The best possible project outcome requires effective collaboration.

But once a project team grows beyond two guys sitting across a desk from one another, this collaboration becomes increasingly hard to achieve. Project Managers can soon become full-time Project Administrators, spending all their time feeding the team with information that only they can access from their silo.

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Consequently, everyone spends more time managing various disparate communication threads rather than carrying out their primary function:  managing the project. As a result, team members burn time looking for information, and become disengaged without a streamlined method of communicating, or being able to identify where their tasks fit into the grand plan.

Online project management tools offer collaboration features that reduce obstacles and increase a team’s productivity, organization and overall performance and goodwill. Here are six benefits an online PM tool can provide to teams everywhere:

1. A single, centralised shared workspace: A project workspace hosted online gives the whole team access to the information they need and a means to collaborate, via any internet-enabled device. For geographically distributed teams, nobody loses out due to location or time difference. This also enables a greater sense of community as the group feel they’re all sharing the same tent. Information is available to the whole team 24/7, and team members don’t have to ask the project manager or wait to be spoon fed information.

2. Built-in collaboration features: Unlike many of their predecessors, today’s online tools are designed with collaboration in mind. Ease-of-use remains a development priority—users are presented with the tools they need via an intuitive interface. This setup minimizes user adoption time and encourages early interaction. LiquidPlanner, for example, includes collaboration features like commenting, document sharing, checklists and more.

3. One-stop shop for information: Team members shouldn’t have to visit several different repositories for documentation or other information they need to get the job done. This eats time and introduces version control issues (e.g., many different versions of the same document being emailed around). Documentation can be stored in the workspace itself, ideally with any associated tasks linked to it, which makes navigation a breeze. For example, here’s a look at how LiquidPlanner helps teams upload documentation in a variety of ways and embed it at the project or task level:

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If there are sources of information that can’t be stored in the workspace, they can still be linked to at the project or task level.

4. Less email, more effective modes of communication. Email is the collaborative weapon of choice for many, but it has its limitations, especially once a dialogue becomes broader than one-to-one. Plus, there’s no guarantee that emails get delivered or read in a timely fashion. So, anyone who keeps the world in their inbox could miss important updates or spend a lot of time hunting for information. If the PM consistently mails the whole team “to be on the safe side,” she won’t grab the attention she deserves and may acquire auto-delete status from team members that are bombarded with what they consider irrelevant information. To combat this, online tools use comments and notifications tailored to suit the audience, and to keep all the dialogue within the workspace.

Commenting features, like the one in LiquidPlanner, are becoming effective and popular means of communication. When comments are made within a task, the conversation remains in context and arrives at the heart of the matter far quicker than an email that lobs in out of nowhere.  Comments enable fast questions and fast answers, as they are authored straight from the subject item:

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Email can still have its place: LiquidPlanner allows email notifications to be sent for workspace comments and for content to be added to the workspace directly from email.  This integration feature allows two-way communication between the mail client and the workspace so team members can strike the balance they prefer but the workspace will always capture the dialogue.

5. Fewer meetings: Whether a project team is spread across the globe or across several floors within the same building, getting everyone together in the same room at the same time can be a logistical challenge, not to mention the impact this has on productivity and budget. If the group has an effective means of collaborating outside the meeting room, this reduces the need for regular gatherings.

6. An open, transparent process and environment: With a shared workspace, everyone can see all the tasks that make up the project and the schedule for project completion. This transparency makes it clear what needs to be done, who’s responsible for doing what, and when tasks needs to be completed—key information that the whole team needs to be aware of if a project is to stay on the rails.

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When schedules update in real time, everyone knows exactly where the project stands; teams can see progress as it happens and then get the earliest possible heads-up if there are any issues. Dependencies are clear so all team members can see the impact their tasks have on the overall project (and others) rather than just focusing on their piece of the project. Giving the whole team visibility to the big picture in this way, as well as making personal and team objectives clear, can also promote healthy competition as opportunities that meet (or even better, exceed) expectations are there for all to see.

How do you use your project management tool to collaborate?

Kevin CrumpKevin Crump is a certified PRINCE2 Practitioner with over 18 years’ experience of IT Projects and Operations management, including software development and test, quality management system design and customer support.

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6 Ways Online Project Management Tools Improve Collaboration was last modified: June 10th, 2014 by Kevin Crump