits, temporary consultants or on secondment from within the company. A new member can easily go into conversation histories to check team members and their remits, contributions over time and a lot of other facets affording insight into how the team operates.
Someone who inherits an empty email inbox does not have quite the same advantage. (Nor does a ticket-based system give one the opportunity to delve into learnings as and when needed. Induction programmes would do well to adopt SBS as a means to access materials long forgotten as they become relevant to the new recruit again.)
These benefits are equally valid for tech teams within and outside organisations, for example working on open source, bespoke or community-based projects.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, even entire technology development firms can benefit from SBS as a business enabler combining onsite and remote working from different locations.
This kind of working arrangement can continue where necessary, not as a defining configuration, but as one that lends flexibility and speed to market responses. This sort of power and flexibility will find resonance with almost any organisation or association of individuals.
Image: Creative Sustainability via Flickr.