How to Master Effective Project Collaboration

Learn The 5 W's of Perfect Project Collaboration.

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Effective project collaboration is the process by which stakeholders, project managers, teams, and sponsors work together closely, in a harmonious manner, to deliver a product, service, or outcome that meets the needs of a customer. According to PMI, 20% of executives believe that soft skills like effective project collaboration and leadership are just as important today as they were five years ago, with another 51% saying that these are more vital to project success now than ever before. Here are the five W’s to help project managers, teams, and other stakeholders perfect project collaboration. First, start by asking ‘why?’

Why is project collaboration important?

Insufficient, infrequent or ineffective project communication and/or collaboration ranks within the top four reasons projects fail and, in fact, accounts for almost 30% of project failures. Coupled with the fact that a combined 71% of executives believe that soft skills like project collaboration play an essential role in projects, it is clear that collaborative communication is key to improving project success rates.

Not all organizations recognize the far-reaching and devastating impacts of stifled project collaboration, which can lead to short-falls and breakdowns on multiple levels. The impacts can include:
  • Insufficient, inaccurate, or ill-timed information
  • Stalled tasks, misaligned objectives, and missed goals
  • Decreased morale
  • A lack of stakeholder confidence
  • Reduced buy-in from stakeholders
  • Reduced performance and decreased agility
  • Complete project failure

To effectively address these risks, it is vital that stakeholders strive to become experts at collaborating and that they understand their roles and responsibilities in this regard. The ability to fully meet your customer’s needs depends on how well this can be done.

The Harvard Business Review explains that when it comes to project collaboration, “typically 20-35% of valuable collaborations come from only 3-5% of employees.” The end result is contributors that “are more likely to burn out and leave the company, creating network gaps, which then become another barrier to agility.”

Who should collaborate with whom?

The short answer is ‘you’ along with ‘all relevant stakeholders.’ The long answer is any internal or external stakeholders, including executives, sponsors, portfolio, program, or project managers, team members, functional leaders, front-line users, vendors, governing bodies, and customers that have impact on or are impacted by the project. Each of these stakeholders plays an important role in terms of project collaboration and progress.

Senior executives and project sponsors set the environment.

Senior executives and sponsors create, nurture and communicate the business strategy and culture within which all internal and external stakeholders operate. This culture determines how others collaborate inside and outside of projects and support the portfolio, program, and project managers as they collaborate with their teams and other stakeholders. Executives work closely with portfolio, program, and project managers, as well as functional team leaders, throughout a project lifecycle.

Portfolio, program, and project managers determine project protocols and norms.

These managers lead and communicate the overall business, executive, and project objectives, guide and collaborate with project teams and all other stakeholders, including vendors, governing bodies, and customers.

Functional leaders guide and communicate team objectives.

These leaders are responsible for the project activities within their functional areas of the business and collaborate with project managers, executives, and teams throughout a project.

Project team members collaborate and execute tasks throughout each project phase.

This core group of individuals is specifically selected for a project to take a project from start to completion. They collaborate with the project manager, as well as relevant stakeholders, to ensure each task is completed within its specific scope.

Front-line users are responsible for task level completion.

Each front-line user must collaborate clearly and in a timely manner with project managers, their teams, and direct functional leaders to ensure the tasks they are responsible for are correctly executed.

In one study, findings confirmed that “companies that promoted collaborative working were five times as likely to be high performing. Each front-line user or team member must collaborate clearly and in a timely manner with project managers, their teams, and direct functional leaders to ensure the tasks they are responsible for are correctly executed. This collaborative mindset, combined with practical and powerful collaborative tools can develop higher performing teams.

When are the critical times to collaborate during a project?

There is no one specific time where communication and project collaboration take place: it happens throughout a project from the initiation to the close. That said, there are times during the lifecycle of the project where communication and collaboration can become more critical than at other times. It's also important to ensure that the timing of collaboration and the type of medium used is suitable to allow for strategic collaboration, especially at critical junctures. In addition to developing and maintaining relationships, here are five potentially critical areas within a project lifecycle and the things to keep in mind when collaborating with stakeholders, teams, and executives.

