Revisiting Grudin’s 8 Challenges for Collaboration Software

Microsoft researcher, Jonathan Grudin, wrote a paper back in 1994 that looked at eight challenges for groupware [PDF] – they were: 

  1. Disparity in work and benefit.
  2. Critical mass and Prisoner’s dilemma problems.
  3. Disruption of social processes.
  4. Exception handling.
  5. Unobtrusive accessibility.
  6. Difficulty of evaluation.
  7. Failure of intuition.
  8. Adoption process.

Its interesting to consider what the current generation of groupware, what today we call Social Business Software or “Enterprise 2.0”, has done to address these problems.

I think challenges 1, 4, 5 and 7 are definitely areas where we have seen improvement – primarily through the benefits of infusing the concepts of social software into the design of the technology solutions we want to use. All sorts of design patterns have come to the fore in recent years to make collaboration software more human-centred than ever before. Plus the accidental training ground of the World Wide Web means that more and more users are ready (if not demanding) a consumer experience inside the firewall.

However, I sense that right now we are looping back into old territory by considering again the importance of embedding the technologies into workflow and most of these challenges can only improve through iteration (sorry everyone, the goal of integrating collaboration technologies into the places and tools where people are actually working isn’t a new one).

But the Difficulty of evaluation and Adoption process in particular are likely to remain major challenges (Critical mass and Prisoner’s dilemma problems and Disruption of social processes are also closely associated with both). The evaluation challenge might be dealt with eventually through better analytics (Dachis Group’s Social Business Index is already starting to do this), but ultimately these challenges aren’t technology based:

  • Organisations need to have a design mindset, in order to both implement and judge the success of such technologies; and
  • We already have tried and tested methods available to support their use, we just need to use them!

If we can assume the software will continue to get better and better, moving forward why can’t we focus on getting the last few points right instead?