When we were all physically located in the same building collaboration was a collection of meetings to reach the stated goal. First to flesh out the details of the project – go from concept to specific, consensus from contributors, logistics & interim deadlines from participants, and collective review of it all. Meet and work together – or go away and work, come back & share.
The outcome was labor intensive and time consuming – all these people meeting together for all those meetings – to satisfy the original purpose or charter of the project. The initial development and interim refinement of the project was a function of the participants' ability to articulate ideas and persuade others to adopt them – the result was often consensus conservatism or the leader's fiat.
Innovation is difficult in such an environment – it's hard for an innovative thinker to convey a new idea or approach verbally and achieve the needed consensus – even with visual or written aids. Collaboration was often just the same old work with a rotating resource pool. Breakthroughs and radical new approaches or products were rare.
In the environment of the New Normal the model is changing (or has) with a number of independents or small firms coming together from different locations to collaborate on a project. Once the initial discussion of the project vision, the goals, the time line, and the assignment of responsibilities has been completed – usually not with all participants physically together in the same room – the work begins. Under the New Normal there is a shift in the method of approaching the work, however.
It is common for one of the contributors to work up a high-level but detailed view of some or all of the project outputs and send it to the other collaborators for review and comment. During this process, the contributor has fleshed out specifics, relationships of components, design strengths & weaknesses, and alternative or innovative approaches to achieving the project goals. With focus comes learning, with application comes understanding.
The other collaborators review what's provided and offer feedback and alternative ideas. Adjustments are incorporated as necessary and the next contributor takes this work to build on for the next level of forward progress in the project.
I am part of an asynchronous collaboration project to develop a software tool – one contributor wrote descriptions of what the tool is intended to do, how he would use it, and an outline of the output to the user. From these documents, I developed the design architecture for the tool and noted additions needed, and interrelation ships in operation. The third collaborator coded the software from the design diagram and added several additional items while streamlining access to the different elements. Between each stage was a brief conversation and agreement on changes & additions.
Each of us learned more about the tool and discovered element to add or modify for greater effectiveness, while gaining a deeper understanding of how best to support the end user. We have also noted that this approach does not add to each person's 'hands-on' time, but it significantly eliminates the non-productive meeting time of the past collaboration process.
With collaborators today in many different locations and organizations, balancing multiple projects, and being compensated on results rather than time spent, the New Normal asynchronous collaboration is a more practical approach to working together. In addition, innovation is built in to each stage – it is implemented and can be reviewed in practice, not just talked about in concept.
Share your experience with asynchronous collaboration by commenting on this post.
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Asynchronous processes appeared in manufacturing years ago, where products were built to a specific plan within prescribed tolerances, at different sites. When the truck arrived with pre-built rafters for a complex hip roof, the structure below had to square and level for the trusses to fit. That would knock more than 40% off the cost of erecting that part of the structure...at higher quality than custom built on-site.
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