There’s a lot of talk in the media these days about the complexity around collaboration in business. In a recent blog post, “Skyscrapers of Complexity: Collaboration Demands Rigor,” Lokesh Datta examines the driving factors behind that complexity. He also discusses the reasons companies need to be rigorous in managing that flow of information between employees, partners, contractors, and customers.

At LiquidPlanner, we’ve given this subject a lot of thought. Managing collaboration as it relates to project management can be tricky. There are lots of moving pieces, lots of people involved, and varying levels of details about the work being done. (Think high-level strategy notes right alongside bug repro steps.)

So what are some models we can use to make this collaboration data relevant, timely, and useful? In a lot of ways, our collaboration features mirror some of the conventions that applications like Facebook use.

Gathering for General Awareness

There’s a lot to be gained by simply scanning what’s going on out there. It’s how most people use blog readers, and it’s how almost all of us consume our Facebook news feed. You look around, find items of interest, then pay them a little more attention.  It’s quick, it’s efficient, and you usually stumble upon something that adds value that you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Google Reader

One manifestation of this in LiquidPlanner is a feature we call Workspace Chatter. Workspace Chatter is a stream of all the comments being made on all the tasks in your workspace. When you land on your workspace dashboard, it’s the first thing you see. I find myself looking through the list and learning a lot about what the team is working on, noting conversations where I can add perspective, or just catching up on the hot items of the day.  Filtering down to “for me” let’s you drill into comments specific to you in one click.

Chatter

Another is the “Watch” feature. It’s easy to watch a single item or group of items and receive notifications about those items. I frequently watch projects, tasklists, and sometimes even whole departments. The notifications I receive in my email inbox contain a lot of information, but I can go through them quickly and separate the nutritious content from the chaff.

Hunting for Deep Analysis

More often than not, the “scan, consume, scan, consume” model isn’t enough to draw a complete picture of what’s going on with a particular project, resource, or client. That’s when it’s time to draw your weapon and start hunting. How can you get all the information you need on a single topic?

Let’s turn back again to Facebook. If you want to catch up with one particular friend, you search for them and maybe send them a message or post on their wall, opening a 1:1 communication channel. That communication is housed within the same social network as the rest of your friends, but it’s pretty easy to find and keep track of (especially with the help of email notifications) those specific conversations.

In LiquidPlanner, we’ve given customers lots of ways to slice and dice their project information to find  exactly what they’re looking for. Want to see only the chatter related to a particular project that’s on deadline? There’s a view for that. Want to see all the documents related to a particular client that’s potentially spinning up a new project? Zoom in on the client you’re interested in and start exploring.

Project Chatter

Filters are really the secret to managing complexity in LiquidPlanner. Filter your view to a particular project, tasklist, or owner and you’re instantly analyzing schedules and collaboration data in more manageable, bite-sized pieces. It’s all in there, but you can (and should!) only portions of it at any one time.

There’s a risk associated with trying to programmatically define the right  amount of collaboration data to every person on a project team. By both hunting for and gathering information in your project space, you self-adjust the flow to what you can optimally consume.

Are you a Collaboration Hunter or Gatherer? was last modified: May 18th, 2010 by Liz Pearce