Getting overwhelmed trying to manage projects using email and spreadsheets? As part of the Web 2.0 movement the emerging trend called project collaboration is allowing people to connect with others to share, manage and coordinate on small and big projects alike.
What is project collaboration? Consider the difference between a Gantt chart and email. A Gantt chart is typically used as a planning tool for upcoming projects. Gantt charts are also useful as a tracking mechanism to ensure that active projects stay on time and on budget. On the other hand, email acts as an important communication tool that is used throughout the course of a project. For example, email may be used to used to distribute important messages, status reports, documents or tasks.
Web based collaboration tools allow you to extend your own project management toolset, allowing you to manage and organize the communication aspects of your active projects. At Joint Contact we call this “working on the present”.
What’s wrong with using email?
Easy and convenient, most of us have become accustom to using email for all types of communication. Now that we’ve entered into a Web 2.0 era most of our business communication is done through email which can often lead to challenges such as:
- Attempting to track a group of messages for a specific project
- Trying to locate the most recent version of a document
- Bounced messages due to large file attachments
- Attempting to share a contact list
Another challenge is “email bankruptcy”. Coined by Lawrence Lessig in 2004, email bankruptcy occurs when the amount of messages you receive per day outweigh the number of messages you can view or respond to. As a result you’re always behind in your work which causes you to throw up your hands in frustration and declare “bankruptcy”.
How project collaboration can help
At Joint Contact people use our service for everything including timekeeping, employee getting started documentation, team announcements, feature tracking, document management, managing images and contact management. For many folks items that were getting “lost” in e-mail are now organized in a separate online tool, easily accessible to team members and partners.
Since we specialize in project collaboration we often talk with others who are overwhelmed at the sheer number of other tools available on the market. “Collaboration” is a popular Web 2.0 buzzword, so how do you know which tool is right for your group? Since we’ve covered some of the basics, here are our suggested guidelines for choosing the right service.
Make sure it’s easy to get started
Make sure you are comfortable with the tool before making your decision. As manager or group leader you should also envision how your group members will use the tool. A good rule of thumb is if you think you’ll have to train other people on how to use the tool (for more than 30 minutes), there’s probably an easier service out there.
A good strategy for beginning is to start using the tool for your yourself, mastering a single area of the application (like documents) before exploring other modules. As part of your development envision how your team members will also use the tool. If you can see how it will work for both yourself and your group you’ve probably found the right service.
Make sure the tool works on Mac OS as well as Windows
A colleague recently told me that Apple’s Mac OS X operating system now has 7% of the overall PC market.
Even though 7% seem like a small percentage, this translates to roughly 6.3M desktops based on recent global statistics. As a result, chances are at some point you’ll need to access the website using an Apple computer using Safari or Mozilla Firefox as a web browser. Make sure that your investment adopts leading standards and provides flexibility that you may need in the future.
Make sure the tool can handle a lot of big files
Your project collaboration solution should also allow you to share and manage large files, (or a large quantity of small files) with your group. Some vendors do a good job of mentioning this information upfront before you purchase, while others bury this information in the hopes you won’t find it.
The pitfall we often see are people that get excited to use a free tool, only to discover that the tool doesn’t support large fie sizes (e.g anything over 500K), won’t allow you to upload certain file types, or doesn’t support multiple document uploads. These lack of features may be a minor inconvenience for a student, but could halt business for a graphic designer, accountant, business consultant or lawyer.
Make sure the vendor will support you
Most collaboration services are measured by their features and overall usability. However, in the event that you have a pre-sales question or need customer support, ensure someone will be able to answer your questions in a timely fashion. If you’re not sure, explore the vendor’s site to ensure you can find a support number. You may not need to use it, but the fact that the vendor is confident enough to publish their number shows they are willing to support you when needed.
Will a Wiki work for me?
Wiki’s (the Hawaiian word for “fast”) have also gained in popularity in recent years, with the obvious successful example being Wikipedia. If you’re working on a large internal documentation project a Wiki could be good fit, as group members could dynamically create and edit web pages. Examples of documentation projects include creating help documentation, or keeping track of feature requirements on a new product or service.
One drawback of wiki’s is time. Most wiki’s are designed as a set of tools that are left up to the end users to set up and configure to their liking. These often go beyond the level of technical expertise of most business professionals, as users are left to decide how to design and publish the pages used within the wiki system. If you have a technical person on board that can help implement a wiki – great. Otherwise you’ll probably be better served using a more conventional tool.