Everyone — from CEOs through to the interns — know that collaboration is essential for project management success. Indeed, most lessons learned (which are more like grim post mortems) of failed projects trace back to a familiar culprit: lack of collaboration.
However, it’s just as important to avoid heading to the other end of the spectrum and viewing collaboration as a panacea that cures all project ills – because sometimes, collaboration isn’t necessary or helpful. On the contrary, there are scenarios where it can trigger confusion and stifle progress.
Here are some common scenarios where collaboration simply doesn’t work – and never will:
- When the purpose is to brainstorm.
Brainstorming is one of the most important — and also the most enjoyable — things on the work landscape. But it’s a mistake to label this activity as truly collaborative, because the goal isn’t to progressively usher work forward towards completion. Rather, it’s to generate ideas, options and possibilities that help clarify a problem and identify a solution. Ironically, when a collaborate framework is applied to brainstorming, what tends to happen is that a consensus opinion (read: group think) emerges quickly, and out-of-the-box ideas never make it to the table.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that brainstorming sessions — whether online or offline — should be chaotic free-for-alls. They need to be suitably structured and organized, information needs to be properly captured, and participants need to adhere to standards of communication and respect. But there’s no need for collaboration in the activity. That comes later, when it’s time to build consensus, and determine the best way to translate ideas into action, and actions into results.
- When the best person/group for a task has ownership.
If the best person or group for a task is properly advancing it forward, then collaboration with the wider team probably isn’t going to help. Instead, it will likely slow things down, cause frustration, and diminish quality.
This isn’t to suggest that task owners — such as specialists or experts — should work on an island, or that their work isn’t subject to review and discussion. Rather, it’s simply means that project managers and other workplace leaders should understand when collaboration makes sense, and just as importantly, when it doesn’t. In other words: for it to be a useful business function and not just “a lot of conversations,” collaboration should be deliberate — not the default.
- When a suitable Collaborative Work Management (CWM) system isn’t established.
The road to collaborative hell is paved with good intentions; but that’s not all that blights the scenery. Usually, there’s also an ad hoc mix of disconnected tools, such as spreadsheets, conventional (and fundamentally anti-collaborative) project management software, and alas: emails, emails and more emails. Expecting collaboration to happen in this environment and under these conditions is more than optimistic. It’s wishful thinking!
As noted by the Forrester Wave™: Enterprise Collaborative Work Management report, enterprises that want to exploit collaboration — and escape email disruptions — need a system that:
- Allows teams to collaborate in designated workspaces for the purpose of delivering an outcome.
- Captures conversations in the context of the work that team members are performing.
- Allows team members to plan and manage projects without having to adhere to a formal methodology
- Personalizes the workspace to support the way each team members works best.
When team members are equipped with CWM tools that enable the above, collaboration is efficient, effective, and aligned with work. But when they don’t have the tools they need, all of the effort in the world won’t make a meaningful difference. Just as when the goal is to brainstorm and task owners have things well in hand, collaboration won’t work – and it never will.
Clarizen created the CWM category, and for several years we’ve championed the value of integrating project management, configurable workflow automation and in-context collaboration. In addition, Clarizen was recently named a “Leader” in the above-noted Forrester Wave report, with analysts awarding a top 5.000 score for: content collaboration, work management, team management, reporting, globalization, security, go-to-market strategy, and customer satisfaction.