Stop, Collaborate & Listen!

Modern Collaboration in the PM Trenches

April 14, 2015 | Kristine Wilson & Maura Kovacic

Now that you’ve got Vanilla Ice playing in your head, we’d like to talk about collaboration. Business today, and for as long as it has existed, has been full of collaboration. Often, a task or project is completed by multiple people, not just one person (it can literally take a village). But even if a project was able to be started, executed and completed by just one person, wouldn’t that be, well…boring?

At TBG, we collaborate as much as we drink coffee…which is…A LOT (#freshpots #davegrohl). Collaboration internally among project teams and externally with clients is the key to a successful project. Sharing ideas, allowing people to build upon them and then mold them into something even greater is what business is all about—and how businesses thrive and grow.  As project managers, we are constantly in touch with members of our project teams to work through various tasks, and these collaboration tools are critical to streamlining aspects of projects.

Today, technology has made it even easier to collaborate with others. Thanks to the various technology platforms, the potential to collaborate is seemingly endless.  Even though the old school, in-person meeting is probably your best bet for collaboration, often, that is not always possible given how geographically diverse and time constrained business is today. And the telephone, shout out to Alexander Graham Bell, can be so 19th century.

Lucky for us, current technology has allowed for meetings and collaboration to occur across the globe—and in various forms.

However, while these technologies can make collaborating easy, they can also create challenges. Connectivity issues and learning curves for using new interfaces can lead to frustration. In this post, we explore some of the most popular collaborative technologies, their strengths and some drawbacks.

(If you have any others that you’d like to share, please feel free to drop a comment below.  This is a blog post about collaboration, after all, so let’s make this a collaboration!)

Document Sharing

Document sharing is a great invention. There are several platforms out there that allow you to share documents (word processing, spreadsheet, and almost any document type) between one or more people online.

To alleviate and streamline workflows in the business world, document sharing platforms and tools really can make collaboration (and life) that much easier, creating greater efficiency. There are endless options for document and file sharing, but some of our go-to tools include Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, and others like Dropbox.

Google offers a number of collaboration tools; one of which TBG-ers take advantage of in particular is Google Drive or Google Docs. Google Drive ensures that edits made by multiple people are merged into one document in real time.

It’s a perfect way to collaborate with several people for word processing, spreadsheets and all sorts of other document types, without having to worry about digging around for the latest version. You can contribute to the document on your own time, and the platform offers some added value features, like track changes, chat, and even the creation of notes. The notes are our favorite feature.  We use them to add “To Dos” that can be later resolved as they are completed. Google Drive also allows for version control in the event an item is deleted; revision history allows you to reinstate a version if any information was lost. The Google Drive and Docs platforms are easy to use–you just need to set up a Google/Gmail account and you’re ready to go. The interfaces are very similar to the Microsoft platforms that everyone knows, unless you’ve been living under a rock!

Dropbox is another great platform for file sharing, especially for larger files that could clog your email inbox, such as PSD’s (or PhotoShop Documents). Design files can be large, so tools like Dropbox allow for better sharing with clients or partners. While Dropbox does offer live editing, its capabilities are very limited in that merged edits are not possible as it is with Google Drive.

*Pro Tip—if you’re a workaholic, like us, or just have a very “on-the-go” lifestyle, download the Google Drive and Dropbox apps on your mobile device. They can be invaluable if you need to quickly reference a document, send/share a file, or work on the go.

With Google Docs, editing can be done in real time, changes made by you and others will automatically appear on your screen as they happen. This can be a notable benefit but can also create overlap, so it’s important to always clarify roles and responsibilities when collaborating on any project or document. It is helpful to create an outline and then assign responsibility to fill in the gaps. We also successfully use Google Docs with our clients. Take for example, a list of redirect URLs or a content migration task. We often collaborate with our clients to identify, per new URL, where we should redirect to from the old site or what content changes are needed when mapping content in fields from an auto content migration.  This real time collaboration saves tons of time and headache from versioning or sending emails back and forth about the topic. If you want to edit documents without others seeing as you work, you can easily take the document offline, then re-upload the new version when it’s ready.

Screen & Audio Sharing

When it’s not possible to have an in-person meeting, products like WebEx, GoTo Meeting, or take the standard conference call up a notch by enabling you to have a collaborative meeting where you can share your screen and present documents.

What we like most about this technology is that you can share anything that is showing on your computer screen—a website, proprietary software, etc. Though only one person can screen share at a time during these meetings, this can easily be switched if, for example, another user, like a client, wants to show something on their screen. These platforms are also an effective way for users to perform demos to show an audience in real time how something works, or convey progress towards a specific goal. Just keep in mind that everyone logged in can see everything you do on your computer, including your cute pet pics, while your screen is shared.

*Pro Tip—Most of these tools have sharing settings that allow you to share a specific program running on your computer, rather than sharing your entire desktop and all programs that are currently open. If you tend to multi-task, like we do at TBG, and run several programs at once, we recommend choosing this setting to share just the one document or program you’re discussing.

*BONUS Pro Tip—You can even record these meetings for future reference, which is exceptionally helpful if someone cannot attend your teleconference. 

There are tons of products out there, some free with limited features, and most that have a minimal cost (from approximately $12 to $100 a month), but the benefits of these paid products far outweigh the costs. At TBG, we typically stick to the popular tried and tested tools, like WebEx, but it’s worth researching the various options and features to determine what best fits your organization, project or team.

Video Conferencing

Like screen and audio sharing, video conferencing takes teleconferencing to the next level and makes meeting “in-person” possible for those collaborating from afar. Although a phone or conference call can often get the job done, video conferencing allows you to have a more personal and nuanced experience that can typically only be expressed in-person.  

For situations where it is important to not only hear feedback, but also see reactions of folks in the room, video conference is the best bet. (Plus, it avoids the tragic, yet common, annoyances of regular conference calls).

Applications, like FaceTime, have popularized video conferencing in our personal lives, but business meetings and collaborating on projects can be made easier with products like Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx and GoToMeeting.  High Def (HD) video can be added to WebEx and GoToMeeting with ease, which makes them both screen sharing and video conferencing tools.

Video conferencing is especially useful if you’re involved in projects where you don’t get to physically see the people you’re working with very often. The visual supplement humanizes the person on the other end and helps to foster a relationship and understand their personality, mannerisms, etc. It allows you to make a more personal connection with your project teams and clients that may not happen as easily on your standard conference call.

*Pro Tip—For those that are camera shy and feel that video can be downright awkward (especially when you see yourself on the screen), just pretend you are in the same room. Video conferencing quality has certainly gotten better, so it makes it that much easier to fool yourself, and will also make the other person on screen feel more comfortable as well.

We think that there are so many more pros than there are cons for each of these tools and we will continue to explore new technologies and continuously improve our collaboration efforts and skills with our internal resources and clients. If you are not using Google Drive or Screen/Audio/Video sharing we suggest you give it a try or vow to use it more often. You won’t be disappointed. As Project Managers we swear by these time saving and efficiency generating collaborative tools. With so many details to manage, these tools can help streamline the tactical tasks and move things along to a decision or conclusion faster. Happy collaborating!

About the Authors

Kristine Wilson

I’m a Project Manager for TBG with a background in SEO and a passion for analytics.  When I’m not managing projects for TBG, I’m reading up on new industry trends or climbing the weekly rankings in Trivia Crack.

Maura Kovacic

I'm a Project Manager at TBG. When I am not managing projects, I’m working on various crafting and cooking projects as well as competing in social sporting events (not to mention I am a Baltimore City Skeeball Champion).

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