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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from GirlsGuideToPM.com.

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Collaboration Tools for Project Managers: Q&A (Part 2)

Categories: collaboration tools

I recently did a webinar for the ProjectManagement.com community about my book, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers. It was the closing part of the April book club, and I spent some time answering people’s questions about collaboration tools. BUT… there were so many questions that I didn’t have the chance to get through them all during the session.

So, below I answer a few more of your questions. And if you’d rather watch the webinar and see what was discussed, you can do that here.

On with the questions…

We're seeing a lot of video on social media, is there a place for video in project management communications?

Absolutely. The rise of video has a lot to do with attention spans and people’s preferences for taking in information, and project managers can learn from that. We are – at least my generation is – almost programmed towards long reports and wordy documents. Even if you try to cut things down to an exec summary, it’s still words.

I’m sure people can think of other uses for video, why not share them in the comments section below?

Video, and other visual forms of communication, help you get to the crux of the message, the real heart of the issue, because they force you to communicate quickly.

I think there’s plenty of opportunity for project managers to use video. For example, training – you can use screen captures to show software, and that works for showing off prototypes or wireframes of websites too, for example. You can use video for spreading the vision or setting the objectives of the project when the team is split all over the place. I’ve even recorded a video intro to a meeting I couldn’t take part in, so that I knew that I had set the tone appropriately. I’m not sure if my colleagues felt that was a gimmick but it made me feel like I had done my absolute best!

Quick how to videos for your colleagues if you are supporting people learning new things, using video to allocate tasks, with a quick overview of what the task is. That’s not the same as being next to the person, but it is better than pressing ‘allocate task’ on a software tool and the task being received with very little context.

What's the easiest type of tool to start with if we don't currently have any collaboration tools in place? 

There are two types of tool I’d suggest, if you don’t have a very mature technology environment.

Wikis are the first. They aren’t much in fashion at the moment but I still think that wikis are good tools to use and very easy to get started with. I’ve used them for business change purposes, tracking and responding to FAQ, to create a user guide. In that situation, we hosted it internally but used WordPress, which is a free content management and blogging tool, so it was a very low cost way of creating a dedicated project knowledge online presence.

On a different project I used a wiki as a way to store operational information about a particular site. On that project, we were working on a software implementation across over 30 locations, so keeping all that data straight in your head was hard work. Having a single place to record the unique features of each location and their deployment was really good.

Second, I would say an online chat tool. Something like Slack or Yammer is also very cheap to get started with, you can use it for just a project team or your whole business. If you need a real time chat tool, or want to play with one, then that would be a good place to start. Tools like that don’t do much apart from let you have conversations and share files with each other in real time.

How can we manage the culture change to a new collaboration tool?

This is a huge issue for many teams trying to get something new adopted, but the good news is that as project managers, we are already equipped to deal with the challenges!

It is all about having good business change practices. You want to understand the reason why you are adopting new tools. Then you can create a change management plan, understanding who is going to be affected, how they feel about it and how you are going to support them through the change. It could be training, or you may need to buddy people up. These are the same kind of things you would build into any IT project where there is a business change element and you are changing the way people do their jobs. You are introducing a new tool.

I think we often forget that we are users as well as project managers in this kind of rollout, so my top tip would be to remember to plan any collaboration tool deployment as a project, with all the business change, training and communications that you would do if you were delivering the project into another department.

How can I deal with my colleagues who just want to use the latest product they read about at the weekend?

Ah, shiny object syndrome! We see this a lot, and it’s not the first time someone has asked about it. There is so much choice out there about tools. That can make it hard to feel like you’ve really chosen the best one. The simplest way to address this is to make sure that you have clear user requirements. You need to know what you want to do, and then find tech that works in that way. Just because something has got a great write up at South by Southwest or in the New York Times doesn’t mean it is a great fit for your team. Sticking with requirements will really help you get a solution that works.

Having said that, you need to convince your colleagues that this is for the best! That’s a different conversation, but one you can focus around the cost for the company of constantly switching tools. If they feel there is something better, something that is a good fit for your organisation, then perhaps agree to review project management tools every 18-24 months, for example, so that you can keep fresh, while not exhausting the users with introducing new tools too frequently.

Pin for later reading:

Posted on: August 27, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)

Collaboration Tools for Project Managers: Q&A (Part 1)

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!

Pin for later reading:

Posted on: July 24, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Collaboration Tools for Project Managers: Q&A (Part 1)

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!

Pin for later reading:

Posted on: July 24, 2018 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

3 Trends For PM Collaboration Tools

Categories: collaboration tools

In my new book, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers, I explore the opportunities for project teams working with new technology.

Here are two emerging themes in both project management and in social and collaborative technologies that are worth knowing about.

1. Digital PMOs and the Role of the Digital Leader

Disruptive technologies such as big data are hitting businesses across all functional areas, not just project management. Companies have to come up with practical ways to incorporate this massive amount of change and to sift through the trends that are worth adopting while ditching those that are not relevant at this time.

This is starting to come to the fore in the form of the chief digital officer or other digital leadership position at the very top of businesses. We are also seeing digital PMOs—divisions supporting the project structure in the way a traditional PMO would, but with a leaning toward paperless, integrated, and online ways of working, along with the culture changes that brings.

2. The Culture of Collaboration

It’s not all about the tech. Part of the challenge facing the digital leader, be that a project manager or a PMO director, will be managing flatter teams, both across business teams and within projects.

Employees will create their own internal networks outside of the traditional hierarchy, which potentially makes many of the formal line management structures redundant and forces the organization to become flatter. The digital divide—those employees who are familiar with digital working practices and those who are not—is a further team-related problem that digital leaders have to face up to and proactively manage.


"If virtual teams are to be successful, and if collaboration tools are to be fully embedded in the working practices of the team, then it’s important for businesses to invest in collaboration offline as well."


Successful collaboration and teamwork comes from a culture that supports those ways of working. If virtual teams are to be successful, and if collaboration tools are to be fully embedded in the working practices of the team, then it’s important for businesses to invest in collaboration offline as well.

We’ll see greater investment in building corporate culture, fostering employee engagement, and creating the environment to deliver successful change. All of this underpins the use of any technology and supports the business objective of getting the right people to do the right things the first time, which cuts down on overall project costs.

3. Knowledge Sharing

A collaborative culture also supports the urgent need for knowledge sharing in a global economy that is facing significant talent gaps. As the Baby Boomer generation leaves the workplace, taking with them an incredible amount of organizational knowledge, companies need to find alternative ways to capture and maintain their knowledge assets. Technology (like wikis) has a part to play, as well as collaborative work environments where knowledge is freely shared.

What trends have you noticed?

If you're interested in finding out more about how project teams can benefit from using collaboration tools, you can get a copy of the book from the PMI Marketplace here.

Posted on: June 15, 2016 12:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
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