Way back during the Greek and Roman empires, if you were part of the forced labour (slave) on a galley ship the business rules and communication structure was pretty simple. The drum would beat and you would row. If you didn't bad things happened to you.
Since then we've moved from farming, to factories to information workers. Ships have moved from human propulsion to sails and now diesel engines.
When you move past one person on a project, the number of communication paths (links between people) grow quickly. With two people there is one bidirectional path, with three there are three, but with 4 there are 6. With 100 people it gets crazy.
If you've ever tried to follow a long running e-mail conversation with a large group, you know what I mean. It can quickly consume most of your energy. What happens when you need to add another person to the conversation?
Meetings are a similar story. The smaller the group, the more effective the meetings.
Unless you are using e-mail and meeting to convey information out to the group in a one-way fashion; much like the drum on the galley ship. But even then, much of the information is often not much use to everyone in the audience.
Today's software applications need to handle more than just the data and the business rules.
They need to consider optimizing the work-flow and even more importantly; the communications between the people on the project. This is often tacked on as an afterthought on a software tool.
Interestingly, social media and the mobile world have already introduced a number of really good communication metaphors. Blogging with comments, forums, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, etc. The problem is actually too many options.
It may be tempting to just connect to an external tool and do the communication there. But unless you can do it seamlessly, then people have yet one more place to go to do the work on a particular task… and the external tool may not meet your security or logging requirements.
For example, in our Employee Slotting Tool we added in the drum (messages from the top). But we also added in work-flow and communications between team members: status flags, follow-up flags and comments. Comments are turning out to be used a lot more extensively than expected as the software morphs into more than just employee slotting and into the realms of performance management and salary administration.
And that is as it should be, build the software and get it into the hands of the customer. Let the customer find new uses for it and drive out emerging requirements. Then you can use your expertise (not just coding but communication and work-flow as well) to creatively help people collaborate to get the work done faster and more effectively. As we better understand the way people work on these projects, the tools will get better too.
Still, many people have used e-mail for business communication for a long-time it is a hard habit to break. The first step is knowing there is a better way. Our younger workforce already understands this.
The answer is building software that is useful and moves from a drum to real collaboration.