Project Management Collaboration and Communication Tools

It seems I cannot go anywhere these days without seeing people talking on cell phones, texting, taking phone pictures and sharing them – sometimes many of these at once. People want to use every free minute to communicate with someone. And, before you ask; yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black. I am wired and I stay in contact with clients, team members and family 24/7.   And it is not just being a PM that requires this connectivity.

At work, I appreciate and recommend tools like SharePoint to facilitate collaboration and communication (see Collaboration tools for virtual project teams). However, as the capabilities of these tools continue to expand, the line between our personal and work lives blurs.

Dean Halstead, Microsoft Collaboration Architect for U.S. Federal Government Sales Team presenting to the Gov 2.0 summit in 2009 offered this list of commonly used content sharing capabilities that may crossover between project life and home life:

  • Blogs with collaborative comment capabilities
  • Video and multimedia sharing
  • Podcasting
  • Social networking
  • Syndicated web feeds (RSS)
  • Mashups
  • Social bookmarks and news
  • Microblogging
  • Cloud Tagging

(Note: If you are like me, some of the words are new and I had to look them up on the internet – you should too)

Many organizations wrestle with the desire to use some of these tools to improve communication on projects while trying to control privacy, confidentiality and make the best use of time available. Privacy is often handled through firewalls or intranets that provided a barrier to web-based tools for communication. However, advances in tool capability now allow intranets to offer these communication and collaboration tools inside the organization or project.

SharePoint, for example, offers tools for video sharing through its interactive media manager and podcast kit — available as free downloads. Mashups – combining content from multiple sources – can be created from SharePoint’s Business Data Catalogue connector, XML Mashup, Visual Studio and SharePoint Designer. And, the SharePoint Community Kit (another free download) supports social bookmarking and sharing news. Not to mention instant messaging. How much real-time information is too much? (You might enjoy reading Daniel Tenner’s perspective on this from Technology, “The questionable value of the real-time web”)

There is more …
In 2009, Google announced the release of Google Wave. Initially by invitation only, the software is now available to anyone. Described by CNET as "the e-mail of the future," Google Wave blends e-mail, instant messaging, photo sharing, and potentially connections to the world of social networking. According to Google, a wave helps make communication better by integrating formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more. Because a wave is shared within a group, members can reply anywhere in a message, edit content and add participants to the discussion at any point in the process. A playback feature lets newcomers rewind the wave to see who said what and when.

Google Wave is an attempt to "combine conversation-type communication and collaboration-type communication. As summarized by Mashable, Google Wave offers innovative features one could imagine using to improve communication and collaboration on projects including:

  • Wiki functionality: Anything written within a Google Wave can be edited by anyone else, because all conversations within the platform are shared. Thus, you can correct information, append information, or add your own commentary within a developing conversation.
  • Natural language: Google Wave can autocorrect your spelling, even going as far as knowing the difference between similar words, like “been” and “bean.” It can also auto-translate on-the-fly.
  • Drag-and-drop file sharing: No attachments; just drag your file and drop it inside Google Wave and everyone will have access.

Also take a look at all the new Instant messaging products (I think they still classify as that!).  One that I have used is Trillian Astra from Cerulean Studios.  It brings together IM (from multiple sources), Video chat, Audio chat, Social Networks (like Myspace and Facebook), Twitter, Skype and email.  It is kind of a one stop communicator.

And, even Microsoft’s communicator now lets you go beyond IM and do VOIP calls or even integrate calendar and Net meetings.

Deciding which tools and capabilities will facilitate communication and collaboration on your project
Before jumping on any new technology bandwagon, remember that new processes require training and distract staff from ongoing tasks. As project manager, you need to do a realistic cost/benefit analysis before you commit that delineates who will use the technology, how they can use it within the context of the project, and understand what – if any – communication or collaboration technologies could be lost in the transition.

Like every new technique or technology that comes along, we must decide which tools to incorporate and what processes to use to “improve” our team collaboration.  Those that never try new technology will turn around one day to find they are still typing status reports on a typewriter!


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