Collaboration Basics for Project Managers

Collaboration is a hot topic these days, yet it's always been there. The more intensified interest seems to be driven by the variety of teams and organization structures, as well as technology disruption, that have evolved in more recent times.

In this overview, I am going to review what I consider to be the key components of collaboration: different levels of collaboration, types of collaboration, and collaboration technologies.

Targetted Collaboration

Different Levels of Collaboration:

  1. Different levels of closeness - The idea here is to think of a big versus small team. It's also important to consider whether they are co-located or not. Collaboration may be required across a large or a small team, but you need to acknowledge that only so much collaboration will take place among members of a large and diverse team. You need to be able to support and facilitate the degree of collaboration you need.
  2. Proximity to target or core - Many projects consist of teams that have a loose fit to each other. Often people are matrixed, have multiple bosses, and contribute to varying degrees to the project. Most projects of this type have a group have people that are close to the core of the project, and others that are more peripheral. You need to make sure that the appropriate level of collaboration is facilitated fore each particular stakeholder group.

Types of Collaboration

  1. Thinking/brainstorming - We can get everyone sharing their brain power collaboratively.
  2. Seeing - We can all look and see the same thing - like a building to build, a system to develop, or a product to market.
  3. Feeling - Sharing emotions is something often overlooked, but it is a form of collaboration.
  4. Hearing - When we all listen to the same thing, we are in the process of collaborating, just as we are when we see or think together.
  5. Focusing - The ultimate collaborate focus is an Army platoon that focuses on a unified mission together.
  6. Coordinating - Sometimes the level of collaboration is pretty focused - like for example, when parties simply need to coordinate measurements on a building project to ensure there are no conflicts.
  7. Visualizing/envisioning - This is similar to brainstorming, where the group is collaborating to develop a common and shared vision.

Collaboration Technologies
There are numerous technologies that can enable collaboration - some old, and some more recent.

  1. Phone - The phone is still a powerful means of coordinating and sharing across teams, especially with mobile versus land line, and phones now usually incorporate many of the technologies below on this list.
  2. Email - Email is a tried and true way of staying in touch and is used universally. Where it falls short is its lack of a shared space and cross team organization.
  3. Instant messaging - This is a powerful means of transcending time and space, with the potential to make everyone available all of the time. That's also its downside, as it can be distracting.
  4. Shared drive - Shared drives can still be effective, but they have in many cases been supplanted by shared portals that have the capability to store and organize documents.
  5. Shared portal - Portals are very popular and effective as repositories of project documents, but also can be a mecca for the project to launch meetings, share spaces, and other collaborative functions.
  6. Virtual meetings - These are very effective for bringing together geographically dispersed team members and stakeholders in a cost effective manner.

How to Collaborate for Project Success
Different intensities of collaboration are required in each situation. As a result, for a project to be successful, the Project Manager needs to identify the needs for collaboration on the project and manage the team accordingly. This includes working with the team in early stages of the project to determine collaboration needs on the project, such as different levels of collaboration, types of collaboration, and collaboration technologies. Setting up an infrastructure for collaboration on the project with a balanced selection from among these different aspects of collaboration is critical to project success. In addition, once implemented, collaboration using the tools needs to be managed closely and regularly to ensure intended goals of the collaboration are being met.

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