The most common approach to business collaboration (Planned Collaboration) involves prior analysis of the participants to try to identify shared interests in collaboration (e.g. as complementary players in a collaborative supply network). Another more radical approach (Serendipitous Collaboration) involves putting a random mix of companies in a room and seeing what develops. Guess what - Serendipitous Collaboration works really well provided you have a good process for uncovering synergies!
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The Network Synergy Discovery Technique
To discover the critical synergies in a Network right at the start of a potential collaboration, in a way which is much more effective than "creeping death" disclosure. The objectives are to find if real collaboration opportunities exist within a potential Network and:
- Identify any critical gaps that could derail the Network
- Create new and effective win-win partnerships within a Network.
The conventional approach to working with a new Network is to first build some trust, exchange relevant information, and then start exploring collaboration possibilities. The problem is that this approach does not really work.
The first problem is that it usually takes far too long; never gains enough momentum or continuity; and eventually the participants lose interest and move on to "something productive." The second major problem is: Let's imagine you have invested in building "enough trust" with the group, and then you find that after all this effort and time, you don't actually have the right people in the Network. By then it is too late.
How to use Network Synergy Discovery
The main objective of Network Synergy Discovery is to find out if there are enough potential synergies within the group to make the Network work. The other objective that is just as important, is to do this very quickly in a way that is highly interactive, engaging, and develops new relationships. Each participant should go away with at least one new useful relationship, even if he or she never comes to another Network meeting.
Step1: Everyone identifies their core business offer, and puts it on a YELLOW card with their name, and sticks it up on a large whiteboard. These YELLOW cards represent Core Product Providers.
Step2: Everyone reads all the cards, and must fill out at least one BLUE card and stick it beside any Core Product card (YELLOW), that they believe they might be able to produce for a new customer. These are called BLUE cards, Channels.
Step3: Everyone also fills out at least one PURPLE card for any YELLOW card that they believe they have some knowledge of, or a product that could make a core product more valuable. They stick these up beside the YELLOW Core Product cards. These are called PURPLE cards, Innovators.
Step4: Then the whiteboard is examined to see how many natural sub-clusters are made up of Core Product Providers, one or more Channels and one or more Innovators.
Step5: Participants are then asked to look for opportunities to merge these sub-clusters with the objective of having not more than three merged clusters. Also, each merged cluster should have at least four players, one of whom should be a channel.
Step6: Participants are then asked to go back to work on these merged clusters, to explore the possibilities and requirements for three further roles, and they stick more cards into the clusters on the whiteboard for:
• RED - Supporting Service Provider: provides a critical supporting service for the collaborative product.
• ORANGE - Integrator: plays a key design or integration role in the new collaborative product.
• GREY - Investor: can provide finance or resources needed to make the collective supply chain viable, and attractive to the market.
Step7: Then it's time to do a quick "tidy up," to name and assess scope for each of the merged clusters as "collaborative product offers." Then at close-out time, feedback from each of the participants is gathered to see if they are intrigued enough to want to collaborate further and to develop each of the merged clusters.
See also The Collaboration Dartboard for another great way to get inter-company collaboration started quickly.
For more details on this and other techniques for building successful inter-company collaboration see The Networked Enterprise Book.