Making collaboration a requirement

Faith Bosworth and Adam Hyde Jan 23, 2020

If you have followed Coko community development or if you are a strategic stakeholder thinking about building a new platform with Coko, you must have noticed that we talk a lot about collaboration. Collaboration is at the center of all we do. Collaboration means we can build on each other’s efforts, and learn from each other, which in turn means we can innovate and build better, smarter, faster, and cheaper.

However, collaboration, as it happens, is hard. At Coko we often say that the technology is the easy part of what we are trying to do, and collaboration is the difficult bit. After devoting our efforts to building technology collaboratively, we have seen some organizations do this very well, and we have had others approach us with the best of intentions to collaborate, but then, for one reason or another, they don’t quite get there.

We can define solid decision-making for technology projects as a triangle of three evenly weighted points.

  1. Decisions based on technology
  2. Decisions based on the development team’s technical preferences
  3. Decisions based on community collaboration

Enlightened organizations wanting to work within a community do not allow any of these issues to override the others, rather they find a point of equal tension in the center of these three. Each organization will have their own position on some technologies, based on hard requirements, and they will also take into consideration their development team’s preferences, but they will then work with those they are collaborating with to find the best solution for all.

Over the years, we have noticed that one of the major challenges to successful collaboration within an organization emerges from lack of alignment between the strategic stakeholders and the technical teams. A lack of alignment may or may not be immediately apparent at the beginning of the project, but symptoms will start to show up over time.

The issue we see most often, is when developer preferences are allowed to dominate and override the strategic need to collaborate. If strategic stakeholders do not constantly push for collaboration to be taken as a priority, then it’s very easy for the developers to prioritize their own technical preferences over all else.

This is, of course, not out of any malicious intent to derail the project. It may seem to make sense from the point of view of developers. It’s easier, in their mind, to just build the thing and not involve a whole lot of other people or new approaches. Strategic stakeholders, however, see a bigger picture and understand the value collaboration offers their organization.

Great collaboration in action. Audrey Hamelers (EBI) collaborating with developers and designers from YLD, Indiehosters, ScienceFair, Hindawi, eLife and Coko at a PubSweet community meeting.

How to resolve this apparent impasse and ensure that both strategic holders and the technical teams are really really aligned, and not just seemingly so? It might be a matter of an early deep dive with developers a few times on the value of strategic collaboration with other organisations, or demonstration of the success of model projects which continue to grow and thrive with the community they have built around them. It could also be that the developers need some support from project managers along the way.

At the end of the day however, the best way to guarantee collaboration is to make collaboration a requirement with the same weight as technical or feature requirements. This should be asserted from the beginning. Taking time to explore with the development team what collaboration as a requirement means for the organization is also a good idea. Then, right from the project start, Project Managers can have various checkpoints along the project lifeline which establish that the collaboration requirements are being met — just as they check feature development requirements are being met. And if collaborative requirements are not being met, the team can again brainstorm strategies to do so.

If you are thinking of joining the wonderful Coko community to build a new platform, and you are prepared to make collaboration a requirement of your project, then come join us! Not only will you be able to build the platform you want, cost effectively and quickly, but you’ll also have a load of fun and find a lot of like-minded people in the community eager to help.

About the Author

Faith Bosworth and Adam Hyde

Coko people

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