The Virtual Organization
A virtual organization is a network of technology-enabled teams and communities. Contrary to the thinking that virtual teams are only those whose members are geographically dispersed, all teams can benefit from a digital group memory (DGM) that facilitates group memory. Members, while co-located, may travel which means they need access to the team's digital group memory to retrieve files, check on status, or make contributions. Or they may simply prefer to work after hours and/or from home.
From time-to-time, a team will bring an external expert to assist the team, for example, a technical expert to assist a team working on a proposal. The external expert can be easily brought up to speed by reviewing materials organized in the DGM space. This is also true for new members or when a team transitions from one stage to another and a new team picks up the work and carries it forward.
Another powerful case in favor of DGM is that business problems are rarely addressable by a single team. Businesses organize multiple teams to address complex work, which creates a federation of teams as well as communities for knowledge transfer. These teams are organized in different fashions. The following sections describe how DGM can be used to facilitate inter-team work.
Interlinking Teams for Large Problems
A post-merger integration is an example of a sizable challenge where multiple teams, usually organized around functional areas (as shown in the diagram), work toward a common goal. There are often decision-related dependencies between teams that are often not known or expressed. An example within IT is an applications team that must determine which applications to use in the new company. For a particular business process, should it use the application from Company A? Company B? Or neither?
Another team in IT, the infrastructure team, is looking at issues such as consolidating data centers, outsourcing, and which operating system(s) to use. In the end, the applications selected must run on the infrastructure, which is an example of a decision-related dependency. The teams need to prevent an outcome where the application team selects applications that run on an operating system that is different from the one selected by the infrastructure team!
Imagine each team or sub-team in the effort having a digital group memory where they manage issues, decisions, actions, meeting agendas, minutes, and the related documents. One or two members of the applications sub-team of IT are assigned to scan the work in the infrastructure sub-team's DGM in order to avoid a potential problem where the infrastructure sub-team makes a decision on operating systems that is incompatible with the applications selected by the application sub-team. If they run across a potential issue, they raise it so that both teams can work together to address it. This situation is shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Team organization
Projects in several industries, such as energy and pharmaceuticals, can last upwards of fifteen to twenty years or even longer. They are organized into multiple phases, with a set of decision criteria that must be met in order to progress to the next phase. Each phase requires a different skill set from research skills in the early phases to manufacturing and marketing in the later phases. When the project moves from one phase to the next, as shown in Figure 6, the digital group memory serves as the repository of the previous teams' work, such as key decision rationale; models used to make decisions; etc.
Figure 6: Phase transfer
Integrating Processes When Outsourcing, Off-Shoring
Integrating processes, when outsourcing, especially in off shoring, must include customers and partners. In order to prepare a proposal for an outsourcing opportunity, the sales team includes experts from the engineering and support areas in order to scope the proposal. Once the customer approves the deal, decisions regarding what physical equipment and software will move from the company to the outsourcer's data center and when.
This project will require technical resources from the outsourcer's engineering team as well as those from the customer. During this migration project, the account manager will want to stay on top of any issues that may arise in order to maintain a high quality relationship with the customer. Finally, upon successful migration, the support team will need access to all of the documentation regarding the applications for which it will be supporting, as they become the contact point for any ongoing service issues. All of the files, conversations, plans, and so forth are part of the digital group memory that can be accessed by any of these functional resources and can be built upon at any time. This concept is illustrated by the workspace shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7: The workspace
Transferring Knowledge from Team-to-Team via Communities
Members of teams are also members of communities within the organization. As shown in Figure 8, a team member can make a contribution based on a "lesson learned" through the team's work to a community-held DGM. Other teams, which may be in another part of the organization and/or part of the world, can benefit through their team members who are members of the same community.
Figure 8: Community learning transfer
An example is a competitive intelligence community. As anyone in the company runs across intelligence about a competitor, they can add it to a digital group memory on competitive intelligence. A marketing member may add a presentation file or data sheet from the competitor's website that introduces the competitor's new product.
A sales person may add comments from a customer on a recent customer visit about the competitor's product. A product development person may note some changes in the technology platform of the product. All of these pieces of intelligence can assist the business in marketing its own products, differentiating it to a customer in order to close a deal, or understand the technology platform and project the future direction relative to its own.