Collaboration is critical to business analysis success. It’s about working together with other people to accomplish common goals whether you’re all in one location or dispersed across many. To collaborate well, team members must understand the goal and purpose of the collaboration and actively contribute to the efforts by freely sharing info, talents, and context.
The good news is that tools are available to help with that! Although collaboration tools don’t supply your team members with an individual desire to contribute (a key collaborative ingredient), they can eliminate the big obstacles and facilitate the most-critical working-together needs.
Collaboration tools’ primary purpose is to help people work together. They give you a place to work together, providing features that enable collective contribution and work-product development. Tools come in general or specific forms, enabling people to make progress toward a goal at the same time (synchronously) or at different times (asynchronously), virtually or in person.
Collaboration places are typically represented in one of two forms:
An event-type place: A room where collaborators “go” (remotely or actually) to attend a synchronous collaborative session such as a meeting, a presentation, or a training opportunity
A repository-type place: A display or data storage area where collaborators can display, store, or request contributions, including notes, comments or documents (tangible or electronic), folders, web pages, or text/multimedia information or databases
Each kind of place can be physical or virtual/electronic.
Physical places as collaboration tools in business analysis
Employ physical places when you have face-to-face or collocated collaborators (those who work in the same building), because everyone is in the same setting and can easily meet and see the information whether they’re collaborating synchronously or not.
The downside is that you can’t access information stored or displayed physically while working from home or traveling away from the office, unless additional support is provided (like shared copies of stored or displayed information).
Face-to-face collaboration is especially valuable when issues are complex or teams or team members are new. If some of your collaborators have never worked together before, or if you have a particularly challenging topic to manage where constructive debate and resolution require a view of body language and vocal tone, then consider a set of initial in-person working meetings.
Live meetings must be designed to get the team comfortable with their project topic as well as each other. Team members should spend a good deal of time on building relationships, cultivating trust and openness, and exploring and resolving the most critical or contentious project issues.
Of course, in-person collaborators also typically need electronic storage or event options in cases where not everyone who needs to work together is present at a given time.
Electronic places as collaboration tools in business analysis
If you’re working with a dispersed and/or virtual team, electronic places are absolutely critical for you. Electronic repositories in particular (such as through a wiki or shared network drive) are useful when you’re hosting asynchronous collaborations and for keeping deliverables and outputs available for future reference.
Team members that can self-retrieve information from a repository tend to be much more engaged and effective than those who get stuck waiting for another team member to send information out to them.
Virtual collaboration works well when your collaborators have worked together before, share a sense for each others’ work style and personality, and feel a trust-based, collegial relationship.
That doesn’t mean people need to have met in person before, but they must have had a positive prior experience together. Lacking that, they need a simpler problem to solve and an agreement that all participants will approach collaboration with a spirit of positive intent and openness and an initial giving of trust (instead of reserving trust until someone earns it).
That history or start-up agreement provides collaborators a foundation on which they can successfully discuss and debate their project issues without animosity.
Popular virtual collaboration tools provide key techniques and experiences typical to in-person collaboration, so you should look for features such as the following:
Recording or viewing notes such as you would on a flip chart
Drawing on a virtual whiteboard together
Viewing the same thing at the same time, whether that’s a computer screen, document, presentation, demonstration or simulation, or an individual
Seeing which team members are present or speaking and/or seeing their faces
Chatting or discussing topics and getting or giving feedback vocally or in writing
Splitting into break-out groups for focused discussion and then coming back and sharing results with the larger group
You can also use specialized collaboration tools among your fellow business analysts to improve your own analysis productivity and quality.