Everyone talks about the importance of collaboration in our projects. Collaboration is defined as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something,” but it is also defined as “traitorous cooperation with an enemy.” Oops. What are we talking about here? We all know it is the former, not the latter! But seriously, haven’t we been collaborating on projects for decades? Well, yes and no. We have been “collaborating,” but we can and should be doing a better job at it, with the tools we have now that weren’t really available before. A file drawer in the project manager’s office or cubicle is not a real collaborative tool – especially if it’s a locked cabinet and only the PM has the key and he/she is traveling or on vacation. So the PM of the ’80s and even ’90s was not truly collaborative and desired ‘collaboration’ wasn’t really feasible. Now it is – on the cheap… and sometimes even for free.
So what does it mean to be collaborative? In my book – for the purposes of project management – these are three key concepts of project team/customer collaboration:
Sharing all project documents. All key project documents – the statement of work (SOW), charter, communication plan, design documents, requirements documents, risk register and log, issues list, status reports, current and past versions of the project schedule and just about anything else relevant to the project – should be shared. That can be through a file management software, inside a collaborative project management software tool, on a shared drive – cloud or otherwise – that each team member (and, for some docs, maybe the customer) can access at any time from any place. Or, for a smaller project, document sharing may occur through a social media group (e.g., a closed Facebook group with docs stored for the group). The sharing environment must be one where docs can be retrieved, revised, etc. The key is to not hold up peer reviews of deliverables and revisions of assigned documents but rather to speed up that process and make it more visible and openly accountable for the assigned person or persons.
Making joint project decisions and sharing information. A central communication tool is critical here for full and useful project collaboration. Depending on the size of the project, this may be a collaborative project management tool, or it may be a social media group or private chat area, or all of the above. The key is to enable – not hinder – swift and open communication between individuals and/or to the entire group depending on the topic and need at any moment. Again, you may want to include the project customer in this collaboration as a helpful and easy way to keep them engaged – but be careful. Too much visible communication between project team members on possible options and decisions can make a customer anxious, so use this at your own discretion.
Working closely in real time with the project team and customer. Again, this can be accomplished through a collaborative project tool, a closed social media group, or some tool that allows for real-time discussion and sharing of information. The key concept here is “real time.” Email – while great – often isn’t real time due to delays or recipients’ lack of availability. Also, believe it or not, some people still don’t have email on their smart phones because it’s not the easiest thing to setup and some people just don’t want it.
What is collaboration? It is what we need to share information and documents quickly and accurately. It is what we need to share information and feedback in real time. Some projects are small or not mission critical, and in such cases it’s ok to have a day’s delay in responding. However, this is rarely the case nowadays. Real-time communication and the ability to respond quickly is ideal for collaboration, and will make for the happiest project client possible. Plus, the cohesiveness of the team is only strengthened with such collaborative tools and the abilities they provide teams and customers alike.
Axosoft is a tool that project management teams use for real-time communication and genuine collaboration. Axosoft provides wiki pages which are a great solution for sharing documentation and keeping everyone on the latest version. Their branded Customer Portal offers a way to publicize specific projects, releases, wiki pages, and other development information that’s necessary for making joint decisions. You can also opt to engage customers by sharing certain project data through public dashboards. And although email isn’t always the best solution for team communication, Axosoft’s customizable email notifications serve as a helpful extra layer of communication to push critical project information to the right people. You can also integrate Axosoft with tools like Slack to communicate in real-time.
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