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Thoughts on a McKinsey study on technology and workforce collaboration

 A study published in the McKinsey Quarterly in October suggests both why productivity improvement is needed in the collaborative work world and ways to bring it about. Collaboration can be improved by understanding the requirements for specific tasks, identifying which tasks create the most value for the organization, and identifying any inefficiencies and wasted effort that may be reducing the productivity.

Why is productivity improvement needed? McKinsey’s researchers estimated that at least 20 percent and as much as 50 percent of collaborative activity results in wasted effort. Even if we are on the low end here at the SAP Community Network, that is still a lot of expensive effort for naught, so it behooves all of us to ensure that our collaborative work adds value.

So what are the objectives of our collaboration here at the SAP Community Network? SAP’s concept of co-innovation – customers and partners working together with SAP to bring about solution improvements – is a key area where we are seeing the value of effective collaboration. The SAP Mentor initiative is one way that SAP is fostering closer relationships among thought leaders including customers, partners, and SAP employees. The ASUG Influence program is another successful collaboration model, as well as several recent collaborative books produced by members of our community. The use of web technologies such as the wikis and the Collaboration Workspace support this kind of teamwork. Perhaps you can think of other such successful collaboration initiatives in our community.

Thei McKinsey research team documented 10 forms of wasted effort in collaboration, including:

  • Divergence/ wasted effort due to politics or mismatched goals
  • Misunderstanding
  • Undercommunicating
  • Interpreting communication or artifacts
  • Searching for information or the right resource
  • Wasted motion in handoffs
  • Excess processing or creation of excess artifacts
  • Translation/ conversion to new outputs
  • Waiting for reviews and approvals
  • Incorrect use of methods and technologies

One of the forms of waste that may sound familiar is what McKinsey called “interpretation” waste, such as when the content of digital communications is reworked for  different distribution channels and different audiences. Co-authored documents such as wikis can help reduce this kind of waste. Some of the forms of waste may sound familiar to you when you consider the collaboration that is ongoing in your workplace and other organizations; I encourage you to take a closer look for improvement opportunities.

Our use of web technologies here in the SAP Communities has us well positioned for effective collaboration, but it is in all of our best interests to watch for inefficiencies that can creep into our processes and undermine our efforts.

I would like to acknowledge the researchers and authors of the McKinsey study, James Manyika, Kara Sprague, and Lareina Yee, and extend my appreciation to the McKinsey Quarterly for granting me permission to quote their work.

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      Author's profile photo Bill Wood
      Bill Wood
      I'm a pretty successful independent contractor.  Been working exclusively with SAP since 1994 and have lots of very satisfied clients.  However, as an independent I'm also always looking for new opportunities and trying to network. 

      With that background in mind I've noticed that while there are a few talented individuals here on the SDN forums, it is painfully obvious that the **vast majority** of posts are from individuals who have faked their way onto their first project and are posting here to get help in navigating their way through their first SAP project.

      On occasion, for some of the trickier or more difficult questions that indicate some measure of experience I respond.  However responding is the same is "free consulting," especially to some of the more complex issues.  At the end of my posts I put a signature line.  Not a sales pitch, but a standard company centered signature line you would see in any professional e-mail correspondance.  I've been dinged for this.

      And help me understand here, why is this a problem?  Why can't SAP allow a simple signature line with some standards and limitations around it?

      After all, there has to be some tradeoff.  Having much more senior and seasoned consultants participate in forum discussions, in problem solving, in contributing to knowledge sharing would certainly increase the quality of collaboration.  Allowing a simple signature line would provide some minimal incentive to increase participation from senior level resources whether they are independent or whether they work for another company as a networking or prospecting "trade off" for the "free" consulting that is provided. 

      For me, without at least a minimal tradeoff, I see little value in forum participation.  Even ASUG allowed standard company signature lines on their posts.  There is some possibility of value in the Blog postings, but little else.  If you want to change some things then develop a real value proposition for me to participate.  Help me understand what the incentive is for increasing contributions and participation.

