Collaborative Project Management

Collaborative Project Management is a cliché.  Business owners and corporate CEOs think their Project Managers and their teams practice collaboration. But nothing is further from the truth when it comes to the practice of collaboration.

The concept of collaboration is very elusive. What constitutes collaboration?  How do you define it? how do you practice it? Is proper communication all you need to create a collaborative environment? Most project managers have a hard time answering the above questions.

To make it worse, there is very little guidance given to Project Managers to help them manage collaboratively.   Below are some simple techniques that you can use to create a culture that supports Collaborative Project Management.


Collaborative project management to-dos

Manage by Example

Collaboration cannot occur in a vacuum and management needs to create a top-down culture that adopts collaborative practices.  Within the project team, the Project Manager needs to demonstrate a commitment to collaboration by leading by example.

A Collaborative Project Manager has an open door policy. She is empathetic to the views of her team members. Collaborative project managers are transparent in their decision-making process.

This helps project members to understand the rationale for decisions and changes. These managers are inclusive of the diverse views of team members. A robust early debate about the direction, structure, and planning of the project

Of course, Project Managers need to be responsive to the overall business objectives and the consensus is not always feasible or necessary.  For this project permissions for accessing project’s details should be only given to those who have a stake in the project. However, when the Project Manager acts as a role model for collaboration this can change the overall team’s dynamic.


Promote and Incentivize Collaboration

Team members that engage in the collaborative Project Management practices should be reward by receiving recognition. Where applicable, career advancement opportunities or even financial incentives should go to those who work collaboratively.

Demonstrate to the wider team that professional development within the organization is linked to the individual’s ability to collaborate with the group.

One way to encourage collaboration is to tie the team’s compensation to the level of collaboration. The team is rewarded for the great results achieved by the team as a whole.

Include the team in planning, design, and staffing of the project. You need 100% buying from your team when you start the project. Let them contribute and the project will reap the benefits.

Individuals who are unwilling or unable to collaborate could be penalized and when necessary removed from the team or even the organization.


Educate and Mentor Your Team

One cannot simply assume that a team will be collaborative even if the overall organization is supportive of collaboration and the Project Manager works to facilitate this behavior.

By definition, Collaboration cannot be taught via a frontal learning methodology.  Companies with a rigid approach to corporate training may need to re-think how to educate their project teams on collaborative practices.

In our experience, one of the best ways to “teach” collaboration is to conduct off-site activities which require “group work” with a team prior to kick-off.

Within reasonable limits, group activities can be designed to foster team building and also introduce team members to each other in a non-confrontational, more intimate way.

One of the best activities we know of to participate in Habitat for Humanity projects. Not only the team works on a great cause, they also learn to collaborate for achieving the best results.

During the project development, it is important to celebrate when milestones reached. Have weekly gatherings to discuss project challenges in an informal and constructive environment and have fun at the same time.

After project completion, it is always important to conduct a thorough debrief and to use the experience for professional development and growth or team members and improvements of future projects.

For the overall success of a project, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the project manager taking on a mentorship role with the specific intent of encouraging collaboration.

Finally, to the extent that corporate training programs can incorporate collaboration building exercises, we recommend programs that focus on Emotional Intelligence.

Such programs can help to improve the Emotional  Intelligence of the managers and the whole team significantly.

These programs should also encourage team-building, cross-cultural sensitivity and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).


Develop Metrics for Collaboration

To measure the effectiveness of your collaboration initiative, you need to establish metrics.  Where possible tie rewards to the overall performance of the team and not the individual performance.  Without being too prescriptive, we suggest the following:

  • Include the overall team members in developing and selecting metrics for success. By securing the participation of team members in determining the metrics for success, it will create a shared vision for individual contributors.
  • Metrics need to be specific and tied to the business results. If the project relates to the launch of a new product, then the metrics need to reflect specific achievements such as the time to market, the number of bugs found after release (quality) or the price compared to the set goal.


Develop Transparent Communications

Communication between the Project Manager and team members need to be honest and based on unfiltered feedback.   The ultimate goal of the Project Manager is that the team member can come to him or her with questions, concerns and (especially) mistakes.

The Project Manager needs to listen to feedback but should not always be compelled to take the counsel of each individual member working on a project.

The ability to give push-back, ask probing questions and provide a safe environment to create an open two-way dialog between the Project Manager and the team members.

The same should be encouraged among the team members: honest and robust communication helps teams to achieve more and make deadlines at much higher rates.

Information needs to be available to all relevant stakeholders in the project. The information should be distributed as close to real-time as possible among team members and all project stakeholders.

In the age of social media, people expect quick responses to questions.   Within the Collaborative Project Management arena, this requires the Project Manager and her team to provide real-time feedback and provide tools that enable project members to find their own answers, like starring objects to follow or tagging tasks for easier system-wide search etc.

All information and newly gained knowledge should be shared with the overall group.


Responsibility should be shared

To be a real collaborative team you as the project manager need to learn to share responsibility with your team members.

Managing projects has become more democratic. When you share responsibility you show trust and demand 100% commitment from your team.

When people are involved in decision making, they have their own skin in the game and work harder and smarter to achieve the goals set by the team.


The focus should be the Team, not the Manager

The team should be the center and focal point of all activity in the project. What is good for the team is good for the project and what is good for the project is good for the team.

This means individual team members need to be selfless and keep emotions and pride out of the project. In the sport, a team of all-star players who don’t cooperate will always lose to teams with less talented players who are selfless and do everything for the good of the team.

These teams achieve more, there is less strain on its members, burn out less and have happier and fulfilled lives.


How can Technology help with collaboration?

Technology can help with collaboration. A good collaborative Project Management Software provides the functionality that helps the team be more collaborative. In addition to Agile, waterfall or hybrid methods, a good project management software should include collaboration.

This application should update in real time all information generated in the project to the team members.   For instance, when a new bug is discovered or a task is delayed, the team receives notification about these events automatically and in real-time.

It is been proven that team which collaborates properly, achieve more and are happier and stay together longer. These teams have much lower rate of burnouts by individual members.

Our hope is that the reader will take the idea of collaboration seriously after reading this article. We have seen tremendous improvements in team productivity when collaboration has been mandated and practiced in our projects.

If you are a startup, collaboration is even more important for the survival of your business. Read start-up guide for project management and collaboration for the better understanding of how collaboration can help you to succeed.

In the summary collaboration is the secret weapon you can use to multiply the output of your team. Collaborative project management helps you to gets things done faster, have higher quality products and be happier in what you and your team does.

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.


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