1. Determining project goals, requirements, and providing updates

At the start of a project, as goals and requirements are being identified, it's vital to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page in their understanding of what is expected. This is the point where a project can either begin on the right foot and progress towards a favorable outcome or set up every task – and possibly the entire project – for failure. It is during this critical period that the customer, sponsor, project manager, and any other relevant stakeholders need to take every opportunity to collaborate closely about the project goals and requirements, and clearly set out assumptions and expectations. Since every activity from this point will build on these foundations, project collaboration here is essential and will require careful and precise documentation. Keeping a project moving in the right direction also warrants frequent, ongoing, and clear collaboration about the status of tasks, deliverables, and the project as a whole.

2. Establishing roles and responsibilities

Once project objectives and inquiries have been fully fleshed out, resolved, agreed to, and documented, establishing roles and responsibilities is another important stage. A project manager should carefully consider the best candidate for each role. It's essential to take account of factors such as skill sets, knowledge and training, and resource availability. Within many projects, there have often been times where an individual is assigned to a project due to their tacit knowledge and skill levels, yet their ability to commit to and deliver enough time and focus may be compromised. Resource utilization and allocation can be tricky, making this a critical point that needs careful collaboration and communication. This is where the project manager must be able to communicate with executives and sponsors to secure the required resources, the timing of those resources, and the make sure risk to the associated deliverables should those resources not be available is clearly understood. It's also important that any resources assigned have a clear understanding of their time commitment to a project to ensure they can meet the expectations made of them.

3. Managing risks

Throughout the lifecycle of the project, there are always risks, whether planned for or unforeseen. Developing the right risk strategy is highly dependent on the level of collaboration that takes place. Being able to identify the full extent and impact of each risk, as well as the best strategy to handle it, rests on how well stakeholders are able to clearly and comprehensively collaborate and come up with solutions. This can quickly become a pivotal or disastrous point in a project, should teams not be fully engaged or not committed to addressing risks.

4. Scope changes

Anytime there are scope changes in a project, there is a need for careful collaboration and documentation. When these changes occur, fast, clear, and comprehensive collaboration is a must in order to ensure project work is executed properly and deliverables remain on target. The project manager must identify, document, and share any scope changes with project sponsors, the customer, the project team and any other stakeholders who may hold valuable information or who are impacted by the outcome.

5. Conflict resolution

Almost every project suffers from a conflict at one point or another. Effective conflict resolution needs transparency, clarity, and direct communication. Many projects have been needlessly and negatively impacted as the result of unaddressed miscommunication or conflict. This can be a stressful time for all parties involved, making it an essential time for project managers to identify the root cause of the conflict and work closely and quickly with the parties involved to find the best solution. By doing so, the risk to the project can be minimized.

Where are the most important places to communicate throughout a project?

Project collaboration can take many forms and includes in-person, video-conference, email, instant chat, or the use of collaboration tools. Depending on the situation, some of these are more suitable than others in yielding the most optimal outcome. Here are just a few of the collaboration mechanisms and the situations in which they may work best.

Face-to-face collaboration

In-person or face-to-face is the most personable means to collaborate and has its advantages and disadvantages.

It is often used during the following situations:
  • When time is of the essence
  • When trying to resolve conflict
  • If you are dealing with sensitive information
  • When explaining complex concepts
  • When developing relationships
  • If participation and engagement is required

Virtual collaboration

Virtual collaboration is particularly useful when bringing together people or teams from different locations and/or where it is useful to be able to display information during meetings. It is also useful in keeping an audit trail as video conferences can be recorded.

Video conferences are often used:
  • When working remotely/virtually
  • When a larger number of people need to be involved in a meeting
  • When there are specific issues that need resolving
  • Where an audit trail is needed

Email

Some people live by their email, and others find email highly impersonal and even cumbersome.

Many individuals find email the best collaboration mechanism to use under the following circumstances:
  • When updating multiple recipients on task or project progress
  • When setting meeting invites
  • When working remotely/virtually and when face-to-face contact is not possible
  • When a recordable chain of sharing information is needed
  • If sharing detailed information is not immediately essential for a project

Chat

Chat or instant messaging is not for everyone, but some project team members find it as an easy and quick tool.

Chat is a good tool for the following tasks or in these situations:
  • During quick, informative conversations
  • If a fast check-in with one individual is warranted
  • When sending a quick non-critical update to a coworker

What makes up an effective project collaboration tool?