      Points are cute, but they don't do a whole lot for me and I would guess that most of the really experienced consultants probably feel the same way.

      Bill Wood, R3Now.com Consulting...

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      Since I do not work for SAP, I can only speak for myself, and for me, the value I get from participating in the SAP Communities, both in ASUG and in the SDN Communities, is two-fold: a small measure of recognition as a thought-leader in the community and the satisfaction of giving back / paying it forward. I can appreciate your frustration at "low value" posts on discussion forums; hopefully someone from SAP will be able to comment.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the forums on SDN.

      Gretchen

      Author's profile photo Bill Wood
      Bill Wood
      Sorry I didn't have a clearer segway into my previous post and its tie-in to the McKinsey study you mentioned.

      As the McKinsey study points out with the bulleted list, my "rant" was an example of a collaboration killer using the SAP forum postings as an example. 

      Some organizations do not always consider the affect of some of their policies or practices on collaboration.  On whether it encourages or discourages collaboration.  Hence my post about what I personally believe is a silly SAP practice related to posting.

      As I pointed out, no matter how altruistic even SAP may portray itself to be through the SDN, it is still a profit making enterprise like so many of the other consultants and firms out there.  As a result it works in everyone's interest to encourage both quality and volume of collaboration. 

      Thanks for your comments and I appreciate your thoughtful input.  On recognition for being a thought leader I guess it's less of a motivator for me as much as it is a means to an end. Obviously in the consulting world knowledge capital is what sells.

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Having a serious conversation on "silly practices" is certainly welcomed in this community and you will find numerous examples of silly conversations on serious practices as well, both in the suggestions forum and in the coffee corner.  I think you will also find, if you take the time to learn the "culture" of the community, that many of the practices have evolved over time to address issues of quality.  The very practice you critique was a product of community discontent with solicitations.  I know from past experiences with the ASUG forums that there is a strong aversion to the same so it surprises me that blatant self-promotion would be tolerated there either.  I think the community might engage in a discussion of the points you raise Bill if you create a thread in the forums I mention above (if you haven't already).  If the practices are silly, they certainly should be debated and revisited.  And by the way, there are many mechanisms for giving access to contact information which might even be more effective than the manner you attempt.  Your name in the forum links to your business card which in turn can be filled to expose as much or as little as you wish to about your professional self. In addition there is the tie-in to Linkedin which also provides adequate opportunity for the same. So consider perhaps that by-line info in a forum thread might be viewed as redundancy.  Also a McKinsey no-no bulletpoint by the way.
      In any event many of your points are well taken and no reason not to be further expanded.
      Do keep in mind that each of us bears the responsibility of how we comport ourselves here and in that light, each of us should be mindful of how we "sound" to others.  IMHO if I get feedback for being preachy, or self-serving, or biased or overly political, I would tend to attempt to weigh the possibility that others might indeed be reading me that way despite my own opinions of how I think I am being read.
      Author's profile photo Bill Wood
      Bill Wood
      Thank you Marilyn for your thoughtful response.  I understand the concern about blatant sales pitches or plain old self-promotion, but I am talking about a signature line.  Granted those signature lines do serve a bit of a "sales" purpose, but they also help to encourage participation.  In my past experience on ASUG any blatant or very flagrant self-promotion was discouraged even though some individuals used their posts as methods to "hawk" specific products they were trying to sell.  All I'm referring to is a signature line.  And if there is a problem with the level of promotion the it would not be difficult to limit the number of lines, the content, etc.  And your comments are well-received.  I am not offended or upset by them.

      The only thing that really, really sticks in my craw are the fakes.  Unfortunately I have a bit of a struggle with that having "paid my dues" the old fashioned way.  And if I come off as "preachy" or self-serving please, please let me know.  I am a big boy and I am not afraid of personal reflection based on other's perceptions.

      Thanks again...

