Of Monoliths and Minis: A Conversation about Coordination & Collaboration Tools (Part 1)

I have been rather slammed at work – completing an assessment and putting together a proposal for my client … which deals with certain challenges regarding knowledge transfer for business process outsourcing. In the course of my work, I’ve had conversations with several folks about coordination and collaboration technologies … here’s the first one …

Me: I’m trying to find a way to bring a virtual team together to coordinate their efforts on project work.

Team mate: Well, we have Sharepoint. It’s already available. Won’t that work?

Me: First of all, I’m not a big fan of Sharepoint. [Bear in mind that the company has an older version of Sharepoint … and there’s no commitment in upgrading to the new version] But more to the point … it can only be accessed inside the firewall – so everyone needs to have network access … then …

Team mate: But that’s easily done. Just send a request to the administrator.

Me: Let me finish … because there’s more to it than getting people access. The issue at hand is that I think we need a ‘push’ rather than a ‘pull.’

Team mate: You can do that by setting up alerts. This way when someone adds or changes something, they’ll get an email telling them.

Me: But this assumes that the structure is in place and people have to predict that a certain section of the site is going to be useful and used. There have been many times when I have set up alerts only to never get an email … because no one uses that part. And then …

Team mate: So, you can email the team – send out a group email – informing them of any new section that’s created. Or you can send out an email that lists the sections that they should set alerts for.

Me: It still seems to be inflexible, though. I can easily see a situation where someone either forgets to set an alert … or someone just misses that email entirely – given the tons of email everyone receives. Then they’d rightly make the claim that they never saw the message … and we could be stuck with folks who just don’t keep track of things.

Team mate: But it’s the tool that we already have.

Me: That’s part of the problem, too. It is given to us as a “one size fits all” model; and everything has to be squeezed into it – whether or not it is, in fact, the best tool.
I’m looking for the best tool – or group of tools – to improve coordination, communication and collaboration so that the work gets done as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Team mate: I don’t think that you’re giving this a chance to work for you. So far everything that you’ve mentioned can be addressed using Sharepoint, in some way.

Me: But it’s like trying to drive a square peg into a round hole. The nature of this work is that there will be new team members coming on board, as others leave the project team. You can’t set up alerts to be retroactive in Sharepoint. And as the project’s requirements change – maybe even dramatically change – where the structure of the collaboration tool has to change itself, then we’re kinda stuck.
The way we have Sharepoint set up just doesn’t allow for this degree of flexibility.

Team mate: But it’s what we have. We’re using it now for other things. You should be able to figure out how to use it for what you need.


I’m not advocating for using a new tool just for the sake of its ‘newness’ … The issue for me is the monolithic implementation and management of a tool like Sharepoint is an attempt at one-size-fits-all where we have to force-fit it into our needs … without really meeting our needs.

I don’t necessarily mean to pick on Sharepoint, per se. It just happens to be the one tool that the company has purchased and installed. It’s what they support (allegedly). My beef could be with any technology platform that has become ‘standard,’ yet doesn’t get the job done as it needs to be.

In this day of Web 2.0 and mashups and all that … it seems counterintuitive (and even counterproductive) that we should rely on a tech tool/platform that is so large as to be glacial in its capability to adapt to ever faster business needs.

The nature of this particular project team is that they are all knowledge workers coming together on a process methodology – which is in flux and will continue to evolve and change as the work moves forward. So, any coordination or collaboration technology has to be highly adaptable, changeable, responsive, easy to use … not too much to ask for, huh?!?

So, this project team just won’t use the large-scale platform much … and if they don’t use it for coordination and collaboration, they’ll be using something. Or they’ll just keep all the knowledge and best practices/lessons learned and ideas to themselves … not conducive for coordination.

I know there are many small apps out there … that’ll be for Part Two of this post.

About Rory

I make my home in the central part of the Garden State along with my family. When I'm not working as an Instructional Designer (focusing mostly on Web-Based learning ... and other eLearning technologies) or researching something, I'm found at home playing computer or video games. Among other things, I volunteer as a choir member and catechist for 8th graders at my parish.
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6 Responses to Of Monoliths and Minis: A Conversation about Coordination & Collaboration Tools (Part 1)

  1. nkilkenny says:

    Good for you! You are so right on with your assessments about the usability issues, involving new members, etc. I simply don’t understand why most of these groups can understand that a wiki would get the same thing done. It drives me bonkers. If you have a past history of problems with sharepoint it might help to document the issues that came up.

  2. Rory says:

    Hi nkilkenny …
    As much as I pull my hair out at times … operating under the assumption that my colleagues aren’t willfully throwing up roadblocks and that they are working with the best of intentions …

    Much of the resistance I find is in a presumptive lack of central control regarding wikis and other user-generated tools. …

    My hope is that this new project is so different from anything we’ve ever attempted before, we could get some buy-in for other tools/platforms for coordination, communication and collaboration.

    I’ll keep you posted.


  3. Pingback: Of Monoliths and Minis (Part 3): The problem with small apps « Learn-Learn-Learn

  4. Maria says:

    I went through this exact exasperation with the same needs you describe, and thus started fledgling use of Google Groups. It has been a decent place to start. It’s also given us a way to secretly have some public web storage space for Flash (swf) files that we may want to share with outsiders. The corporate IT stronghold doesn’t know, and may or may not be threatened by, this circumventing of the locked-down corporate network.

  5. Rory says:

    Maria – thanks for the comment.

    I’ve not tried Google Groups myself. I have come to learn the hard way not to be too “under the radar” regarding corp IT. While such a solution may meet your needs – at least temporarily – should IT or any executive group, for that matter, believe that the solution is in violation of some arcane policy … it’s a dangerous position to be in to be sure.

    My frustrations tend to deal with colleagues (IT and non-IT alike) who are just so set in their ways … that they advocate the use of a tool just because the enterprise bought it. To that I say, “big whoop!”

    A tool is good so long as it actually meets the needs of its users (us).

    Continuing the ‘good fight’

  6. Pingback: Collaboration is about people « Learn-Learn-Learn

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