This is part four in a multi-part series on how Pennsylvania State University is implementing Enterprise 2.0. Part one covered the business drivers of Enterprise 2.0 for Penn State University, part two looked at change management issues around culture for Penn State University as well as where the push for E2.0 came from, part three explored technology adoption at Penn State University, and today we are going to look at whether Penn State decided to start off with a pilot project or whether they went all in with their E2.0 efforts. Similar case studies in this E2.0 series have been done in a similar fashion on Oce, Vistaprint, and Intuit. This case study was conducted with information provided by Bevin Hernandez who was the project manager when this initiative was completed. Bevin has since moved on to found a company called Firebrand where she is the Chief Organization Officer.
Last year I commented that most of the companies I have interviewed started their E2.0 initiatives with some sort of a pilot project. I recommend you start with this post entitled: “Should We Drop the Enterprise 2.0 Pilot as Andrew McAfee Suggests?” before reading onward. Keep in mind that there are different definitions and ways to interpret what a “pilot” actually is.
Penn State University chose to go “all-in” for a few reasons. The first was that a small team was perceived as an “elite” team and was less likely to be listened to. There was already a shadow story that only certain people were able to participate in the interesting projects so they had to counter that with broad participation to avoid misperceptions within the organization. Penn State also believed there needed to be a certain user base to help move the project forward. Social networks in general depend on scale which means that if you only have a small number of people using something then the value is greatly diminished as the scale is not there.
Penn State also knew that there are always a portion of people that are slow to start. So, in a pilot project this would provide further hindrance because the network size is already greatly diminished and out of that smaller sample size some of the people are not going to be familiar with the new platform and thus won’t adopt it as quickly as others. It would take much longer to show any type of value to the organization and to the executive team. Furthermore, the cost of ThoughtFarmer was roughly equivalent to the cost of cutting out one annual event. ThoughtFarmer is a flexible platform so adding and moving information is very easy to do, overall the platform was low risk.
ThoughtFarmer was analogized to being a wrench instead of a toolkit (such as Jive). Penn State believed that if the selected platform wasn’t very complex then an all-in deployment can be done. However if the platform is like Jive, more complex and “toolkit-ish” then it might be better off to start with a pilot project. One of the reasons that they wanted a tool that was easy to use was because Bevin strongly believed that the whole 2.0 evolution started because of the small purpose built tools. Some of that has been lost in the enterprise 2.0 space and now things are getting much too complex. If you try to do too much with something then it might not work out so well.
Penn State had a relatively short time frame to make everything happen, in fact they only really had around a 7 week marketing strategy. As Bevin pointed out, more time was spent on “doing” instead of on “planning.” The approach Penn State took was organic and they wanted to see where it would go without having something too planned out. Not having an in-depth enterprise 2.0 strategy is almost a type of strategy in itself as it is more important to be adaptable. At the end of the day Bevin and her team realized that you never really know how people are going to use something you give them, it’s really going to be about what everyone makes of it.
As Bevin articulately put it, “Life it too complex and so are organizations, points on the compass are good but you really don’t need a complex comprehensive plan for this.”
- Penn State went “all in”
- Social networks need scale to succeed
- Penn State had an internal reputation with some teams being seen as elitist, so they wanted to avoid this
- Since the platform was easy to use and the cost was offset by canceling one of their annual events, the risk was not perceived to be high
- More time was spent on doing and adapting instead of on planning
- You don’t always need a toolkit, oftentimes a wrench will do the trick