      Bill

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      most of their points apply to any community, not necessarily on line. half of the effort of any implementation project is politics or knowing who decision makers are and influencing them. the quarterly is a really nice publication, but not really accessible to many independents like myself, same as gartner and bunch of other publication/advertising content.
      i think sdn is great in mixing both internal sap and external resources and being quite successful at it. yes, you have to be careful considering who your audience is, but you also get to know the players or at least some of them because i'm convinced there are great many more exprienced professionals outside of the network or sharing their loyalties with other vendors or professional groups who stay invisible to most of sdn traffic.
      why can't mckinsey or gartner point to any other online communities and show how they stack up against sdn and each other?
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      I'm not sure I follow the point you were trying to make about the McKinsey study; of course their points can apply to any community, which is why I encouraged readers to consider their findings in the context of other organizations. Neither the Quarterly article nor my post make any claim that their points about collaboration apply exclusively to online communities.

      As to comparative studies of online communities, in fact there have been both scholarly and commercial research studies of online communities. See the Social Media Trends wiki section for more information.

      http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/profile/Social+Media+Trends

      Yes, I imagine that McKinsey Quarterly may not be on the reading list of the majority of SDN members. As a former McKinsey employee I am fortunate to have an alumni subscription. That is precisely why I write about the studies that may be of interest to my readers in this community. I'm glad to know that it helps fill a gap for you. Thanks for the feedback.

      Gretchen

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      great list! so, i guess McKinsey is treating their alumni a tad better than Gartner theirs ;-). i am simply making a point that neither has come up with a beauty pageant list, yet. have you seen anything?
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      Greg, I hadn't really looked into it and do not have any plans to do so at this time, but a Google search on "online communities comparative study" turned up a number of hits. If you are all that curious, good luck with your research. I will look forward to a future post on your findings!

      Gretchen

      Author's profile photo David Cruickshank
      David Cruickshank
      This is always a good topic to expplore with community. The bulleted list of findings however suggest things re more negative than they perhaps are or need to be.

      First Bullet:

      Divergence/ wasted effort due to politics or mismatched goals

      Innovation = creativity + Implementation.
      Creativity stems from a divergent process and Implmentation is derived from a convergent process. In the interest of pursuing innovation (ideally innovation leading to disruptive growth opportunity), we need divergence so as listed here it suggests that is useless and unwanted.

      At the beginning of an innovation process is a time for brainstorming, collecting ideas from inside and outside the firm. Idea generation is of a divergent nature. The trick is the "transition" to the convergent process. How do you decide which idea, is the one that can lead to commercial success?  Maybe better meetings hitched to better leadership is where we look first. There is nothing wrong with free thinking and keeping the idea generation loose. Eienstien thought the mind worked best with respect to its creative power when it is at play. Within the framework of business we of course need structure too so how do we structure those creative sessions to be results oriented? Maybe the framework of these early meetings includes a deeper dive into customer requirements and a more thorough understanding of the business drivers so that the discussions include not jut what is and isn't technically feasible, but examines economic feasibility at the same time.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author
      David,
      I supposed I can't argue with your assertion that collaborators with divergent political agendas or goals can make collaboration more creative. However, if my goal is to create the world's best lowfat cheesecake recipe and your goal is to develop the world's best and richest cheese fondue recipe, while the collaboration may be creative, I'm not sure that it would efficiently create a recipe for anything edible, much less great, and it would very likely result in the wasted effort that the McKinsey researchers found. I have to agree with the McKinsey folks that misaligned political agendas or mismatched goals can result in inefficient collaboration. But you go ahead and enjoy the process of coming up with that very creative cheesecake-fondue!

      I'm glad you have enjoyed the discussion.

      Gretchen

      Author's profile photo David Cruickshank
      David Cruickshank
      I would agree that our lo-fat cheese cake fondue collaboration would be a wasted effort (of course if there is an addressable market for such a thing that you can substantiate...), this is why I suggested that the divergent activity needs to be fused with purpose. Sometimes engineers do collaborate without any discrete target or expecation in mind and something cool comes of it-...typically quitting their jos and forming a start up. 🙂

      Collaboarting companies need to understand the business drivers motivating both sides and understand if the co-innovation, even if feasible, can result in a commercial success to the firms choosing to collaborate.