The right solution

how two collaboration tools solved major project challenges


By Felix Meyer, PMP

ALTHOUGH COLLABORATION TOOLS alone don't guarantee successful projects, I have effectively addressed some of my larger project challenges by using two specific tools: a social network tool and a hosted collaborative project management solution.

A recent project to redesign an internal controls solution was extremely challenging from a communications perspective. There were more than 2,500 users in a variety of divisions and locations whom I would email periodically with precise timelines and instructions. Through informal sessions with users, I found out that many people did not read the emails. Even fewer asked questions about things they did not understand.

Clearly, my messages were getting lost in the slew of other emails being received in the course of daily work.

I turned the situation around by implementing a project-specific collaboration group in Yammer, a social networking tool our company uses. I immediately noticed a higher level of attention to my messages for three reasons:

1. Concentration of information. Users did not have to search for emails relating to my subject. Instead, when they had a moment, they could easily browse posts for the pertinent information. To direct users to this page, I would stress during calls and training sessions that they should check the collaboration page as a one-stop shop for any new posts, training material, links to videos and project information.

2. Ease of search. Information could be found quickly because it was hashtagged. Though this required me to earmark certain posts, it created a structured approach to finding specific information.

3. Information sharing. Not only could I follow up easily with the entire community when users had questions, but I even saw that the community was contributing answers, providing tips and sharing best practices that peers could benefit from.

Although I did have to put in a bit of extra effort to onboard the users and review the consistency of the posts, the payoff was worth it: Users got a clear message about the project without any additional effort on their part.


During my last project, the upgrade of a global treasury management solution, I realized the time I spent chasing project team members to provide me status updates on issues and work packages was distracting me from managing other parts of the project. In addition, I saw that granting access to my project sheets to people outside our organization so they could update them imposed a burden on my information systems department.

Turning to a hosted collaborative project management solution (over 150 listed are on Wikipedia), I quickly gained the following benefits with minimal configuration:

1. Content restriction: My new tool enabled me to assign permission to update documents at the issue, task or even field level. Additionally, when users modified content, the tool would email me about the records that had been modified.

2. Resource empowerment: By assigning the ownership of issues and work packages to the project team and configuring a weekly reminder process that reminded owners to update their status (access to the solution was from any web or mobile device), I no longer had to chase users down. Instead, users became empowered to deliver status updates and comments without much additional effort.

3. Status summary reports: The collaboration tool would automatically send senior stakeholders a weekly project update. Not only did this save me time, it also brought my stakeholders closer to the ongoing status of the project.

Clearly, to achieve these benefits, minimal configuration was required (setting permissions, configuring emails, establishing frequency of reminders, configuring reports). But by pushing some of the work to its source, I could spend more time analyzing the results and trying to manage the issues in the project.

As all projects have unique challenges, finding the right collaboration tools to assist you can require a time investment and luck. However, once an appropriate tool is found, it won't be hard to see the benefit that technology will bring to you and your stakeholders. PM

Although I did have to put in a bit of extra effort to onboard the users and review the consistency of the posts, the payoff was worth it: Users got a clear message about the project without any additional effort on their part.



Felix Meyer, PMP, is a project manager and assistant vice president at ABB Information Systems, Zurich, Switzerland.




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