Collaborating across business silos harder than herding cats?

Managing projects to deliver quality on schedule is hard work. It takes advanced juggling skills: create schedules, motivate team, track progress, communicate all the time to keep customer stakeholders satisfied, deal with a variety of business and technical challenges and a host of surprises, work across multiple tools / spreadsheets / e-mails to keep the project data consistent, it's a lot to ask of anyone. Project Managers are human too, they are not born with any superhuman skills and often get crushed under the weight of expectations and pressures to deliver consistently despite uncertain and sometime chaotic environments.  Enter social project management, which democratizes the responsibilities to develop and maintain a realistic schedule across the whole team, so Project Managers can remove the administrative burden and go back to managing by exception. 

What's driving this movement to social project management? Teams intuitively realize that collaboration from all project stakeholders is critical to project success, it's no longer a nice-to-have. Hierarchical chain-of-command type management paradigms don't deliver effective results anymore given the focus on innovation and agile collaborative ways of work. Collaboration is hard to engineer and sustain: recognizing its importance, establishing a culture of collaboration are absolutely necessary, but nowhere close to sufficient by themselves in absence of a a robust collaboration platform. Collaboration gets challenged quickly given siloed organizations and matrixed project teams. Teams are further siloed by last century personal productivity oriented technology like spreadsheets and emails. Despite attempts at implementing parts of the jigsaw puzzle like a document collaboration platform in SharePoint or throwing manual processes like weekly status meetings to true up project schedules, the lack of a comprehensive project collaboration platform is a significant impediment to effective and sustained collaboration. A well placed intent to break down the silos and commitment to pervasive communications are not enough in absence of a technology platform that is dynamic, intuitive, and comprehensive. Right culture and right people are key ingredients to success, but right shared space is equally critical.

Cloud based social project management platforms provide the missing link between intent and results when it comes to effective collaboration. These platforms unite all stakeholders internal or external, doer or management, business or IT, onsite or offshore teams and provide a central location for task management similar to leading tools like BaseCamp, social chatter similar to WhatsApp, project scheduling similar to Microsoft Project, and document collaboration similar to Microsoft SharePoint all under the same roof. email will never be completely eliminated, but it becomes an integration point into the platform (as you use emails to automatically create new tasks in schedule, update task status / comment on a task) and a communication accessory, not the dysfunctional mountain of fragmented information that it has become in most customer organizations that we have interacted with. Management by e-mail is not a methodology, not if you are looking to succeed at project management. If you are the environment where an email from the executive sponsor checking on when will the project complete leads to a frantic set of meetings to put together a custom status report over a few days, then you need to seriously consider social project management platforms that can have you just sending a link to the project dashboard to the sponsor with high degree of confidence that the information is current and accurate.

What you need is a single shared workspace in the cloud that is easy to provision for all internal/external parties, which provides clear visibility into task assignments by resource, project schedule and progress dashboards on any device. Social collaboration platforms enable contextual commenting at the relevant task or project level visible to all interested parties to that task or project. This reduces email silos, builds a nice history of who said what when, and reduced need for team to conduct hour long meetings with 10 people in attendance (10 person-hours) to collect or disseminate information that can be done easily in a contextual collaboration campfire style chat. 

Despite some progress with Microsoft SharePoint type document collaboration repositories, documents remain notoriously hard to manage as they are not tracked against a dynamic work breakdown structure in a centralized repository which brings tasks in schedule together with working or final documents against those tasks. You need collaborative editing, workflows, and sign-off tracking capabilities integrated with schedule so progress on key milestones is easier to audit. A key resistance to using tools like SharePoint has been the administrative effort of setting up access for external consultants and the degree of ease with which you can manage/edit documents collaboratively across all team members and devices.

Progress reporting is such a chore on most projects. Accurate project performance data is almost never available at your fingertips to make savvy in the moment decisions. Individual team leads submit their status reports to Project Management Office PMO (largely free text with no link to project schedule). PMO has to work with the leads to manually make status updates to tasks which are in a captive MS-Project file on the Project Manager's laptop. The % complete status from MS-Project is then converted to a custom MS-PowerPoint deck for the executive sponsor. The format and degree of detail often changes in these custom decks confusing the sponsors and sets up a huge administrative burden on the PMO and project team leads to produce status weekly or on demand in troubled projects. What PMO needs is an automated way to having all team members track hours worked and remaining effort for relevant tasks at end of day, and let the project management collaboration platform produce current and accurate progress dashboards. Which tasks are behind schedule, how key resources are being allocated to determine overloaded resources and proactively fix schedule, if forecasted end date is close to management preferred deadline date, etc. should be a routine glance at the dashboard for interested stakeholders, not a day from hell for the PMO. What the team needs is to know what to work on next, how delays impact other downstream tasks, who to collaborate with to get the work done, what operating model to use to understand how to do the work or what acceptance criteria to apply to ensure the task is truly and fully completed, how to communicate risks/issues in the context of project tasks and request additional time or resources, etc. 

What you need is a transparent collaboration platform that delivers proactive and comprehensive insights into progress and risks/issues. You need to be able to see the entire portfolio, key programs or projects, key activities or resource centric views, from milestone schedule and long range plans to detailed task execution data, all coming from a central space of project management information. You need a schedule that is automatically updated as team members work on tasks in a real-time manner, not an after the fact time sheet with its associated accuracy, granularity, or latency issues. You need to be able to model a clear statement of resource bandwidth, a clear priority structure across competing tasks/projects of how to consume the constrained resource bandwidth, and a scheduling algorithm that is smart enough to schedule tasks in the right priority order across projects in a resource constrained way to deliver accurate and realistic schedules. 

Although some of these concepts are being solved in silo tools like MS-Project based on the PMO's degree of comfort with the tools, these are last decade paradigms that are disconnected and fragmented, and do not enable social sharing of project management workload across the full team. There is a wide array of individual areas that need to be addressed: project planning & predictive scheduling, resource management, workflow & task management, commenting & social collaboration, document collaboration, time tracking, progress reporting, integration to email, integration to ERP Financials, etc.. Even if some organizations have managed to create decent solutions for individual areas, integration across the board is mostly missing, and the team productivity is significantly impacted as they try to piece together the relevant information from several disparate sources. In the end, people give up on overall richness of these point solutions and go back to emails and spreadsheets in a misguided belief that they can scale collaboration with shared spreadsheets and email distribution lists. What's missing with this approach is a contextual and timely sense of updates that enable the parts to be updated throughout the day by several people but the whole to remain intact. What you need is a one-stop comprehensive social project management platform that caters fully to the needs of PMO as well as the teams. You need a single platform to manage basic tasks (individual action items) to complex projects and effort estimation / scheduling to have live dashboards. While established old-paradigm players like Microsoft are looking to aggressively move to the cloud with Project Online, recent acquisition of Wunderlist, and a new tool called Planner to manage ongoing operations work, there are powerful solution platforms emerging that are modern, comprehensive, and compete well on a feature comparison basis with leading providers. 

GitaCloud and our partners provide comprehensive social project management platforms in the cloud. You can visit us at www.gitacloud.com.