The sheer number of online collaboration tools often hinders teams instead of helping them.
Jason Morio is responsible for product and go-to-market strategy for Planview’s smart collaboration project, Projectplace. He has more than 15 years of software-as-a-service and enterprise software experience within enterprise architecture, marketing automation and telecommunications companies. He earned his B.S. in computer engineering from Lehigh University.
A recent survey of 200 North American business professionals who manage or participate in projects found that people waste nine weeks per year to poor project collaboration.
The irony is that the sheer number of online tools to help with collaboration, such as applications, social media and intranets, often hinders teams instead of helping them.
In fact, the study revealed that the average team member uses about five different tools to manage projects. One-third of respondents also said no one in their organization uses the same tools.
It’s no wonder teams are finding it difficult to get on the same page.
This glut of solutions may be the reason that project teams continue to rely on outdated, disparate tools for project and team collaboration. The survey respondents disclosed the tool they use most is email (73 percent) followed by spreadsheets (62 percent) and the phone (53 percent).
Ironically, they also cited email as their top hurdle to effective collaboration. While email has a role in connecting teams, its high volume, difficult search functionality and lack of transparency all create issues.
The drawbacks of traditional solutions are also evident in the other top collaboration obstacles disclosed: trouble accessing up-to-date information, lack of workload visibility and trouble collaborating with cross-functional team members.
How can government organizations facilitate effective collaboration among teams? Here are four suggestions:
Audit all collaboration tools and standardize on a few. Evaluate and streamline all collaboration solutions. Standardize on a limited set of effective tools that make working with virtual teams easy. Look for tools that facilitate document sharing, formalized planning and scheduling, task visualization and mobility. These tools should be simple to use, which will promote consistent use across teams.
Document sharing. Team members must be able to share the latest documents with all colleagues, whether they are in the next room, across the city or a continent away. Relying on email and internal document repositories often spirals into a never-ending search for the most up-to-date data and documents. External team members, such as consultants and vendors, can sometimes find it difficult to access and navigate these sources. Look for applications available to everyone on the team and offer full version control, locking, reviews and relation back to project activities and tasks.
Formalized planning and scheduling. The ability to plan visually helps virtual teams work together better. In traditional project management, Gantt charts are used to plan and track projects using classic constructs, such as activities, milestones, dependencies and due dates. Seek solutions that incorporate Gantt charts digitally and enable the distributed team to view and update them at any time.
Task visualization. Consider Kanban boards, which are made up of cards that resemble online Post-it notes. The cards visually represent tasks that individual project members are working on at any given time. Placed in columns, these cards show the workflows of projects and provide an at-a-glance view into the work of each individual team member. Some applications offer the ability to add documents, hyperlinks and comments to cards for more interactive team collaboration. Also, by combining Gantt charting with Kanban boards – such as the ability to drill down into a card directly from a Gantt view – organizations can gain a complete view into the progress of overall activities and milestones.
Mobility. Collaboration tools should work from any location, enabling team members to access all project status updates and documents from wherever they are with their smartphone or tablet. Continuous access to the latest information will facilitate quicker, more informed decisions and updates from the field.
Create an office in the cloud. A central, cloud-based solution will help distributed teams collaborate, communicate and stay up-to-date seamlessly, regardless of everyone’s whereabouts. Combined with the right applications, a virtual office gives teams one place to access project status, connect directly with anyone, update project documents and ensure work gets done. This mitigates the security concerns some companies have about integrating their existing infrastructure with external organizations. It also avoids the headache and expense of building and hosting solutions that may not work well for outside parties.
Employ workload management. Understanding which team members are overloaded and who can take on more work is essential to productivity. Visual project tools, such as Kanban boards and Gantt charts – especially when tied together – can provide visibility into workloads. With everyone constantly updating their project statuses, the visual depiction of activity helps to keep projects flowing smoothly, increases morale and raises the quality of work.
Safeguard sensitive data. No discussion of technology in government is complete without a discussion of security. Simple measures – such as a two-step security verification and requiring employees to change passwords regularly – can minimize the risk of working with internal and external team members. Plus, any applications the team is using, such as document sharing, should enable the project manager, contractor or management to grant or restrict access to any content.
Modern, innovative teams that work across organizational and geographic boundaries can collaborate effectively with the right technologies.
A good place to start is to audit and normalize all team tools. Every application should be easy for all staff to access and use from any location.
Once an application has been chosen, the only way to ensure success is for the team to use it consistently. By having the right capabilities available in one virtual, secure workspace, teams can elevate their communication and productivity.