Managing projects with enterprise social technologies

Karen McCandless speaks to Yammer’s James Evans to find out more about how Microsoft’s enterprise social network enables better project management

How do you think enterprise social technologies – such as Yammer – can benefit businesses?

The world has become a giant network. Today, we build relationships on Facebook, connect with the world on Skype, get breaking news from the other side of the world on Twitter, and find our next big break on LinkedIn. But the great apps and services that have changed our personal lives haven’t yet found their way into the office. An integrated set of social, collaboration and communication technologies can enable companies to work like a network. We are also seeing the rise of the ‘Responsive Organisation’ – an organisation that learns and responds rapidly through open communication, experimentation and working as a network. Specific areas where enterprises can benefit from the adoption of enterprise social technologies include improving employee engagement, enabling team collaboration and driving innovation in product development and service delivery.

What advantages are there to choosing Yammer as opposed to other social technologies such as Facebook?

Consumer social technologies such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were created to transform the way people communicate and share information in their personal lives; they were not created for use with the enterprise. Yammer took inspiration from these consumer technologies, embracing the ideals of usability and constant product innovation through experimentation and rapid development cycles.  However, unlike consumer technologies, Yammer was designed from the ground up to be a secure platform for collaboration within the enterprise and between organisations. The ability to connect to your employee directory, to automate the Yammer joiners and leavers process, to integrate with other line of business applications to make Yammer the enterprise social layer, and to export all of the content from the network for archiving and reporting purposes differentiate Yammer from consumer technologies.

What steps do businesses need to take to implement Yammer and social enterprise technologies – how can they prepare the organization?

Firstly it is important to understand that deploying enterprise social technologies is not like traditional IT projects. The focus is not about building servers and installing software, rather it is about transforming organizations through working in a more open and transparent way, giving everyone a voice and breaking down the silos that exist within the organization. Ultimately, it is about changing the way we get work done.

Key to success is having multiple business departments involved in the project from the outset. Think ‘Business led and IT enabled’ when it comes to the approach. Internal communications and human resources are often the teams championing the adoption of an enterprise social platform, but we have worked with teams from all areas of the business.

A key starting point is to have this multi-departmental team jointly create a vision for enterprise social. Think of this as an elevator pitch that everyone in the organization, from the most junior frontline employee to the CEO, can understand. I would always recommend linking this back to the mission and priority of the organization, for example increasing revenue, growing market share, improving employee engagement, increasing customer satisfaction or bringing new products to market more quickly. Once created this can underpin all of the communications around the enterprise social platform.

Does true social collaboration require more than just tools and technologies? If so, what does it need?

Yes, and from my experience the most important is senior leadership support and engagement. Firstly, you need senior leaders to endorse and validate the platform as a business tool for getting work done. Secondly, you need senior leaders to demonstrate the new behaviours, by working out loud, by engaging in a conversation with employees at all levels of the organization and by recognizing the contributions of others.

It is not possible to transform the whole organization at the same time, so start small and find a couple of areas of focus. This could be enabling a mobile field sales team to share best practices and increase sales revenues, it could be to improve the on-boarding experience for new joiners, helping them to be fully productive more quickly. The key thing is to think about how you will work differently using the social platform, who you need to involve and what your measure(s) of success will be. Then celebrate your early successes to build good will and momentum and to inspire other colleagues to go on their own social journey.

Alongside this, effective community management is also vital to adoption of the social platform. This is a new skill set that is different to the traditional intranet web master; the focus is less around sharing lots of content, and much more about making sure the right people are in the right conversations and making the network a community where colleagues actively share and collaborate.

What do you think is holding businesses back from embracing these technologies – what obstacles and challenges are they facing?

To my earlier point, enterprise social is not a traditional IT project, it is about changing ways of working, and that can be more challenging than deploying a new application that an employee has to use, for example time reporting or expense application. You cannot mandate or enforce collaboration and sharing. Rather employees have to want to engage on the enterprise social platform because they understand how it can help them to get work done and to be successful in their careers. From an enterprise perspective, it is clear that improving employee engagement, enabling team collaboration and driving innovation will benefit the organization. However, to be successful, employees also need to understand ‘What’s In It For Them’. As with e-mail and intranets previously, we are rapidly approaching a tipping point where the question will shift from “why would you want an enterprise social platform?” to “why do you not have an enterprise social platform?”

How will enterprise social technologies enable better project collaboration and stimulate innovation?

Working out loud provides greater visibility meaning team members feel more connected while also reducing duplication of effort. An enterprise social platform can also be very powerful when the project team is distributed across multiple locations, time zones and where not everyone speaks the same language. Similarly the mobile apps enable team members to be connected at all times, directly linking central and field teams. A social platform can also be highly beneficial when trying to identify experts to be part of the project team, particularly when their experience many have been gained from a previous role or with a previous employer. Alongside this, and through the use of external networks, Yammer can enable enhanced collaboration with third parties, including suppliers, consultants, partners, resellers and joint ventures. The crowd-sourcing of ideas is another great application of an enterprise social platform. Anyone in the company can have a great idea for a new product, a way of improving customer service or reducing costs.

Finally, think about the people impacted by the project and how you will manage the change/communication. It could be launching a new product, acquiring a new company, deploying a new line of business application or moving to new offices. An enterprise social platform can be an effective way to keep employees updated on the project’s progress and to give them a way to ask questions.

James Evans is director of Yammer Customer Success Asia TZ

By Karen McCandless

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