Do you use collaboration tools on your projects? So many project managers do.
I recently did a webinar for this community about the book, answering people’s questions about collaboration tools. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to respond to everyone’s queries, so I wanted to write up some responses. I reckon that will take a couple of articles!
So what is the book all about? This might give you some context for the questions.
Collaboration Tools for Project Managers
The book is about facing the challenge of managing projects effectively using tested and reliable methods, while also making the most of new technology that is proven to help us manage projects.
It was a fun book to write. I looked at why we are moving away from the old working practices, and the benefits of different kinds of technology. I mapped project communication and team management to the project lifecycle as they relate to the ways in which you can use technology to help your team. This is the second edition and I put a lot more focus on understanding your requirements and then tool selection. This edition also has more in about security because that’s a topic people are always concerned about. And there’s quite a lot of information about the social and cultural effects of introducing new technology into a tool, like how to win over management when they don’t want to invest in a new product.
Here are some of the questions. And if you’d rather watch the webinar and see what was discussed, you can do that here.
What's changed since you wrote the book?
This is already the second edition of the book, and yet tech moves on very quickly. I think what’s been the biggest shift is the ability for tools to make more use of the data that goes into them. The arena for big data is huge, and it still isn’t really mature, at least not for the kind of tools we are talking about today. We have the possibility of making much better use of historical project data for estimating purposes, for example, and the tech is there now to do that. We just need to see vendors build that data repository into the way they intelligently surface information.
I think there’s also more of a shift towards better user interfaces and more mature Gantt charts. For a time there wasn’t much of a cross over between collaboration tools and scheduling tools. You’d end up keeping Microsoft Project or Primavera for scheduling and then have additional tools for collaboration, or you’d try to integrate tools together.
Today, more enterprise project management tools have better collaboration features, and tools strong on collaboration for project managers have better Gantt chart functionality. I still think there is a way to go in making a really nice looking, easy to use Gantt chart tool that works online, but vendors are improving their solutions all the time.
What improvements/changes are you seeing in the use of AI and bots for project management?
We are seeing some changes to the way project management tools use data, but I wouldn’t say that most of the software tools out there are particularly advanced with the use of AI and bots.
I think that tools outside of the project management space are probably doing this better, and that means we will see PM tools picking up this functionality in due course.
For example, you have probably been on a website with a chat box that pops up. If you enter your question, you might get a choice of automated responses to your question. The AI tool has interpreted what you are asking about and surfaced the correct response. They might have got it right, in which case, your chat is over. If the chat bot got it wrong, you can then go on to live chat with a human, or to leave an email message. I’m sure you’ve seen this on websites that offer a service. Project management is a service too, so in some of the projects we roll out, incorporating bots as part of the solution, like in the case of advanced user training, could be something we start to see more and more of.
How can project managers improve communication with collaboration tools?
There are a couple of points I want to make here.
First, please don’t assume that just because you add in a collaboration tool to your team, that your communication will suddenly be amazing. If you don’t have a culture of collaboration, knowledge sharing and openness, then all you will do is take your dysfunctional environment and tech enable it. In fact, you will probably make it worse, because the lack of sharing and trust will be even more obvious.
So you need to start from a place with decent communication channels, or work to get those alongside your work to implement new technology.
Having said that, collaboration tools can and do improve team communication. I’ve seen it on the projects I’ve worked on and through the project managers I mentor. The main advantages are:
Speed – it’s faster to collaborate with people if you can see when they are online and available for conversation, and you often get a faster reply through a tool than on email or through booking a meeting. This is great for getting answers from subject matter experts who don’t work on your project full time, but will only work if the whole company is using the software.
Clarity – a lot of miscommunication is avoided because you are forced to be more precise on a collaboration tool and they tend to be more inclusive too. This can help people really understand what is being asked of them.
History – you can see the history of the conversation. This is great in fast paced environments where things change often. You can go back and find out why that decision was made or who edited the document, and that can give you useful insights into how the project has ended up where it is now. It can also save you, if you have a sponsor with a poor memory, because you have a full audit trail of conversations.
I’ll share some more questions and answers next time!
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