Project collaboration is a set of principles and methodologies by which teams and team leaders plan, coordinate, control, and monitor their work. This collaborative process can work across departmental, corporate, and national boundaries, and provide a great deal of help with projects as they grow in complexity.
As the trend shifts towards remote work, distributed teams, and moving data to cloud servers, collaboration has become a buzzword more than ever. But what does project collaboration mean? Many things, and we'll go into them and how you can apply them when running your projects.
What is the purpose of collaborative project management?
Collaboration has been a big talking point for the past several years, as organizations realize that effective communication and collaboration is key to innovation. New methods and paradigms have emerged to extend the meaning of collaboration from the simple act of working together. Today, it's a more complex inter-relating team function to achieve new ideas, innovative practices, and producing value across all projects. These methods include tools and practices that promote communication, sharing ideas, and improving transparency for local and distributed teams.
As a project manager, you want to encourage collaboration in your organization because it's good for the project and your team. You are in control of the process, but it's also important not to hinder communication, avoid micromanagement, and allow your team to do what you hired them to do.
What are the essential skills for teamwork and collaboration?
Collaboration is about bringing people from different departments, locations, and teams together, and focusing their efforts on a joint project goal. But it can't happen unless everyone on your team is on the same page. Collaboration is a process, but good teamwork is a set of skills that are honed over time.
In essence, you can't go wrong by focusing your efforts on developing these four essential skills:
People with a natural curiosity will thrive in a collaborative environment. On the other hand, those who are a little more resistant to new ideas could stall or potentially disrupt the project before it even starts. And because open-mindedness and curiosity are among the fundamental building blocks of collaboration, leaders need to find ways to encourage them in their team.
Clear and efficient communication is another must-have for successful collaboration. Your team needs to be able to express themselves to each other. However, all people communicate differently. Some of us feel perfectly comfortable speaking in groups, while others don't. Fostering clear and open communication means being mindful of different communication styles and adapting the way you communicate accordingly.
Successful collaboration means people can delegate the workload, keep themselves organized, and take care of their responsibilities. That's why organizational skills are crucial for collaboration.
Priorities shift, different obstacles delay progress, problems arise, catapulting the whole project into complete chaos. All this might tempt us to give up and walk away before even getting started. However, that's not always an option in the workplace. To keep the project on course, people need the ability to adapt at a moment's notice. Adaptability is a crucial collaboration skill, but it's another one of those difficult-to-teach ones. Adapting well to change comes with practice and experience.
How do you collaborate on a project?
Whatever project management system you might be currently using, there are a few common tips for effective project collaboration within a team.
Have a project owner
Not just any project owner. A good project owner needs to be an organized planner and communicator, someone who understands the importance of keeping the team up to date. Their job is to plan and assign tasks and goals, get everyone on the same page, and manage the delivery of projects while ensuring not to over-communicate so people can actually focus on their work. They also need to find the right balance, ensuring their team members know what they're doing and when their tasks are due. At the same time, they need to ensure that all key stakeholders have visibility over different parts of the project and keep them in the loop.
Keep discussions open, constructive and thoughtful
It's easy to get carried away when a new idea comes up and potentially miss potential issues or dependencies that could slow the project down. Make sure there's a clear understanding of what problem you're trying to solve, but equally importantly - why. It helps to get the right people together and provide an open platform to assess these situations objectively.
Use applications that suit your team's needs
Adopt the type of project or task management platform that makes it easy for you and your team to move your work forward. You want a platform that allows you to:
- manage projects and assign tasks with ease
- stay up to date with all activities and changes
- create dependencies, timelines, and work schedules
- add task descriptions, due dates, attachments, labels, and comments
- maintain a steady flow of communication and find every piece of information promptly and easily
Your chosen platform for project collaboration should also give each team member the option to receive notifications and reminders as they help keep your team up to date even when they might not be logged into the system.
Make meetings meaningful
We've written about meetings before, and you probably know all the issues we tackled. You probably have your share of frustrations when it comes to meetings as well. Someone has organized a meeting, it's dragging on for way too long, and you're sitting there wondering why on earth you're even there.
This is especially hurtful when you're not adding anything of value to the discussion or, worse, getting anything useful out of it. Most of the time, you're probably thinking about all that Real Work you could be doing instead. Your team has deadlines to meet, so when meetings are scheduled, they must be productive and have an actual purpose.
Understand the "purpose"
There's nothing worse than working on something that serves no purpose and where no one has any idea what they're doing. Individuals need to be aware of the value in their roles and contribution and recognize the other team members' value. If each individual is working towards the common goal and understands the impact they're making by delivering the project and achieving goals, much more effective collaboration will occur.
The importance of collaborative project management
Okay, so you've jumped on the collaboration bandwagon. Now let's enjoy the ride! Rather than just giving it lip-service, what can you do to build and cultivate a collaborative environment in your company? Although the benefits of project collaboration are obvious, implementing a collaborative platform can be hard, especially if you're managing remote teams. Here are the most important aspects of team performance you can improve by incorporating a collaborative approach into your project management practice.
Communication. Good communication is the foundation of successful projects, and so it goes with installing a collaborative environment. It's not enough to be a good communicator. It's also important to motivate your team to communicate, too.
Training. Whenever you're picking up a new skill, you need guidance and direction. Set up regular training sessions for your team to teach them how to use online project management tools and why they make effective project collaboration possible.
Change management. Old habits die hard. Get your team to move away from antiquated communication methods (yes, email, you know we're talking about you) and get comfortable with more interactive and collaborative solutions.
Sharing. Collaboration is all about sharing values, progress, and outcomes. It won't work unless you break down the virtual walls that are separating your team. A good team collaboration software will help you make sure everyone on your team knows what's going on at any given moment and is on the same page with deadlines, meetings, etc.
Monitoring progress. Creative projects are not plug-and-play. They are a complex set of timelines and milestones that don't run their course when you're not keeping up. The same goes for collaboration - you must closely monitor the projects and have regular meetings with your team to handle questions and track their progress or impediments.