Everyone is talking about collaboration these days, especially in projects.  Hence it was no big surprise that “collaboration” was one of the key words at this week’s PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin, Ireland.  Social media, communication, collaboration tools, …, you name it.  Thank to technology it seems that collaboration is ever become easier these days.  But is it really? I am not convinced.  Yes, there are some new widgets and gadgets out there that make us think that all of us can become great communicator if we only use the right tools.  But it is not that easy.  As a matter of fact if we really think that tools are at the center of collaboration we are missing the point.  Collaboration is not about technology.  It is about people and relationships!  Therefore we have to understand people and their relationships first before we even consider any technology.  Once again I am catching myself having to admit that this is common knowledge – which is – what a surprise! – not common knowledge.

So, what do I recommend with respect to collaboration tools.
First of all, it is a fact that technical collaboration tools can enable collaboration if and only if you understand the critical success factors of collaboration.  These critical success factors include the power of team synergy, discipline, shared values, a simple yet strong structure of collaboration rules, results-orientation (especially in projects) and many more.  Have a look at the presentation I gave in Dublin on this topic.

Second, assess the collaboration requirements. This starts with an understanding of the purpose of your project.  Why do you want to start your project in the first place, i.e., what motivates you? And what do you envision as the ultimate outcome? What is the bigger picture where your project fits in? And more specifically, what do you want to accomplish in a given time frame?
Then ask what kind of collaboration you need to achieve those desired results? And, what kind of collaboration do you and your team value?
Don’t stop there. Instead think of possible impediments to this kind of collaboration.  What is that could prevent this desired collaboration to evolve?  Examples could be:

  • Wasted effort due to mismatch of goals or politics
  • Disconnect in understanding
  • Excessive time spent interpreting communication or artifacts
  • Time spent searching for information
  • Delays due to reviews, approvals, and bottlenecks
  • Incorrect use of methods and techniques

Identifying possible or actual collaboration blockades is one thing.  What you and your team want to do now is finding ways and means to overcome these blocks.  This brings me to the next point:

Third, select the right tools with your team.  Tools can help overcome collaboration inefficiencies; they can help enable and promote active and productive collaboration in your team.  Don’t select these tools by yourself.  Involve your team.  Find out which tools can facilitate your work, are in sync with your daily workflows.

Fourth, know how to use tools.  This should be a given, but often times this point is forgotten.  Bottom line: keep your tools simple, start small and invest in necessary trainings.

Fifth, align the tools with the purpose of your project.  Beware thought that your project and hence collaboration requirements can and probably will change during the project life cycle.  Keep your eyes on the goals and adjust your collaboration and tools accordingly.  Tools don’t exist for the sake of technology.  They are there to help you.  They need to serve your purpose and not the other way around.

Once again, I invite you to have a look at the presentation I gave at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin on May 9, 2011.  In addition, you can read the corresponding White Paper.

Related blog posts: The wise use of collaboration tools for project success, Effective Teams Don’t Need Collaboration Toos. Really?
Tags: #collaboration, #project management, #teams, #leadership