Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at 4PS UK’s open day to celebrate their move to new offices and lead an interactive session on collaborative working.
Collaborative Working Whiteboard Talk
Earlier this year I had a call out of the blue from 4PS UK Managing Director Ian Cowan, who it turned out had been at Digital Construction Week in 2017 and seen my #butcherboard whiteboard talk on Collaborative Working. The topic is of considerable interest to him, and he invited me to deliver an updated, interactive version to his clients and staff at the Open Day. When he introduced me at the beginning of the first presentation, Ian explained that he felt that what I had to say should be heard by more people, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to get involved in the discussions on the day.
Who is 4PS?
4PS is a software company which designs comprehensive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software for construction (4PS Construct) delivered via the Microsoft Dynamics Business Central platform. The integration with Microsoft Dynamics BC (formerly NAV) means that construction elements of your business operations can be integrated with a company’s day-to-day IT needs such as email.
The Open Day was planned to coincide with 4PS’s move to new offices in Birmingham Business Park. The UK company (formerly Metaphorix) became part of 4PS, which is based in Ede in the Netherlands, in 2017 and has been expanding since; the new office will make it possible for the UK business to expand further and entertain clients in comfortable, leafy surroundings close to the rail and road network.
During the day the team from 4PS hosted a series of round table discussions which were a mixture of presentations and conversations about clients’ needs and latest software developments. We learned more about how Microsoft is integrating its services and how 4PS is supporting its clients to transition gradually into the cloud. It was refreshing to hear a company looking to understand the reality of business operations both in construction and other industries, developing digital resources to suit the pace of change required.
As well as construction clients there were also clients present from other industries; 4PS also supports operational needs. The conversations varied from the practical aspects of implementing change – think silos – and various opportunities to reduce time and resource costs, from invoice processing to site management.
Collaborative Working – What is It?
Twice during the day, I delivered a whiteboard talk on collaborative working, which looked at definitions from both construction (Constructing Excellence, Behaviours 4 Collaboration) and without (Working out Loud). After identifying the benefits and the challenges which face those of us who attempt to encourage collaborative working, the talk explores technical, legal and behavioural ways of ‘eating the elephant’ and looks at examples from both within and without construction.
The idea behind using a whiteboard is that it encourages flexibility and interaction in a way that a polished PowerPoint deck does not. I also find that it is great for fleshing out ideas, and for encouraging people to feel they can participate. It is such a different dynamic, both for the speaker (preparation is entirely different for a start!) and for the other participants.
I have a theory that whilst we spend a large proportion of our efforts developing technological solutions to make it easy for people to share information, tech solutions are really only likely to be 10% of the answer in a successful collaborative project. Beyond that there are the necessary contractual elements, but ultimately the core changes need to be behavioural. The open day was an opportunity to test that thesis, if in a relatively unscientific way.
Ideas, Challenges and Opportunities
We took advantage of the whiteboard format to encourage people to think of scenarios where they themselves work collaboratively or would like to work more collaboratively. These scenarios were then broken down into technical, legal and behavioural challenges and opportunities. What is the challenge? How might it be met?
Everyone was encouraged to jot down their ideas on sticky notes and put them on a board in the main area, divided up as to whether they thought they were technical, legal or behavioural.
The types of scenarios people came up with were quite varied, though focused largely on very practical issues. These included
- The challenges of sharing confidential data
- Being too busy
- Data overload and too much/too little information
- Bad data caused by lack of business knowledge
- Outsourcing overseas
- Making the selection and buying process easier for clients
- The client won’t pay for the service early enough
- Getting paid on time
- See value rather than cost
- Bringing people on to the same page
- Lack of defined roles, leading to blame culture
- Lack of communication between departments
- Keeping a record of decisions including email threads, conversations and notes
- Service Level Agreement issues
- Fear of change
- Computer illiteracy
- Keeping the office nice.
The solutions and opportunities were also very varied and included
- Slack, Teams and other communications platforms
- Electronic issue and receipt (e.g. of invoices)
- Knowledge/Educational development systems
- Shared responsibilities
- Balancing rewards and punishments
- Incentives for engaging
- Building working investment into the task
- Employing more ‘T-shaped’ people
- Building relationships between people
- Sit Down Meetings – pre, during and post project
Overall whilst we were in a tech company, my theory about 10% Tech, 20% Legal and 70+% Behavioural stood up pretty well. Much of the conversation afterwards was about behaviour.
I talked to one Director who was struggling with the culture in his organisation where almost everyone would only do what was on their job description, creating the ultimate silos. Another discussion was about how important it is that people share in the day to day tasks of keeping the office tidy and getting to know each other. Two people wrote separately about “fear of change” on the whiteboard.
The theme of getting paid, both in time and on time was another clear topic, but the solutions weren’t simply about record keeping and contracts, they were also about building relationships and having common goals.
In a single day it is impossible to find solutions to problems which are ingrained into our organisations, but the activity served to help highlight some of both and hopefully encouraged people to go away with a commitment to explore some of these ideas further.
In order to assist this process, I have produced a Pinterest board of resources which anyone can access. Go and take a look at http://bit.ly/PinterestCW and feel free to share. If you come across other ideas we should add to the board, please let me know.
Check out the tweets from the event at #4PSopenday.
Want me to talk at your event?
If you’re interested in having me run a similar session at your event, please get in touch.