Embedded Collaboration

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. - Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
In a meeting today at a client, people were talking continuously about how the IT organization and business have to improve their collaboration. The business feels a considerable amount of pain about the lack of collaboration with IT, and IT in turn is feeling some pain collaborating with the business during a transition to Agile.

The problem is, though, that what these people are saying is collaboration isn't really what they think it is. Get together for a meeting, come to some decisions, write up some action items and go away to do some more work until the next meeting. All good stuff, right? Sure, and there's communication going on and people were working together. But is it the type of collaboration that's required to create a true partnership between business and IT? No.

Someone at this same meeting talked about how business was the Customer and the IT group served them. That doesn't sound like collaboration to me. It's a model for doing business, but it's quite deficient with respect to the delivery of systems.

What's required is Embedded Collaboration. There is no functional separation of business and IT on a project - they are living and working together, breathing the same air, meeting at the same water coolers. I worked in this model from 1992 to 1994 at a government client (see Agile Circa 1988), and at a smaller scale in earlier work. Having the development team located in the same physical space as the business it supports is an immensely powerful way to promote and support the level of collaboration required.

I'm interested to hear about other organizations that have used this model. Is it universally good? Are there hidden challenges?


Lisa said…
Great post! Last year our team took Mary and Tom Poppendieck to breakfast and they came to our Scrum and gave us some ideas on what we were doing. They told a story of a team that did just what you're advocating. We're a tiny company so we all share one big space, but we needed to learn much more about the business.

We focused on this for the past year. Each team member took on one area of the system to learn about, sitting with the business person doing that job, documenting it, and finding ways we could help the business with software. It has made a huge difference. We feel much more like we are one team with the business. We have lots more true collaboration in pursuing real business value.

So, +1 on "embedded collaboration"!
Unknown said…
One way to align business and IT is to support the authoring of specifications in executable English.

There's emerging technology that does this. It's a kind of Wiki, for collaboratively specifying applications as business rules in English.

The technology is online at the site below, and shared use is free.
There are examples, papers and presentations, as well as the Wiki itself.

Internet Business Logic
A Wiki and SOA Endpoint for Executable Open Vocabulary English over SQL and RDF
Online at www.reengineeringllc.com
GW said…
Awesome post!

I could not have said it better myself!

My vantage point has always been that all Businesses speak their own language and hold their own list of values and definitions of what they thiMk is correct! - This gives justification as the very reason why they are still in business!

Why is this?

I would like to thiMk the very reason for this is a product of the sum of:
1. Relied upon structure and use of the Business Model, as leverage in negotiations.
2. Lack of thorough understanding of subject matter at hand!

If all Businesses where to drop the Business Model for 1 second, and invest the time to acquire a thorough understanding of subject matter at hand (in this case, Wikinomics, is a great book on this subject, however to truly understand that book, they should read The World is Flat, first!), the world would be a better place!

I say the world, and not the Market, as many people adopt what they see in the business model into their personal lives!

Tis all I have for my rant!

Again Great post Dave!
Anonymous said…
"Someone at this same meeting talked about how business was the Customer and the IT group served them." .....hahahahaha

I work for a fortune 500 company whose CIO advocates this broken ideology. This type of thinking erodes trust between the business and IT groups, and over time is a model for even more chaos. Although collocation (as you suggest) during the iteration makes for a better product what needs to happen for lasting change to occur between the business and IT teams is a change in the way both groups communicate. I guess I have had the chance to live on both sides of the fence, and I can see the reasoning behind the initial statement from both perspectives as I too was at one point in time an advocate for the "tail wagging the dog." Trust is the root issue here.
Unknown said…
Anonymous said:

"...what needs to happen for lasting change to occur between the business and IT teams is a change in the way both groups communicate"

Agreed. I'm hoping that the following will help. Write specs cooperatively in executable English into a Wiki, and then run the specs in Wiki environment to see how they work.

There's nothing quite like running examples, in English, to get business and IT folks on the same page (as it were (:-))

A system that supports this is called Internet Business Logic. You can find it via Google. and shared use is free.