I was delighted to discover a whitepaper by Eike Grotheer’s on “The Use of Collaborative Software in Virtual Teams”.
I’m interested in how “virtual teams” operate and work together, and so started reading his work. Then I realised that I had actually been part of his research. To gather data for his thesis, Eike had sent out requests to participate in a survey in May 2010. (Google still has a cached copy of the survey). In November 2010, he sent out the results of his research. And I never looked at it! (Kicking myself now, though!)
As I read Eike’s work I got even more excited – his research not only involved communication in virtual teams, he had used TAM (Technology Acceptance Model) to determine the effectiveness of the software.
(If you are not familiar with TAM (Technology Acceptance Model please check out my earlier posts: Predicting User Acceptance; and Applying (loosely) the Technology Adoption Model to a Real-Life situation)
Eike had used some pretty advanced statistical techniques to analyze his findings (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient; Kruskal–Wallis one-way analysis of variance), and I won’t go into those in detail.
Survey Results Summarized
- 265 people responded to the survey,
There was also a very large variety of tools in use (Microsoft Outlook, SharePoint, Microsoft Project Server, Lotus Notes, Lotus Sametime, Lotus Quickr, and Google Apps were all listed, along with other collaborative applications).
- Most of the features that are frequently used can be split into two categories:
- Tools for sharing and managing information (e.g. document, content and knowledge management)
- Tools for direct communication between team members
User Satisfaction and the Use of Collaborative Software in Virtual Teams
OK – this is where it started getting interesting. Eike rightly states that
the use of information systems can only provide a benefit to an organization if users first of all have interest in using them and then actually make use of them.
To try and explain this the Technology Acceptance Model was devised (refer earlier mentioned posts for more detail). It states that the a user’s intention to use a system is influenced by the perceived usefulness and the perceived ease-of-use.
Eike analyzed these two determinants (perceived usefulness and perceived ease-of-use) to determine their impact on the use of collaborative software. (He points out that, as everyone who responded to the survey is already using collaborative software, the intention is already known, and that the use is measured.)
Again, I won’t go into too much detail. In the survey there were 4 statements that were related to the perceived usefulness, and 4 statements that were related to perceived ease-of-use.
Performing a bivariate correlation analysis on the data from the survey, Eike was able to show that there was a positive correlation between the perceived usefulness and the actual use. This effectively proves (statistically) that the more users perceive collaborative software to be useful within a virtual team, the more they will use it. (Sounds logical, but then this fact means that the TAM can be verified).
Tackling the other determinant of the TAM, Eike did a bivariate correlation analysis between each perceived ease of use item, and the extent of use of collaborative software.
There was no significant correlation which meant that the ease of use of collaborative software has only a minor effect on the usage behaviour. However, it wasn’t actually possible to draw a conclusion as the survey participants were all experienced IT users, and the difficulty of the software may not have prevented it being used.
Going further, Eike investigated the impact of TAM factors on project success. Again using statistics he was able to show that there was a positive correlation between perceived usefulness and project success, and between perceived ease-of-use and project success. This confirmed that a relationship between the use of collaborative software and project success does exist.
In other words, the more useful the participants perceived the collaboration software that was used in the virtual team to be, as well as how easy they thought it was to use, had a positive impact on the success of the project in all aspects.
Summing it up
Sometimes it is easy to think “well, that’s already obvious”, but I always find it valuable to be able to scientifically prove (in one way or another) what everyone assumes.
And that is why I found Eike’s research exciting. From a handful of well thought-out survey questions, he was able to scientifically prove that
if software is considered useful by its users, it enables them to become effective and productive in their work, and if it is easy to use, it enables them to make use of it straight away, and leads quickly to desired results.
Other useful links:
Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 1
Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 2
Virtual Teams: Key Success Factors – Part 3
The Complexity of Virtual Teams