Project management terms are changing. Keep on top of the changing trends with our deep dives into these methods and practices, and you can find them all in our Intro to Project Management category.
Project collaboration is a method by which teams and team leaders plan, coordinate, control and monitor the project they are working on. This collaborative process works across departmental, corporate and national boundaries and helps especially with projects as they grow in complexity.
With the trend towards remote teams and moving data to cloud servers, collaboration, which has always been foundational to teamwork, has become even more of a buzzword. But what does project collaboration mean? Many things, and we’ll discuss them and how you can apply them when leading your projects.
Project Collaboration [ˈpräjˌekt kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n]
Simply, to collaborate means to work together towards a common goal. Sounds just like project work, right?
Well, not quite.
Collaboration has been a big buzzword the past several years, as organizations realize that effective collaboration is key to innovation. New methods have emerged to extend the meaning of collaboration from the simple act of working together to a more complex function of inter-relating diverse teams to achieve new ideas, innovative practices and to yield superior results. These methods include practices and tools that promote communication, idea sharing and transparency for local and distributed teams.
To understand project collaboration as it relates to project management, then we must first have a firm handle on what project management is. Traditional project management is the process by which one plans, monitors and reports on getting something done over a set period of time. It usually involves scheduling tasks and milestones with set business goals to achieve a specific outcome, all led by a project manager. That could all be accomplished without collaborating in this new meaning of the term. That is to say, traditional top-down processes can, in many cases, get in the way of collaboration, prevent the sharing of ideas and lock-down individual and cross-team communications. This is not good for a project.
As a project manager you want to encourage collaboration among your team because it’s good for the project and good for your team. Yes, you are the one who is in control of the process, but it’s also important not to squash communication and not to micromanage and give the team you picked for their expertise the opportunity to do what you hired them to do.
Where Is Project Collaboration Done?
Collaboration has become synonymous with the tools used to collaborate, while it is also a practice that requires support and fostering, social platforms have broadened the ability for people anywhere to communicate and share. This has facilitated the ability for remote teams to collaborate. Where? The short answer is anywhere. As long as there is more than one person, then collaboration can exist and even flourish. But with teams being increasingly distributed across borders, collaboration is a necessary tool to working remotely.
Offices are using collaborative communication software to enhance their social intranet, which encourages teams to work together whether they’re in the same physical space or separated by miles. Now teams can easily share documents in real-time, meet, chat and even work on crossing off items from their task lists all in a virtual shared space. But it’s important to remember that your tools are only as good as your managerial style. Collaboration cannot be automated.
Different Types of Business Collaboration
As noted earlier, collaboration can mean something different depending on where it’s been applied. For example, in the enterprise space, collaboration may look very much like the way we defined it above, with a collaborative platform that uses social networking and a corporate intranet or even the public internet. This can also be called cloud collaboration, though working through the cloud isn’t always an enterprise function.
This kind of collaboration is often referred to as contextual, because it embeds business applications to help employees work better together. That means the usual tools you find in the office: word processing, instant messaging, shared calendars, etc.
There are also collaborations that are geared towards customer relationship management (CRM), where different departments in an organization, maybe sales and tech support or marketing, are able to share data they collect from their customer base in order to improve customer experience and loyalty.
Another business application is collaborative business intelligence, where software supports data driven decision-making. While collaborative consumption is a peer-to-peer model to help consumers make better decisions about goods and services. An example of this trend is the growing application of what’s called the sharing economy.
What all these different methods of collaboration share in common, however, is again the need for a human element beyond the technical tools that help facilitate collaboration. It’s important to remember this because tools are effective only if they’re used in a business culture that has seriously embraced collaboration and not merely superficially because it’s trendy.
What Are the PM Benefits of Collaboration?
Think of collaboration as the whole being better than the sum of its parts. If you have assembled a strong team then collaboration will only improve their productivity. Some of the benefits of project collaboration are included below.
- Increases productivity. By distributing tasks to team members who have the time and skills to complete them, rather than burdening one team member with too much work and neglecting others, you work more efficiently.
- Better problem-solving. Giving team members the autonomy to work together to solve problems offers more avenues to success, as well as building team loyalty and morale.
- Boosts communication. The lines of communication need constant maintenance or misdirection can sidetrack a project. Collaboration facilitates clear communication and provides a solution to communicate effectively among even remote teams.
- Lowers overhead. One of the bigger costs in any organization is renting or buying a physical space in which everyone can work. With collaboration, however, team members don’t need to be in the same place.
- Improves human resources. Be fostering collaboration between your team members you’re not only building relationships but creating loyalty that helps with employee retention.
Collaboration Is Good. Now What?
Okay, you’re on the collaboration bandwagon. But rather than just giving it lip-service, what can you do to cultivate a collaborative climate in your company? While the benefits of project collaboration are clear, implementing them can be hard, especially if you’re managing remote teams. Here are a few things you can do to give collaboration a healthy start in your organization.
- Communicate. As a project manager you know that good communication is the foundation of everything, so it goes with installing a collaborative environment. Not only must you properly communicate, but get your team to do so, too.
- Train. Like learning anything new, you need guidance and direction. Set up a training session for your team to teach them how to use and why they need online project management tools that make project collaboration possible.
- Change. Old habits die hard, but you need to get your team to move away from old methods of communications, like emails, and get comfortable with more interactive and collaborative communications.
- Share. That’s what collaboration is all about, and it won’t work unless you break down the virtual walls that have separated team members in the past. For example, share you calendars, that way everyone is on the same page with deadlines, meetings, etc.
- Check-in. When you lead a project you don’t set the path and let it run its course. The same goes with implementing collaboration. That’s why you must monitor and have regular meetings with them to field questions and track their progress.
Well, there you have it. Project collaboration is a real thing and it works hand-in-glove with project management. If you’re leading a project you want to have all the tools you can get handy. When it comes to planning, monitoring and reporting in real-time on a collaborative online network, then you’ll want to use ProjectManager.com. To see how it can help you do your job better, take our free 30-day trial.