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consultancy - planning for collaboration

management briefing


Our consultancy practice focuses on identifying and implementing successful and sound collaborations between participating businesses.
How do you know when it's time to collaborate, and when it's time to compete?
What are the structures and processes for healthy business collaboration?
What are the implications of business collaboration?
  • for working practices?
  • for systems and software?
  • for tools and technology?

Similar questions apply to Joined-Up Government.

We are also collecting patterns for business collaboration.  Our pattern catalogue is hosted by the CBDi Forum.  Comments and contributions are most welcome.


2 approaches



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veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Principles of Collaboration

veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > principles

1 Business collaboration means autonomous business entities working together to achieve some business goals. 
2 Technical support for collaboration is provided in a number of areas:
  • object collaboration - Catalysis, UML
  • collaborative work - CSCW
However, such technical mechanisms are neither necessary nor sufficient for business collaboration.  It's perfectly possible to have good business collaboration without using the latest technology - and for that matter, it's perfectly possible for business collaboration to fail, even with the best tools.
3 Collaboration often takes place without a formal agreement or collaboration framework.  We call this De Facto collaboration.  Such informal or adhoc collaboration can sometimes work very well - but it can also prove unreliable or unstable.

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Challenges of Collaboration

veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > challenges

1 Taking the Initiative Even when all the parties can see the benefits of a potential collaboration, it is sometimes difficult to make the first move.

It's particularly difficult (but sometimes necessary) to make One-Sided Commitments.

2 Trust and Security See Veryard Projects Trust Page

See also

veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

Two Approaches

veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > 2 approaches

In general, there are two approaches to organizing collective responsibilities.

A homogeneous closed group is a stable network based on informal commitments (trust).

In some situations, responsibility can be shared by creating a stable group or team.

The members of the group identify with the group. This has two aspects:

  • Each member depends on the group - personal rewards are significantly affected by the success of the group as a whole
  • Each member feels that the group depends on him/her - the personal contribution to the group is understood and appreciated by the rest of the group
  • A heterogeneous open group is a dynamic network based on formal commitments (contract)

    In situations where stable teams cannot develop (or be built), formal structures of individual duties need to be established, to enable responsibilities to be shared.

    This tends to be necessary under the following conditions:

  • High turnover of group membership, interfering with the emergence of stable relations of personal trust
  • High cultural / organizational diversity, increasing the barriers that have to be overcome.

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    Requirements for collaboration

    veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > requirements

    1 Planning for 
    Many large and complex schemes today are characterized by:
    • complex collaborations and partnerships
    • multiple and diverse benefits to different stakeholders 
    • commercial, social, political and technical uncertainty 
    Best practice in business planning has failed to keep up with this complexity.
    2 Knowledge
    Collaborations typically involve shared information and knowledge.  Perhaps confidential documents are shown to your business partners, under some Non-Disclosure Agreement.  Or perhaps your partners have access (direct or indirect) to your customer database.

    Knowledge management needs to be an explicit part of the collaboration.

    The most critical knowledge may be that concerning the management of the collaboration itself - for example commercial or security arrangements.

    3 Risk
    Agreement on the nature and scale of the business and technical risks facing the collaboration.

    Agreement on the ownership and responsibility for these risks.

    4 Crisis
    Dealing rapidly and effectively with unforeseen problems.  Many business collaborations operate just fine on the routine stuff, but fall apart when anything goes wrong.

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    Binding and commitment

    veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > binding & commitment

    Fair exchange of obligations, constraints and expectations.

    Commitment includes both obligations (my obligations to you, your obligations to me) and exit costs (costs to you or me of terminating or cutting back the relationship). 

    Obligations may include: actual obligations, contingent obligations (agreed contingencies in foreseen circumstances) and hypothetical obligations (what would have been agreed if unforeseen circumstances had been foreseen). 

    People and companies often fail to recognize the true depth of the commitment they have made to another party - especially the exit costs. Alternatively, they over-estimate the exit costs, and this tempts them to stay in an unhealthy relationship. (This applies in the commercial world, as well as in the private sphere.)

    Some people and companies deliberately misrepresent the depth of their commitment to others, either to avoid being taken advantage of (especially in a situation where commitment appears to be unequal) or to gain some advantage themselves.

    Alliances between firms can often be made stronger by unilateral commitments. These work by making a visible change to the firm's payoff structure, or by making an irreversible commitment to a particular course of action, so that the other firm is also encouraged to cooperate. This requires the partners of an alliance to go beyond simplistic analyses of cooperation in terms of the prisoners dilemma.

    [source: R. Gulati, T. Khanna & N. Nohria, 'Unilateral Commitments and the Importance of Process in Alliances' Sloan Management Review 35/3, Spring 1994, 61-69]

    We must recognize that commitments are not always freely entered into.  Some obligations or other commitments may be imposed or enforced by a more powerful partner, or by an external regulator.  Or they may be accepted reluctantly, as the price of belonging to some trading partnership or community.

    Forced commitments may be morally unsound or politically unjust. They are also economically inefficient - sometimes provoking tactics of minimal compliance or even the surrender tactic.

    Sometimes it is called the army game, because the lowliest private can win a power struggle with his highest superior if he merely does more than he is told. If a recalcitrant soldier is told to mop the floor, he can not only mop it, but be dutifully mopping it eight hours later. [source: Jay Haley, The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ]

    veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

    Internet resources: Collaboration

    veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > internet resources

    Collaborative Business Article from Information Week - May 7th, 2001

    Some useful sidebars.

    Reality and Perception Article from Wall Street Journal - May 21st, 2001

    veryard projects - innovation for demanding change

    Recommended reading: Collaboration

    veryard projects > component-based-business > collaboration > recommended reading

    book comment availability
    Richard Veryard, Component-Based Business: Plug and Play Springer, 2001.  details
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    Desmond D'Souza & Alan Cameron Wills, Objects, Components and Frameworks with UML:  The Catalysis Approach Addison-Wesley, 1999 The best account of collaborations and collaboration frameworks from a software engineering perspective. Essential reading for object technology and software componentry.
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    Geoff Mulgan  Connexity  Chatto & Windus 1997. Mulgan is one of the political brains behind New Labour.

    Much of the technical content will now be familiar to followers of internet fashion, but the social and political implications are particularly interesting because of the behind-scenes influence he apparently wields over the UK Government 

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