Have you assembled an all-star team, but you still struggle with staying in sync and delivering value fast enough? If so, you may need to adjust the way you’re approaching project collaboration.

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With collaboration software, teams can work together more efficiently.
With collaboration software, teams can work together more efficiently.

More organizations are using distributed teams for project work. This means teams are typically comprised of people from different time zones, departments, and even cultures. And without good collaboration software, these distributed teams can quickly become disconnected, contributing to issues like project delays and customer dissatisfaction.

In 2018, Planview surveyed 650 professionals from around the world who either manage or work on projects. Of those surveyed, 59% are managing or working on teams that are geographically dispersed and 80% belong to cross-functional teams. When asked about the top five biggest obstacles that negatively impact their team’s collaboration and success, the problems were clear:

  • 52% said they’re bogged down with too many emails
  • 48% cited poor communication between team members
  • 37% said they don’t have an effective online project management tool
  • 34% said it takes too long to report project status
  • 33% reported poor communication with external project contributors

A similar study found that the majority of cross-functional teams were unsuccessful because of a lack of communication. Cross-functional and distributed teams need crystal-clear communication. Otherwise, they don’t have a good understanding of their objectives and timeframes, or they may have a different idea of what defines success or failure.

Despite its challenges, the distributed workforce continues to thrive. Remote work has grown by more than 90% in the last decade. When managed correctly, dispersed teams can actually outperform traditional, collocated groups. But assembling a dream team isn’t enough to get the most out of your cross-functional and dispersed teams.

You need to bring teams together with collaboration software – a digital workspace that helps everyone stay on the same page, respond to changes as they happen, and ultimately deliver value faster.

Where Are Most Teams Falling Short?

Communication is at the core of every good project collaboration strategy. More often than not, when teams aren’t reaching their productivity goals, there’s a communication barrier that’s partially responsible for this problem.

And how are most teams communicating? Many are using the following traditional collaboration tools:

  • Email
  • Audio conferencing
  • Web conferencing
  • Spreadsheets

While still valuable in the right context, these tools are often unable to meet the needs of teams working on large projects in the digital transformation era. Modern teams need to be responsive and able to adapt to a fast-paced work environment, and to do that, they need collaboration software that makes it easy to communicate. Moreover, project managers need to easily track progress, identify bottlenecks, and manage opportunities and outcomes.

Collaboration software enables project managers to easily track progress and identify bottlenecks.
Collaboration software enables project managers to easily track progress and identify bottlenecks.

It should come as no surprise that more than half of those who participated in Planview’s collaboration study said that emails were their biggest pain point. Emails are not an effective way to manage work, track status, and share important documents with team members. And to make matters worse, the more emails teams send and receive, the easier it is for them to overlook important updates because their inboxes are being bombarded with emails.

Then there’s the issue with reporting the status of projects. Over one-third of the people surveyed said their biggest collaboration hurdle was inefficient reporting. More often than not, these are teams that are still using spreadsheets to report their project status to stakeholders. Not only is this approach more time consuming, the margin of error increases when teams are required to input and interpret data manually on spreadsheets.

Why Multiple Tools Are a Problem

If traditional tools aren’t helping teams keep up with the pace of today’s professional landscape, are new tools the solution?

In the era of digital transformation, organizations have the power of technology at their fingertips. Between cloud-based document management platforms, communication tools, and productivity applications, there’s an endless supply of resources available to drive effective project collaboration.

With so many software solutions available, then why are so many teams struggling to work efficiently? One reason is the number of different tools that teams use to help them complete their tasks.

In the 2018 report, “Everyone Is a Project Manager,” Planview found that teams use an average of 5.6 tools for project collaboration. Bringing multiple tools into your project creates unnecessary complexity, which is one of the reasons why teams aren’t working as efficiently as they should be. And using multiple tools can even inhibit productivity and undermine the planning process. When you’re working with distributed and cross-functional teams, you should try to reduce complexity as much as possible.

Enabling Effective Project Collaboration

Now that we’ve looked at some of the pitfalls that prevent teams from working cohesively, let’s look at some ways to minimize complexity and keep an open channel of communication – two time-honored strategies that enable teams to work together better, whether they are in the same room or spread across the globe.

Minimize complexity and keep communication open by trading in your toolset for a purpose-built solution to manage work and enable collaboration.

As a review, here’s what you’re probably facing right now on a typical project team: You’re using 5+ tools for project collaboration. You’re buried in emails. And communication could definitely be better among team members and external contributors. One way to minimize complexity and keep the communication flowing is to trade in your toolset for one collaboration software solution that’s purpose-built for work management and teamwork.

Collaboration software makes it easier for distributed and cross-functional teams to stay on the same page.
Collaboration software makes it easier for distributed and cross-functional teams to stay on the same page.

