Where’s the real value in using collaborative software?

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I love software. I’m particularly fond of tools that aim to support teamwork, e.g. managing projects. Still, every now and then I ask myself: “Where’s the real value in using collaborative software?” — bearing in mind that geographically dispersed teams aren’t the most popular form of teamwork. Questions that come to mind:

  • Is software an excuse not to move people to a common location?
  • Are the business benefits related to buying the new tool sufficient?
  • Can my team do with a whiteboard and a good idea instead?
  • Is everyone ready to jump on the e-bandwagon?
  • What are the entry barriers for new users?
  • What if we decided to ditch the tool after some time?

Before getting too excited, it’s good to have the following in mind:

“To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.” (Mark Twain)

The Good Doesn’t Exist

A known proverb goes like this:

Polish – “Lepsze wrogiem dobrego.”
English – “The better is the enemy of the good.”

Likewise – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This was the motto in life & business of an ex-superior of mine. The man was advanced in years. Perhaps that explains his approach. Especially, if we have in mind another saying:

“We do not become wiser with age. We become more cautious.”

Considering my age (I’m in my thirties), considering the rapidly changing market conditions, I’d rather say:

The good is afraid of the better.

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In some cases, it even seems that “the good sabotages the better.” Striving to improve constantly, we change tools and processes. We make beginners’ mistakes or typical resistance of matter kicks in. We might become discouraged, we might revert to old ways of doing things. That’s when we are most tempted to say: “the better is the enemy of the good.”

But it’s not. The good doesn’t exist. Before it becomes good, it already has to be better.

Tools Are the Wings New Concepts Fly On

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Something that is becoming more obvious to me with age – tools are crucial. Usually, it’s a tech guy’s belief. Or problem. Tech guys often think that tools provide solutions, whereas people provide problems. If you are talking about support, yes, it’s often true 🙂 However, if one is talking about the end result, the product or deliverable – it’s… not true (alas, people often are “the weak link”).

But…

In “I need to build a house, what kind of hammer should I buy?” Seth Godin writes:

“If you want to do something worth doing, you’ll need two things: passion and architecture. The tools will take care of themselves.”

Passion and architecture (or concept) – both are very important. It’s really about the people. Tools, however, won’t take care of themselves. (Seth explains his point a bit further in the entry, so please refer to his entry.)

Value is usually created by people. Tools are the platform used to create that value. I’ve seen too many initiatives fail because of missing, bad or inappropriate tools.