Managing projects successfully can sometimes seem akin to herding cats. The biggest problems you face are when your project team members are based in different locations, are frequently on the move or belong to one or more external organisations. In such situations, bringing people together to tackle common project tasks, such as the following, becomes much more difficult:
- Managing deliverables and assigning tasks
- Monitoring progress and dealing with risks
- Planning availability and use of resources
- Agreeing project management standards
- Supervising budgets and procurement
- Controlling and discussing change requests
Managing these activities effectively is just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on the type and scale of project you are managing, you could need people to work together for a huge range of purposes, from the initiation stage right through to execution.
But if you regularly manage or take part in project work, you’ll know that traditional methods of collaboration are frequently expensive, time consuming and slow. Face-to-face meetings are logistically difficult to organise, are subject to last-minute change and can cost a lot of money in terms of time and travel. Furthermore, they only bring project team members together for a short time – leaving you to find other ways of progressing work between meetings.
Limitations of email & project management software
While it simplifies communication to some extent, email is not a panacea when it comes to managing projects day-to-day. You have no guarantee, or audit trail, that team members have received emails. Documents and attachments can get blocked by corporate firewalls or spam filters. If multiple team members comment on or contribute to files, you need to spend time collating their efforts into a single master document.
Standard project management software has its limitations too. If it is hosted on your organisation’s servers, the chances are that external parties won’t be able to access it. Even online project management tools can be limited in scope – while you can assign actions and deadlines and construct timelines, you may not be able to share and comment on documents, invite participants to take part in surveys, create research databases or do other tasks that give project working meaning and context.
This is where cloud collaboration software comes into its own. It combines project management tools with team communication and collaboration capabilities, allowing you to manage and progress a project within a single online workspace. And because you work with project teams within the cloud-hosted workspace, problems with attachments and spam filters become a thing of the past.
How cloud collaboration improves project management
Once you use online collaboration software as a project management cloud, you bring context and purpose to your project management. While there is a range of online collaboration software to choose from, the most powerful packages are likely to offer you:
- Mobile working. You can access cloud workspaces from any Internet enabled device, in the office, from home, or on the move – whether you use a PC, tablet or smartphone.
- Project management tools. As a minimum, these should include task lists, calendars, summary reports and automatic email notifications (to keep work on track).
- Flexible team creation. You can create teams so that project members only have access and control over certain information. This prevents individuals from becoming swamped in detail they don’t require and should never see, and gives extra focus to their work.
- Centralised documentation. You should be able to share folders and files with team members for them read, add to and comment on. Each file will have its own page, complete with a full version history and audit trail – meaning you work only on the most current file, while having access to an archive of earlier versions.
- Project collaboration tools. These can range from multi-author documents, risk and issue registers, online questionnaires, wikis, project blogs and more. Ideally you should be able to make only the tools your teams require available in any given workspace.
- Security. The best cloud collaboration packages adhere to high security standards and are subject to independent penetration tests carried out by an accredited third party. This ensures confidential and sensitive project data is always safe.
However, perhaps the biggest advantage of using cloud collaboration software for project management is the opportunity it gives you to use it in other related contexts. If you need to put parts of your project out to tender, you can use collaboration software as tender management workspaces. If you need to consult with organisations or individuals, you can use questionnaires and polls to create an online consultation workspace. And if you need to deliver online focus groups or special interest communities for your project, the software should be flexible enough to allow you to create them. Whenever you need to bring people – internal or external – together online, you can.
In short, cloud collaboration stands out because it has flexibility that creates opportunity – in stark contrast to email and specialist project management tools that often restrict your ability to communicate with team members effectively.