Managing collaboration

Six tips on best practice project management to foster better workplace collaboration



The project management office (PMO) in many enterprises is emerging as a driver of change to the whole culture of the organisation.

At a recent Clarizen event, attendees agreed that PMO has gone beyond a traditional self-contained remit and is now typically connected to the wider corporate strategy, objectives and work of the enterprise – in other words a platform and model for wider collaboration.

Here are some key tips based on the knowledge and advice shared at the event on how to nurture best practice project management and collaboration.

Make visibility core with a top-down approach that utilises dashboards

It was very clear in the discussions that a project management and collaborative work software tool has to provide a constantly updated roadmap of progress on projects. Project roadmaps can be used to plan almost any collaborative business endeavour – from marketing campaigns to creative initiatives to day-to-day people management. This ensures there is no miscommunication or duplication of work by different individuals or teams or geographic locations, while providing clear visibility of who is doing what and where they are with each task.

Visibility of initiatives that provides real-time information is critical to good decision-making. When it comes to the software tools that enable this, customisable dashboards that provide a view from top down is critical. Not only do project managers need to track what is going on with their own projects, but executive oversight by senior managers and other stakeholders equally important. They need to be able to monitor progress and see if results and returns are materialising.

Only have one “status report” available to teams and stakeholders

A common theme at the session was that too much time is wasted in writing numerous status reports and that different versions can conflict, causing confusion and leading to misinformation. It was suggested that, instead of generating unique status reports for various parties and functions (e.g. line managers, senior management, customers, accounts, board meetings, review boards, steering groups, etc.), teams generate a single status report on each project, updated maybe twice week, on a collaborative platform.

This then takes the place of every status report – providing a unified project view with ongoing, real-time updates. This ensures there is a single, non-conflicting tracker through which to plan tasks, issues, actions and business discussions. It can include an issues log that tracks actions and decisions – ensuring everyone is clear about tasks and can deliver on those by collaborating on right activities. The unified, continually updated status report can even be used to manage meetings, eliminating the need for agendas and minutes by taking their place.

Prioritise objectives, tracking progress in real time

Prioritisation is another issue many enterprises find can be a significant challenge. Visibility on priorities is extremely valuable for individuals in completing key actions and assessing how they are performing in relation to others in the chain of tasks – particularly those that are interdependent (i.e. one task cannot be tackled until a prior one is completed). Clear and consistent prioritisation can be even more important for management, as comprehensive tracking of priorities ensures management has ability to make informed decisions.

The trouble is prioritisations can be ad-hoc and based on tactical evidence rather than a larger strategic plan or wider business objectives – in other words decisions can sometimes be taken based on lobbying by a person or team. Priorities need to be in the control of the business and its needs, not in individuals – this must be set down in the roadmap. Otherwise, actions can be knee-jerk – with the people who are most vocal distorting priorities, and hijacking activity and resources at the wrong times for the business. Therefore, priorities need to be visible and transparent on the collaborative software platform – with actions updated in real time – so that debate over which next steps need to be taken is limited.

Tools that track priorities can be customised, while providing transparency and oversight of progress and success. The prioritisations can even extend to which customers need to come first. Backlogs should be managed via workflows – putting managers in positions of strength to know what needs to be done next on the basis of agreed strategic plans.

Automate prompts and actions where practical

One of the best ways to ensure on-going progress of projects and smooth workflow is to automate emails on tasks, and even reminders on progress teams and individuals are expected to make within the next timeframes. The project management software platform should handle all automation so that there is no need to step out of platform to generate emails on a series of actions.

This takes the work out of workflow management, helping individuals deliver by collaborating on the right activities – flagging dates, responsibilities, assignments and dependencies (i.e. when one team depends on another to complete a task before beginning the next one). In other words, a platform that keeps everyone aware of commitments made, those that have been kept, and the plan on how to execute those remaining.

Ensure buy-in to keep project and other work data up-to-date

Keeping the data on a work collaboration platform updated is another issue. Achieving top-down buy-in and on-going support is therefore vital in maintaining effectively tracked and measured project management and other forms of collaboration. That means companies must have senior management support, and develop strategies and tactics for getting complete buy-in across the organisation. 

Training and a positive user experience are critical. This requires useful and user-friendly collaborative tools, automation that helps staff organise themselves and prioritise tasks, an intuitive user interface that makes using the system straightforward, and ease of configuration so that simple customisation is manageable. These are all essential.

Regularly conduct project health reviews that provide a realistic picture

It is vital for both team members and stakeholders to track how projects are progressing in terms of schedule, cost and scope. A review that looks at project “health KPIs” can be critical to this. A project health review can benefit from having an independent non-project management stakeholder doing the assessment alongside a member of the team working on the project.

The health review provides everyone involved with an opportunity to examine progress and success based on the objectives set out, as well as the traditional standards of the organisation. The on-going reporting does not have to be complex, and a simple traffic light system (red means off track; amber at risk; and green on track) makes it easy for managers, team members and stakeholders to gauge the progress/success of a given project.

David Goulden

David Goulden is product director at Clarizen, which provides collaborative work management software for project managers and other teams in large enterprises. He is product owner for financial planning, portfolio management and enterprise integrations.  During his career, David has gained experience in strategy, sales, marketing, customer success, product development and project management at Clarizen and other leading tech companies, including CoolaData, Zend Technologies, and Cellpay.