Should You Pilot Enterprise Communities? Three Tips for Success

In a recent blog post called "Drop The Pilot," Andrew McAfee argues that most "Enterprise 2.0" pilots are unintentionally set up to fail. This is in part because such enterprise communities depend upon broad employee acceptance in order to be effective. This doesn't mean that collaboration platforms are only effective in organizations with tens of thousands of employees, but it certainly helps. And the challenge with pilots is that they are frequently focused on a subset of the organization -- these pilots never really have the chance to fully realize their potential. Perhaps the best pilots are those that are not limited in scale but limited in time -- they determine adoption rates over time and use the pilot to figure out how to make the final rollout more successful.

In his blog post McAfee goes on to suggest six steps toward effective deployment which gel nicely with the key lessons learned from the United Business Media (UBM) case study published recently. McAfee suggests you should:

  1. "Deploy tools that deliver a novel capability, like microblogging, social network formation, or prediction markets. Tools that deliver something novel -- that aren’t trying to displace an incumbent -- avoid the 9X effect.
  2. Make sure the tools are frictionless, freeform, and emergent. This lowers barriers to participation and altruism.
  3. Give them to everybody with just enough policy-setting to satisfy the people who concern themselves with compliance, risk, and security.
  4. Get a group of both formal and informal leaders to be heavy initial contributors. They’ll draw in others quickly.
  5. Monitor usage over time and make adjustments if and when necessary (for example, if conversations descend into flame wars or anyone’s tone becomes inappropriate or unprofessional).
  6. Collect examples of the good stuff that happens. Use these to justify the project, satisfy the sponsor / boss, and evangelize."

Because running a pilot has been the accepted wisdom for so long, it's challenging to shift people's thinking away from using a pilot to prove the business case. A pilot is often viewed as the best way to prove the potential for ROI. At UBM the business case was built out of savings from IT investments budgeted in enterprise collaboration tools across all the subsidiary companies (Federated IT), but only after an initial attempt had resulted in failure -- this could be considered a failed pilot. However, UBM used that failure to learn what they needed to do to achieve success.

Their ultimate rollout achieved ~80% adoption within twelve months. The first deployment was a failure in part because the technology didn't support the needs of a successful community and in part because the rollout was not driven by on-going internal evangelism. From the technology perspective it's important to ensure the goals and objectives of the business are clearly understood (adopting the POST methodology) and that the technology supports the four social needs for community success.

Three Tip For Successful Enterprise Collaboration Communities

 The lessons learned boil down to three essential elements required for success in deploying effective enterprise collaboration communities:

  1. Ownership by the CEO and the senior executive team -- being willing to drive by example and holding business unit owners accountable for adoption within their own lines of business.
  2. Hiring a manager whose sole role was to drive adoption and publicize wins. This person found people/teams who could benefit with tangible business results and got them involved. He then encouraged them to share their success stories.
  3. Getting the right technology in place to remove technology obstacles to adoption. (i.e., make it easy).

Have you seen examples of failed pilots that led to success? What are the lessons you learned? Let me know @NigelFenwick