Project Management and Collaboration

Project Management: The beachhead to true workplace collaboration

This is a contributed piece by David Goulden, Product Director at Clarizen


In the age of all-pervading office communications and real-time work benchmarking, genuine workplace collaboration has become critical to boosting productivity and growth in businesses around the globe. Indeed, achieving enterprise-wide collaboration based on constructive communications and consistent goals has become a holy grail for companies seeking better efficiencies. In fact, according to a 2012 study, 96% of executives blame lack of collaboration and poor communication for workplace failures.

In many organisations, successful project management teams are already achieving productive collaboration through a blend of effective PM techniques and technologies. The success of such teams is a major reason that 97% of companies believe project management is critical to overall business performance and achievement, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers [PDF from 2012] – and a big factor in the Association for Project Management in the United Kingdom receiving official government recognition as a profession when it was granted a Royal Charter in April.


Collaboration overload

The trouble is, while collaboration is essential in an increasingly global and interconnected world, many businesses are actually experiencing collaboration overload, a study published in the Harvard Business Review found. The research revealed employees at many companies spend 80% of their time in meetings or on the phone or responding to emails – which is actually hurting their productivity. What’s more, work communications apps such as Slack, Yammer and Microsoft Teams are flooding companies with chat that seems like collaboration but does not actually take them any closer to meeting business goals.

So how can companies achieve more effective collaboration? The secret lies in applying project management methods more widely. The level of collaboration that project managers are used to dealing with is increasingly in demand in areas such as human resources, marketing, sales and operations.


Obstacles to successful collaboration

Critical challenges to effective workplace collaboration that actually improve efficiencies include:

  • Being swamped by communications that are unproductive or even counter-productive
  • Failing to communicate and track activity across teams and locations
  • Struggling to remain aligned in terms of objectives and activities
  • Lacking an agreed platform for all project and work related communications
  • Requiring a mechanism for prompting individuals or teams to pick up the baton when a task that the next phase of work depends on is competed
  • Needing to effectively prioritise a range of tasks set for a team or across departments
  • Facing constant interruptions that take people or even whole teams out of the flow of work and off task – leaving them behind schedule

Sharing information and managing related tasks so that each step in the collaborative process leads toward meeting firm objectives, agreed costs and set deadlines enables project managers to overcome these obstacles and provide a model for other parts of the enterprise seeking truly effective collaboration.

Planning and communications that span teams, departments, business units, locations and management groups – and sometimes extend to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders – are critical elements of project management methodology. Projects are often ephemeral and cross-team, but they offer a framework for cross-organisation alignment and are the vehicle for driving change.


Communications with context and purpose

Project mangers understand all too well, however, that communication in itself is not collaboration. Not all communications are important. Those that reflect business context are, fostering coordination, engagement and visibility in terms of meeting objectives.

Unfortunately, workplace communication apps can feed some of the biggest challenges to productive collaboration. Too much talk with no clear focus on work and goals can have a detrimental effect on collaborative activities, overloading people with unnecessary information, tying them up in fruitless conversations and exposing them to constant interruptions. Even worse, the social chat nature of some of these apps can even have lasting negative impact on the workplace, becoming catalogues of complaints and failures.

Taking the focused approach that best practice project management demands can make all the difference to boosting productivity. Functional communications on a software platform that ensures work conversations stay on track – keeping things on task, on budget and on deadline – are vitally important, while banter is not.


A plan to hand

Project managers are used to having a communication plan. This sounds old school, but when the workforce spans millennials and baby boomers, you can’t assume everyone is on the same chat networks or knows whom they should be speaking in each situation.

Having a structured framework for communications, overseen by someone driving the process, is key to summing up ‘where we are’ and addressing issues on an ongoing basis. Outlining topics teams need to keep abreast of – the who, when, how and what of a project or broader business objective – is hugely beneficial to work collaboration.


Priorities that make sense

Free-form departmental meetings or wide-ranging conversations on chat apps and lead to business units and management teams being side-tracked by ad-hoc, fragmented communications – often based on in-the-moment tactical considerations that distort priorities and hijack decision-making.

Project management techniques avoid this. Projects have deadlines and priorities. They help frame whether a discussion or action is urgent, or can be picked up later. Priorities do not depend on which manager, team or employee cries the loudest and longest; they are based on schedules, processes and goals built on strategic considerations.


The right tool

Employing an advanced, flexible and user-friendly collaborative work application gives everyone a mechanism to organise and communicate across teams within the framework of what benefits the business. These provide not just goals but workflow management – flagging dates, responsibilities, assignments and dependencies (i.e. when one team depends on another to complete a task before beginning the next one) – and a means of providing transparency and oversight.

These systems are where project roadmaps reside, providing mangers with milestones that are crucial for workflow. Project roadmaps can be used to plan almost any collaborative business endeavor – from marketing campaigns to creative initiatives to day-to-day people management.


The standard for true collaboration

Project managers increasingly set the standard for true collaboration and more effective workflow – ensuring that timewasting communications are minimised, while establishing a beachhead for other parts of the business seeking to boost productivity.


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