Planning a Collaborative Effort – Why It’s Crucial to Success

This is from Jason Rothbart of GroupSwim. Be sure to check out their on-demand collaboration tool. It includes a wiki, groups, discussions, and file sharing, and will help you better organize and manage projects, streamline collaboration, and inform & involve your team. – Stewart

In order for a collaborative effort (requires more than 1 person and has an end goal) to achieve a successful outcome, it is useful to treat it like a project. The “project” should have a goal(s), time-line, common tools and roles. I’m not talking about creating a formal project plan, but some basic planning and organization at the front end of the collaborative effort is an excellent investment of time and potentially money.

Most collaboration is poorly managed or not at all. While there is a HUGE variation in the level of effort, number of people involved, etc., the things good project managers do are helpful no matter how big the project is. Even when two people are collaborating on the smallest of projects, the likelihood of success hinges on very predictable things.

First, the collaborators should agree on deadlines for when the work should be complete and if there are any interim milestones to consider.

Second, they should decide who is in charge or at least responsible for packaging up the final deliverable. Or, they should at least give one person the responsibility for coordinating the work, even if they aren’t “in charge”.

Third, if it isn’t obvious, they should coordinate the tools or software they might use so they don’t end up with incompatible work that they need to rework in order to consolidate.

Finally, they should also agree on goals or what the end of the collaboration will achieve. Is it a document, or a decision, or a piece of art, or meeting up at a ballgame, or some combination of many things?

Let’s review a recent example. I led a team where we needed to collaborate on a long, multi-part document as part of a sales effort. The content and data this document required did not exist, and it was both long and complicated. It required focus, creativity and discipline in order to get it done by the time we needed it.

The team included 5 people in different parts of the company in different parts of the world and time zones. We used GroupSwim Collaboration for the majority effort. Two of us spent time mapping out the collaborative effort. We developed the following “plan”:

  1. Set deadlines over the course of 3 days, which is how long we had
  2. Divided the document into separate sections
  3. Assigned primary authors to each section
  4. Created a wiki page for each section of the document and added the questions each author needed to address
  5. Tracked people’s progress with a central wiki showing status and hand-offs
  6. Reviewed each section as people completed them
  7. Consolidated each section into one comprehensive document
  8. Performed final edits and cleaned up language, voice, grammar, etc.
  9. Formatted the document and then published

The process worked to perfection and we yielded a high quality piece of work. It would have never worked without basic planning in the beginning to ensure everyone knew what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. We saved countless hours of potential rework and produced a great outcome by treating the whole effort like a project.