Can Collaboration be Standardized?

Posted: 4/27/2015 by Norma Watenpaugh

Well, IMHO yes and no.collaborationstd

I’ve been working for some years with the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP) in creating standards for collaboration. And I frequently get push back. “No two relationships are same.”  “Each is special in some way.”   Even the ASAP Chairman, Mike Leonetti is often quoted “If you’ve seen one alliance, you’ve seen one alliance.”

I would agree with those who contend there is no standard collaboration! Each collaboration does tend to be unique. Kind of like your kids, each is unique but even so they all tend to have two legs, ten fingers, and one nose, but are different in personality, likes, dislikes, height, weight, and hair color.

By implementing a management system standard, organizations:

  • Reduce their risk in achieving target outcomes
  • More efficiently leverage resources
  • More consistently create value for customers and the organization.

This holds true for many management standards. ISO 9000 Quality Management System Standard, is of course the gold standard of standards. It requires that companies design processes that ensure a consistent ‘quality’ outcome without dictating the details of how the quality management system is implemented.

Research from ASAP shows that organizations that attempt strategic relationships in ad hoc fashion rarely see success rates over 20% and overall alliance success rates hover around 50%.

 Why would smart business leaders invest in a strategy that has no better than a coin toss of probability of success? Because it is also true that organizations that treat alliance management as a management discipline with repeatable and measurable processes can achieve success rates over 80%.  

So how do you create standards that apply across industries, across international boundaries and across the value chain? Well the answer lies in creating standard processes from the collective wisdom of many experts.

I’ve led the efforts in creating standards for collaborative competencies for professional certification and a compilation of best practices and processes for managing collaborations. Most recently I've been engaged in working on an ISO management standard for Collaborative Business Relationships.   Each of these efforts has been accomplished through the collaborative contribution of many alliance experts.  We strive to include the broadest cross section of experience. We draw upon seasoned practitioners, top consultants, and academic researchers who are considered leaders in the profession.  We also recruit experts across many geographies and industries. Then through a ‘consensus of experts’ process, we vet diverse ideas and perspectives into a common view that is judged relevant to the numerous industries and types of collaboration in our collective experience.

The result is a body of knowledge that serves as a high level framework that can guide collaboration leaders to make decisions throughout the lifecycle of a business relationship.  Most successful business relationships are managed through a lifecycle approach.  At each stage there are a set of processes and decision points.  While a standard can’t tell you what governance structure is best, it does stipulate that you do the homework and design one that it is appropriate to the complexity and objectives of the collaboration. The standard requires that the governance is jointly developed, documented and communicated and that it is implemented and managed in a consistent way. 

Therein lies the value of collaboration management standard.  It is a process framework that when implemented, will greatly reduce risk in collaboration, more efficiently utilize the resources of the collaborating organizations and more predictably create value for customers and the collaborating organizations.

 To learn more about this emerging standard for Collaborative Business Relationship Management Framework, see The Future Belongs to those who Collaborate.


Responses to Can Collaboration be Standardized?

John Parker

The standard is a framework for the application of best practice from C Suite through alliance managers, project managers and on to industry and technical specialists. Alliance management best practise is embodied in the ASAP Handbook as project management best practice is variously in Prince 2, IAPM and others.Common concerns often voiced by alliance managers include lack of board sponsorship, lack of a collaboration strategy to support alliances, and therefore a lack of awareness and resources throughout the company to enable the alliances to achieve their true potential.Like all standards ISO 11000 needs to be applied sensibly given the industry, company and specific alliance context; this means parts of the standard can be skipped over providing the reasons for this are stated and accepted from CEO to intern.At the top level the 8 questions this standard asks requires the Board and C Suite members to answer the following questions (and keep under review):Which top executive is responsible for collaboration and what are the business objectives and value proposition?What is the specific business strategy and supporting knowledge management process?Have we assessed the company capabilities to sustain collaborative relationships?What are the criteria for selecting and evaluating potential partners?What corporate governance arrangements are in place to maintain joint objectives and leadership as well as establishing the organisational structure, roles, responsibilities and processes?How will the top management establish and measure the value creation and value drivers?How will the board monitor the performance, relationship and continual innovation?Are the board aware of the conditions which may trigger the end of the relationship and how it will be managed to avoid reputational and financial damage?These issues will oblige HR, Finance, External Relations and other senior executives to get involved and provide support - hopefully reducing the occasions where alliance managers complain they are not recognised, have no suitable job title, no career development plan and that their greatest competitor is sales, R&D or some other line function. Eventually this may lead to alliance managers in more companies having a seat at the top table.

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