Friday, September 14, 2012

True Collaboration

The finest example of true collaboration I had the pleasure to witness took place during an SAP project years back.  It started out simply enough when I needed to produce some statistics from SAP but lacked the location of each user.  We needed to get that data into each SAP user’s profile from some external source.  A simple problem statement, yet lacking a simple answer.

The solution presented itself through a most unlikely collaboration source: a simple email stream.  It started with an idea that would work, but at a fairly steep cost, in the six figure range.  That first email was sent to about a dozen people.  A short time later, someone else improved on the first idea.  Then another, and then another.  Somewhere in the middle of the ten or so emails that eventually became part of a stream of ideas, I improved on the idea.  And then my idea was further improved.  At the end of the stream, the final idea would take a couple hours of time and no further outlay of dollars.  I sat amazed at this string of creativity and the fantastic solution.  

Then I took a step back and realized how fantastic and unique this was from a people standpoint.  And how the credit for this was not just in the final idea’s creator, but everyone involved.  

The person submitting the original idea took what most people would consider a bold and probably an unwise risk.  But it took some uncommon bravery to write down a well thought out idea for a group of bright people to critique.  That bravery cannot be understated, and even though we all knew each other pretty well, it can still be a risky thing to do, particularly to one’s own ego.  But without that start, it’s likely the problem would not have been solved.  He deserved a special thank you and a nice chunk of the credit.

Then there were the group of people, myself included, that incrementally improved on the first idea.  And although we also didn’t find the final solution, we kept the energy alive and the ideas flowing.  Each of us deserve some of the credit for getting to the final solution.  

The person with the final solution certainly deserves their share of credit.  They designed a very elegant solution that was quick to implement and at only the cost of a couple hours of time.  

Bravery, energy and ideas are the lifeblood of collaboration, not cool social media tools.  Start and end with people.  Give credit to everyone that participates.  The rest (tools) will take care of itself.

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