Most project teams cherish project collaboration tools due to the many versatile uses that they have, which have been designed to fit perfectly around project collaboration, specifically when it comes to project planning, notifications, assigning, scheduling, sharing, updating and tracking, measuring, auditing and reporting. Here are some of the top benefits surrounding project collaboration tools.

Throughout the life of a project, from initiation to close, project collaboration tools assist teams by doing the heavy lifting in terms of workload, allowing teams to focus on idea generation rather than how and where they will collaborate, as well as enabling the capturing, processing, and storing of project information and measuring progress. These collaboration tools help teams identify and document project goals, requirements, and deliverables, as well as create, share, update, categorize, prioritize, and track each idea, from where/whom it came, and record the next steps with ease.

Tasks can be created, scheduled, and assigned to resources. They can then be communicated, and tracked, making the process seamless while improving productivity levels. Change orders can easily be documented and quickly communicated with all stakeholders in real-time. Tasks, deliverables, timelines, and the impact on the entire project can be automatically tracked, generating process efficiencies. Further, any files or assets can be stored and shared with internal and external stakeholders. Teams can also leverage collaboration tools to set and track budgeted project costs, and the actual time and expenses allocated to a project. There are specific junctures throughout a project where collaboration tools afford teams and stakeholders significant efficiencies, enabling streamlined processes and productivity wins.

Here are some pivotal points in a project where selecting and deploying the right collaboration tools can yield impressive results.

1. Team notifications, task or schedule management, and status updates

A key part of project management is task assignment, and resource and schedule management. This needs project managers to be able to streamline stakeholder and team notifications and updates about tasks and schedules. Collaboration tools make it possible to conduct all of these activities in a single place, housing both contacts and dialogue in one portal.

Project managers can leverage collaboration tools to:
  • Schedule meetings
  • Send and receive timely notifications to and from team members and stakeholders, keeping multiple people updated about progress in real-time
  • Assign tasks and resources
  • Set the project timeline
  • Update and track the status of tasks, deliverables, and goals
  • Keep track of changes and change requests
  • Track projects costs and compare them against budgeted figures
  • Keep an inventory of assets
  • Track the status of all deliverables
  • Maintain an audit trail of all project activities
  • Share reports, business intelligence, resources, and calendars

2. Cost management and tracking

A necessary and essential part of efficient resource utilization is cost and time tracking capabilities that allow a project manager to monitor and control project costs, as well as make adjustments as needed.

Collaboration tools can assist by capturing:
  • Budgeted costs
  • Timecard information entered by team members as they carry out tasks
  • Project related expenses
  • Budget to actual costs
  • Detailed information and dialogue about variances

3. Performance measurement, management, and reporting

The only way to gauge project success is by having the means to capture and measure project performance and report meaningful results to relevant individuals and key decision-makers in a timely way. This is where collaboration tools can become a powerful engine, churning through mountains of data.

This can help:
  • Track and measure performance
  • Provide key benchmarks
  • Reduce errors and future risks
  • Return useful insights for fast decision-making
  • Forecast future options and opportunities
  • Communicate and share customized findings based on recipient roles

4. Productivity improvement and efficiency opportunities

One of the most significant benefits of collaboration tools is the inherent capabilities they offer surrounding workflow improvements, process efficiencies, increased productivity, and increased transparency. This is especially significant when working as part of a remote team where technology is the key enabler of team connectivity and collaboration. To this end, there are highly useful project collaboration tools that can alleviate a significant amount of stress and workload during project planning and execution.

As organizations are becoming more reliant on project managers and key stakeholders to become true project collaboration experts, it is creating the urgency for all stakeholders to understand why project collaboration plays such a vital role within projects. As a project manager or key stakeholder simply understanding why is not enough, it is even more essential to be able to leverage what you know to become a collaboration expert.

Final Thoughts:

  • Adequately addressing potential business risks requires stakeholders to become experts at project collaboration.
  • Carefully planning who to include in your communications and where the most optimal places for collaboration throughout a project can make the difference between failure and success.
  • Successful project execution and delivery starts with and depends on ‘you’ communicating effectively and in a timely way, with all relevant stakeholders.

Ready to start collaborating on projects more effectively? See why modern professional service organizations choose Mavenlink for managing projects.

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