Collaboration tools: Useful, Usable and Used

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 21st August 2017

Productive collaboration requires visibility across the team. To work well together, we need to have access to the right information, at the right time. We are sometimes managing complex work across multiple people in different locations. The more visible we can make this work, the easier it is to manage.

The good news is that there are many tools out there that can help with this. We have everything from Agile boards festooned with Sticky Notes, to cloud-based planning and scheduling tools for projects. We have CRM systems for customer management, and of course our old friends Microsoft Outlook and OneNote. Getting access to tools is not the issue. It is making sure these tools are useful, usable and used. This can make the difference between our collaboration tools being adopted across the team, or lying dormant on our desktop.

Collaboration tools will only be embraced if they are useful.  They must add value and help us to do our job more effectively. They need to be usable as well. That means they should be easy to use in most situations. And finally, they should be used, not just by a few, but by all of the relevant people in the team. This is usually where the real value of the tool lies.

Let me illustrate with a real-life example. We implemented a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system last year. I will be honest – I have struggled. If I run it through my three criteria, I get mixed results.

Is it useful? Yes, it adds great value.

Is it usable? That depends. If I am at my desk, yes. If I am out and about, not really. Access to the system from my iPad or iPhone is not great, and that is often when I need to review client information, or input notes against a client meeting.

Is it used? Again, not really by anyone but myself and Chauntelle. Because of this I find it less compelling to bother updating it myself just for my own benefit. We are working through these issues, and feel that there is value in doing so, but it has been a struggle.

Now compare that scenario to our use of MS OneNote. I use this tool to take all meeting notes, to plan and manage simple projects, to collate research and to even manage my grandfather’s historical records. I use OneNote every day, many times each day. I would be lost without it. Let’s run it through the three criteria.

Is it useful? Yes, immensely so.

Is it usable? Yes, it is very intuitive and easy to access on all my devices. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere as the Martini Rosso advert used to say. There is no friction that impedes me using it, so habits build quickly around the new tool.

Is it used? Yes, the whole team has embraced it. In a few short months, it has become an integral part of our business. And as other members of the team start to use OneNote, I am encouraged to use it more, and so it goes in an upward spiral.

So how do we ensure that our collaboration tools are useful, usable and used? Keep the following in mind when you are introducing your next collaboration tool:

  • Don’t just jump at the latest gadget or fad. Take the time to work out what you are trying to achieve, and which tools can best meet your needs.
  • Set the context with your team, and help them understand why and how this will help them do their job with a little less friction
  • Give them training so they know how to use the tool
  • Ensure IT have set the tools up in a way that makes them easy to use in every situation
  • Create champions who will carry the flag in the first few months. These champions should also double as onsite coaches in the early days
  • Lead by example. Don’t expect others to do what you don’t.

My CRM tool is not a bad tool, but its weaknesses have caused me friction. OneNote is not a perfect tool, but it works well enough to create flow for me. Your collaboration tools should all create flow, for the whole team. If not, you may find that nobody uses them.

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