Collaboration to go
BY CHAUNCEY HOLINGSWORTH
It seems the Internet-giddy futurists of the 1990s were right after all. We truly are living in that blissful Web 2.0 dream of global connectivity and easy collaboration.
Not so fast.
A distributed team is only as capable as the collaboration tools that back it up.
Project managers and their virtual teams need to be able to collectively share documents and create real-time updates while seeing how each moving part affects the critical path. They need a centralized depot for gathering input, hashing out solutions and disseminating information.
And they need to do all that without relying on a passel of disparate tools.
The best collaboration software facilitates a clear view of the big picture and the planning that goes along with it, across multiple projects simultaneously.
The latest twist is integrating social media and networking tools such as blogs, image viewers and live status feeds—transforming casual entertainment media into powerful interactive project collaboration platforms.
With that information, project managers can calculate—and recalculate—their projects as specifics evolve.
Let's look at a few of the options:
WRIKE is an impressive subscription-based all-in-one tool that can wrangle 50 or more projects into a single linear workflow. It encourages collaboration through file hosting, forum discussion capabilities, and RSS and iCal feeds, while allowing administrators to control access for both clients and team members.
Its microblogging feature is like a built-in Twitter feed that announces what every team member is doing on the project as they post updates in real time, with file attachments and hyperlinks enabled.
Following the to-do-list/e-mail integration trend found in online services such as Producteev, Wrike connects task hierarchies and sub-task dependencies to an e-mail function that lets you auto-add, update or create new tasks and generate Gantt chart items from e-mails without logging into the system. What's more, by automatically generating task reminders and daily to-do e-mails for the team, the software helps project managers stay aware of their progress (and eliminate administrative headaches).
Likewise, its Gantt-chart view includes drag-and-drop functionality and real-time editing features, with the bonus of automatically notifying team members of changes to schedule and tasks. And in a nod to developers and enterprising in-house IT teams, Wrike opened its application programming interface for app development.
HYPEROFFICE comes with a formidable set of collaborative cloud-based capabilities, billing itself as an alternative to Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange for small- to midsize businesses. A software hybrid, it combines shared document-management features with robust support for mobile access and synching (calendars, contacts, tasks, et al). Customized workspaces offer project status, document libraries, wikis, forums and project surveys, with users able to make custom sites and portals.
All of the above is completely web-based, but at a peruser monthly fee that's a bit beyond that charged by either Microsoft for SharePoint Online or Google for its Apps suite.
Meanwhile, Google continues making inroads with its increasingly sophisticated GOOGLE SITES. A free wiki-based tool, it uses a customized dashboard for your project overview, and all the designs feature Google's clean interface.
Although lacking the project management-specific sophistication of other products, it provides collaborative features, including file storage and a project blog, as well as issue, risk and to-do tracking. Add-on project management apps have proliferated, such as Viewpath's Gantt Gadget, which enables you to leverage Google's spreadsheet functionality to make—you guessed it—Gantt charts. Meanwhile, Google's primary collaborative offering, Wave, seems to be stuck in limbo. The live chat/video/file-sharing software is no longer in development, though Google is still hosting it until development of an open-source server-hosted version is complete.
Whether team members are split between Brazil and China or just down the hall, in-person meetings aren't always an option these days. Project managers and their teams need a place to hang out, if only virtually.
PM NETWORK FEBRUARY 2011 WWW.PMI.ORG