Moving along the Time-(Team) Space Continuum

Collaboration Is Both Real-Time and Persistent, and Often Unanticipated

March 18, 2010

A PSG Classic: collaboration isn’t about real-time vs. persistence, nor is it about the software tools you use. It is about getting your work done in the context of the overall project. It’s about achieving the outcomes of scenarios.

(A PSG Classic – Originally Published April 2006)


More and more of you are opening up to the concept and practice o0f collaborating with your customers and suppliers. Customer Advisory Boards are beginning to flourish, idea and innovation platforms are coming into their own, and co-development of products and solutions is on the rise. Customers want to be able to collaborate with you in ways that are seamless and comfortable for them. And they will look to you to provide the tools and services to support this cross-organizational collaboration.

This classic report looks at issues of collaboration and the tools that support it. Although the report was originally published in 2006, the tools focus, that inhibits collaborating in fluid and unexpected ways, continues on.


How many times are you working on a project when you are stopped in your tracks? You need input/advice/reassurance/a reality check from a colleague before you can take the next step. And you need it right now! So what do you do? You can pick up a phone, you can go into the hallway and hope the right person is walking by, you can send an instant message, or you can launch an ad hoc online meeting.

Now, if you’re lucky, the stuff you’re working on is sitting somewhere where the person or people you’re now communicating with in real time can get at it. That could be via application sharing in the online meeting. Or it could be sitting in a shared network folder with document management capabilities, or it could be in a shared collaboration team space to which you all have access. More likely, you email a copy.

This is how most people collaborate in the real world. Although there are many wonderful tools to support planned—or even, anticipated—collaboration, there is often an unanticipated nature to collaboration. And this nature is being stymied by taking a tools approach to collaboration.


For years, we have categorized collaborative tools on two vectors: the richness of the interaction, along with the time factor (real time vs. persistent). See Illustration 1. Onto these vectors, we have plotted four categories of tools: instant messaging, email, online meetings, and collaborative workplaces. Each of these tools sits in its own box. Pretty picture and very useful for categorizing and analyzing commercial software tools. But, although we’ve proposed, supported, and used this model extensively in our discussions, it often falls down in real-life work situations.

High-Level Collaboration Taxonomy

High-Level Collaboration Taxonomy

© 2006-2010 Patricia Seybold Group

Illustration 1. Collaboration platforms generally focus on either real-time or persistent services. Within each type of collaboration, some product categories provide a greater level of interaction richness than do others.


In order for people to collaborate, ideally, each individual should be able to work in his/her own style and not be prisoner to the tools they use. They should be able to live on a time- (team-) space continuum rather than being stuck in one of those boxes.

As you work more and more on collaborative projects with collaborative teams, you discover that it’s not about real time vs. persistent, it’s about naturally interacting vs. focusing on specific tools. When you email something to someone, it’s not about email, the tool, it’s because you want them to have a copy of the document that they can use when they are able. When you IM someone, it’s not about loving an IM client, it’s about using presence awareness to know they are available to work with you right now. When you’re working on a document, and someone else may need to see it later, you don’t want to worry about where you store it, how you retrieve it, which review process you must eventually submit it to. You just want to keep working towards your goal. And, most of all, you don’t want to worry about which tools your customers have, what operating system they use, if they are Web savvy, or if they have been trained on certain applications. You just want to collaborate with them.

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