When 650 professionals were asked to list a feature that an “ideal collaborative work management tool” should include:

  • 69% want project planning
  • 66% want a dashboard that makes it easier to track multiple projects
  • 63% want a document sharing platform integrated into the application
  • 59% want to be able to add external collaborators to their project
  • 56% want a virtual task management solution like Kanban boards or a Gantt chart

Teams shouldn’t be working with five different applications just so they can use these features. They should be working with collaboration software that houses all of these functions in one solution. This removes the complexity of having too many apps, making it easier for managers and teams to:

  • Make informed decisions when planning projects, assigning resources, and setting deadlines
  • Track the quality and status of projects as they move through different stages of the workflow
  • Communicate with relevant team members in real-time
  • Access, share, and edit important documents from a centralized location within the virtual workspace
  • Identify and address bottlenecks and other issues as soon as they arise
  • Promote visibility and transparency of all work to team members and project stakeholders

While everyone stands to benefit from an all-in-one collaboration software solution, it’s critical for distributed and cross-functional teams to have a single source of truth that keeps everyone on the same page.

Improving Project Collaboration

In today’s globalized professional landscape, project collaboration isn’t an option – it’s a necessity. Cross-functional and geographically dispersed teams are becoming the norm, and a growing number of projects are requiring these teams to collaborate with external contributors.

Teams are comprised of members from different professional backgrounds, who are familiar with different collaborative tools and project management styles. The most effective way to ensure that work runs smoothly is to have everyone working under the same roof where they’re using a virtual workspace that prioritizes communication and collaboration above everything else.

One of the most effective mediums of communication is through visual workflow representations like Kanban boards and Gantt charts.

Communication is the driving force behind effective collaboration. But getting the most out of communication means looking beyond traditional tools like emails and conferencing software. One of the most effective mediums of communication is through visual workflow representations, like Kanban boards and Gantt charts. Being able to visualize your project plans and workflow can improve productivity by:

  • Giving team members the opportunity to prepare for incoming work and what’s expected of them
  • Offering a big-picture view of the work that needs to be done
  • Boosting connectivity by showing teams how their work is connected with the work completed by other teams
  • Surfacing issues more quickly by showing the team who’s overloaded, who has capacity, and where work is stuck or blocked
  • Keeping your goals and plans top of mind for the entire team

The benefits aren’t limited to workers. Project managers can benefit from a visual workflow as well. Seeing tasks move through the workflow in real-time allows managers to spend less time staying up to date with the status of their projects, making it easier to manage dependencies, contingencies, and stakeholder expectations.

Choosing Collaboration Software

Now that we’ve looked at some ways to create better project collaboration, how do you find a platform that works for you? Choosing a solution that broadens the channel of communication is a must, but you also want a solution that minimizes the time spent on emails and meetings, so your team members are working as efficiently as possible. Below are some key features that you should look for when searching for collaboration software for your organization.

Work management

  • A high-level roadmap plan that lays out your long-term work strategy
  • The ability to see a complete picture of task assignments and commitments across all projects
  • Visual representation of the workflow in the form of a Kanban board and/or Gantt chart

Team collaboration and communication

  • Communication shouldn’t be limited to a specific tool, but rather integrated into most functions of your collaborative platform
  • Filters and search features that make it easy to find a specific topic, conversation, or contributor
  • Tagging feature so the right person sees your message every time you ask a question or share information
  • The ability to collaborate with everyone involved in your project, even external team members, from a single platform – regardless of the function or framework you’re using

File sharing and document management

  • On-demand access to files from computers, tablets, and mobile devices
  • The ability to share documents with all project members, even external collaborators who don’t use your platform
  • High-level security protocol to safeguard your important documents from data breaches
  • Ability to set rights and access restrictions based on individual and/or team

Dashboards and easy reporting

  • Total project visibility with metrics that show you the status of your projects in almost real-time
  • Helpful KPIs for monitoring distributed teams, like cumulative flow diagrams, cycle time diagrams, burndown charts, and burnup charts
  • Integration support for businesses analytics services like Microsoft Power BI for even more comprehensive reporting

On-the-go collaboration

  • Platform must support Android and iOS devices
  • Access to the same information and project plans from work computer, personal laptop, tablet, or mobile device
  • Mobile apps should include the same collaborative tools as desktop program

Even teams that consistently struggle to meet deadlines can be transformed with a solution that enhances project management and team collaboration. For workers, collaboration software bridges the gaps by removing barriers that inhibit communication, while also giving them the chance to see a clear picture of their tasks and the status of their work. For project managers, a visible workflow allows for quicker response time. Bottlenecks and stoppages can be identified and remedied before they turn into bigger problems.

Putting It All Together

In today’s professional landscape, there’s a greater demand for faster delivery. Consumer preferences are rapidly changing, and organizations that wish to remain market leaders must be responsive enough to change alongside their customers. Organizations that are struggling to keep up with the pace of a rapidly changing market can knock down productivity barriers and increase efficiency with the help of collaboration software that keeps all team members in the loop, regardless of whether they’re dispersed, collocated, or external.