When more than one person is working on a project, the collaboration or lack of it between the team members is the deciding factor in the success or failure of any project. Without coordination and collaboration, the project has little chance of success. When Microsoft Project first came out, every project manager rushed out to get a copy! It was a great tool after all. Adding tasks and assigning them to people was easy and to view the project in a graphical format (Gantt) was wonderful. No more Excel for managing projects! Everybody thought using MS Project will improve team productivity, shorten the project’s time and bring the cost of the projects & the product or service down!
In practice, MS project proved to be far less effective in improving team productivity and reducing cost. The main reason for this shortcoming was the fact that the application was written for the project manager in mind and paid little attention to team interaction and collaboration among team members themselves as well as between the project manager and team members. For large projects, it was common to have two or more project coordinators whose main jobs were to collect information from all members and feed the beast that was called MS project. Due to this difficulty in gathering and decimating project information, the project sheet hardly ever reflected the true status of the project. To be fair to Microsoft the technology of those days made collaboration features almost impossible or extremely hard and expensive to implement. With the advancement of new technology, it is possible now to include collaboration as the integral & indispensable part of project management service.
What type of collaboration is needed for people working on a project? First and foremost communication. It is our primary tool to exchange ideas, give feedback and encourage others to commit to a common goal. For teams that are co-located communication comes easy. One-to-one communication or team meeting conversation is easy to set up & engage. Documentation is another form of communication essential for collaboration. Here traditional teams have a disadvantage! How do you document hallway conversation between two or more members of the project which could be very important to all its members? Somebody needs to sit down and write a summary of the discussion and share with the whole team. There are two problems with this. First, most people don’t have the time or motivation to document every discussion they have, second, how do you document conversation and make it available to all team members? How do you make sure the understating or recollection of one member matches other members’ memory? Here virtual teams have an advantage. All conversations between the team members using voice, video, chat, message board and whiteboard could be saved and made instantly available to all team members. This information could be indexed and made searchable. This will make retrieving any information about the project throughout project’s life cycle possible with much less effort. Also, all documents shared in the project are kept in the same place where the team communicates. All versions of the document could be saved and made available to the team.