No Ownership, No Accountability – Wikis, Collaboration Software, Social Media, Enterprise 2.0 and How Not to Get Things Done.

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by: Sigurd Rinde

The buzz around Enterprise 2.0 / Office 2.0 is palpable, one conference after the other with $ 50 k stands offering yet-another-wiki-version trying to snag the enterprise CTO/CIO.

No wonder that start-up spends the 50k: Web 2.0 and social media relies on advertising for income, something that sounds enticing enough. But world-wide internet advertising (beside Google’s 70%) is a mere 6-9 Bn $ annual market while the enterprise IT market is many, many times bigger. Banks alone will spend 390 Bn $ on IT this year. Temptation to redefine your target market is high and re-branding with a few added features ensues.

But the enterprise buyer is sceptical. And calls for "culture changes", or the more pragmatic "change management" does not make pigs fly.

Me? I side with the enterprise buyer, collaboration and social software as such is a good thing, for single task sandbox use. But an overall solution to the unstructured Barely Repeatable Processes in organisations they’re not.

It’s rather simple:

  1. Business is a value chain, a social value chain with a clear purpose.
  2. I am a part of a value chain and will have to do my part. For that I need ownership to what I’m supposed to do. Either I do it or somebody else does it.
  3. We all need accountability, if somebody else is dependent on what I’m supposed to do I better get down to it. And vice versa.

In social continuous processes, aka the value chains, ownership has to be clear and accountability towards the owner and all that is dependent on my work is a must. That’s the reality meeting Web 2.0 when it redefines itself to Enterprise 2.0.

I’m a keen user of "discussion groups", and I do know my wikis. Occasionally a great idea or interesting theme grabs me and I join with enthusiasm hoping we can move it forward. Two days of constant refreshing of my browser most often leave me disappointed, perhaps one or two joins in and fizzling out is the end game. Nobody takes ownership, the idea resides and dies as a communal idea.

Collaboration software is slightly better, create a "ticket" or "task" and assign it – but anybody who has some experience knows that such tend to slip away to the bottom of the list (all soon classified as "critical").
Again the phenomena of not being crucial in an accountable flow, but rather a "pick it up from the sandbox when it suits me" abets the human tendency to postpone and shift focus to something more interesting.

The oldest of all these solutions, the email, is more of the same. And we know it, why else use the cc field as much as we do? An attempt to involve more people than the recipient, make him/her accountable to more people than myself. Problem is that when cc’d, my position in the flow is not a given, I go "ah, now it’s in good hands" and promptly forget about it. After all, I’m not the owner of the issue and the value chain is hard to discern.

An open sandbox does not deliver clear ownership nor real accountability – the two value chain requirements. In fact, there’s not a whiff of "chain" therein.

Batch processing in a sandbox is useful for single tasks, but when used they must be part of the value chain, the whole workflow.

The only social value chain framework existing today; the organisational hierarchy, is in all senses counter to the philosophy of the open sandbox thus the current clash between old and new. Given that a new value chain framework is not delivered by the Enterprise 2.0 stuff, the enterprisey buyers will remain sceptical. And rightly so in my humble view.

But do not give up on the single task sandboxes, they’re basically excellent. Focus instead on the search for a new value chain framework that befits them instead of trying to merge two mutually exclusive philosophies and incompatible methods.