You work with a team. It’s time to upgrade the tools you use to foster more efficient teamwork and better management of the artifacts that are created in projects. Email with attached files doesn’t cut it anymore. We are creating an isolated mess of artifacts that cannot be effectively found or used in the next project.
Work is nothing more than a series of projects that you need to accomplish with other people. I know that sounds simple, but think about your daily work life and how you can basically put almost everything you do into that definition. Sure, sometimes you’re working all by yourself, but if you’re working on anything of size you’re probably collaborating with others to get it done. The success of our business comes down to how effective can we work as a team.
One of the most important projects you work on with a team is a large sales initiative. Let’s say you’ve been invited to an opportunity with a prospect that could be a game-changer for your business. You have 45 days to submit your response. This is a project that you need to work on as a team. What tools do you use to facilitate collaboration and teamwork? What processes, if any, do you follow?
Unfortunately, for most of us, we still use email, file attachments to email, conference calls, and meetings as our primary toolset for collaboration. As far as processes go, I’ve seen some printers at least set up a shared repository of RFP responses or single out a person who is responsible for coordinating the response. I picked a sales project because every printer reading this is interested in growing their sales and sales people are not known for their love of process or project management (no offense sales people—you have other redeeming qualities).
What are the most common tools for coordinating your team’s efforts? The answer for most of us is email, documents/spreadsheets created on desktop computers that get shared via email, conference calls, and in-person meetings. What’s wrong with this toolset? Let me explain by sharing a real sales response project story.
I recently participated in a large RFP response with a printer because the request was going to be very software-dependent. Over the course of about a month, I counted 350+ emails exchanged, 85 different files shared, 16 meetings, and 33 phone calls. We successfully responded to the RFP and won the business, but here’s where our toolset failed us. The collaboration took place in all decentralized tools. The emails are across multiple accounts, the data in them is essentially buried because it’s so hard to get at in any reasonable way. The files are spread across many computer systems with version confusion galore (five different versions of the same file named something like _FINAL2, FINAL3, _FINALFINAL—you all know what I’m talking about!).
Why should you care?
Collaboration is something you should get better at; you should learn from each pitch you work on and your team should have easy access to all the decisions you made on the last pitch and all the artifacts that you created. So, what should you do to improve your toolset so that your team works faster, the collaboration is accessible after the project is over, and you spend less time looking for stuff and more time thinking how to differentiate?
- Stop creating local, isolated, artifacts in the form of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
When you need to create an artifact; think about its purpose. If its purpose is to get agreement on ideas, then create it as a cloud-based document, spreadsheet, or presentation (e.g. Mcirosoft360 or Google) where all participants can edit ONE VERSION of the artifact stored in a centralized location.
When you write a document on your desktop (creating an isolated file that you have to share via email), you are creating a management mess for the team. You save the document to your local computer, then you attach it to an email that has five people on it. All five people open the document up and download it to their computer. We now potentially have six versions of this document (total cluster).
The alternative is to create a cloud-based document (e.g. Google Document), share it with everyone on the team, and let everyone edit it. All the edits are tracked, and you can also use the commenting features to collaborate. You created a single artifact that is stored in the cloud, no local management or storage required, and there is only the latest version. Using cloud-based software is confusing at first; be patient and help your team get over the initial confusion. It’s worth it!
- Move Out of Email for Internal Communication.
This is the hardest habit to change. We have all been managing our work life through our inboxes for a long time. Email still plays a role, but my view is that we should stop using email for our internal communication. My company has killed off 99% of internal email. We use Slack to communicate internally, and we set up Slack channels for projects. For example, a group of us will be traveling to Russia next month; that’s a project that requires visas, airfare, agendas, meetings, etc. We created a channel called Russia2018 (not associated with the mid-term elections) and all the communication about that trip is in one place.
Slack is so powerful when it’s used effectively. A shared project channel means that all communication about this topic (project) takes place in one place. If you add another resource to the project mid-stream, you can simply tell them to read the channel to catch up. The real power of a shared communication channel for a project is that you don’t have to take time keeping everyone up to speed. In a project that is managed through email, you hear “I didn’t get that email, could you forward it to me.” Even communication between two people belongs in the shared project channel because the communication is about the project—not about the people. When you manage a project through a Slack channel, you have one place to go to find all the written communication about the project (available to everyone involved the project).
The way we combine the cloud-based files and the project channel is that we share the links to the cloud-based files in the Slack channel. If there are important shared artifacts that the team needs to reference often, we “pin them” to the channel so they are always one click away.
If you use just these two suggestions—create cloud-based files in a shared repository and use a shared channel of communication—then at the end of your project you’ll have just two places to look for all the information about this project. More importantly, your team will spend significantly less time messing with files, emails, and other artifacts and more time doing work that actually adds value to your business.
- Invest in a Project Manager.
You cannot implement this new way of working without giving someone the responsibility of ushering it along. People are stuck in their ways; people are comfortable with the status quo. You need someone to facilitate the change and then “manage” the projects. This does not necessarily mean a net new hire. You have people in your business that are good at getting things done. Teach them these new tools and then make incrementally introduce the tools into your business. You can do it one project at a time.
There are better tools out there for collaboration; we need to really consider upgrading our toolsets to gain efficiencies and make the data we need to get better more readily available to everyone.