Enabling Project Team Collaboration

The complex nature of today's project teams requires strategic planning to make sure the end goals can be accomplished. Here's a helpful guide to get you started.


The complex nature of today's project teams requires strategic planning to make sure the end goals can be accomplished. Here's a helpful guide to get you started.

Project teams exist to create great products, but the odds are often stacked against a project's success. A recent study from The Standish Group of 40,000 projects found that 66 percent of projects completely fail or are late, over budget or missing critical features. The cost overruns average an alarming 43 percent (Extreme Chaos, 2004).

One factor that can contribute to these failures is geographical distance among project team members. Project teams now rarely have the luxury of working together in a single location. And they often lack even the assurance of having a stable team for the life of the project. Thus, as companies outsource more design and manufacturing services, their teams must find ways to work together across geographical — and often company — boundaries.

As a result, project team collaboration is a popular catch phrase for decision makers at many companies today. Nearly 60 percent of participants in a recent Giga Research survey, for instance, said that technologies that promote project team collaboration were their top concern (February 2004).

Missing the Mark

It's no surprise that plenty of products have jumped on the collaboration bandwagon. But most only partially address the comprehensive needs of project collaboration. Companies that ask an incomplete solution to carry the entire burden of project team collaboration are setting their projects up to fail.

Take the example of an advertisement that appeared recently in a leading information technology (IT) magazine. It invited businesses to enable collaboration with a powerful electronic communications device. This device, it promised, ties multiple parties together in real-time, performs outstandingly, and offers a low cost, easy deployment method to cross company boundaries.

If your business has geographically dispersed project teams, this advertisement might intrigue you. However, it in fact referred to something that you likely already have: the speakerphone. This tool actually does all of the things that the advertisement promises. But obviously, while it is a useful tool for project collaboration, it's only a partial solution — necessary, but insufficient.

The same can be said for desktop or application sharing software. Like the speakerphone, application sharing is relatively low cost, easy-to-use, simple to deploy, and enables real-time collaboration. And like the speakerphone, it's necessary, but insufficient, for supporting communication across dispersed project teams.

Covering the Bases

Application sharing does play a part in the success of many projects. Some 60 percent of companies already use it as a collaborative tool, according the research firm the Delphi Group. But application sharing falls far short of being the integrated, comprehensive solution to project team collaboration needs.

Here are some tools and processes that are both necessary and sufficient to enable your project team's collaboration to succeed.

How Project Teams Work Today

Twenty years ago, establishing a project team and enabling effective interaction was fairly straightforward: You opened an office and put everyone in it. The team needed little more support than desks, chairs and a chalkboard.

Today, projects are more dynamic. To understand why today's teams need a comprehensive collaboration solution beyond application sharing, it's important to think about what a project team does together.

Successful project communication involves three different types of activity: organizing, communicating, and managing.

Organize
Team leaders establish a project and select team members who then begin to organize their project data in a central location.

Establish roles and rights — As part of establishing a project, team leaders assign each member a role. Ideally, leaders will set individual levels of access to project information that depend on the duties of each team member and the security needs of the company.

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