Why is team collaboration not enough?

Expanding beyond team/social collaboration to business collaboration

The term “collaboration” has become one of the primary hot topics for businesses and analysts throughout the industry lately.  At its most basic level, “collaboration” simply means “working with others in a coordinated fashion toward a common goal.”  But few actually attempt to define what it really means in the context of business and PPM.

If you ask most people what capabilities define collaboration in the workplace, they generally talk about the sharing of information within a given team:  document management, threaded discussions, activity feeds, instant messaging, shared calendars, task assignments, facilitation of problem solving and idea development, communication of decisions and meeting minutes, etc.  This is all good, and certainly helps a team move forward in coordinated fashion toward the common goal of completing a project or specific unit of work.  Nearly all PPM solutions provide functionality to address each of these needs within the scope of a project.  SaaS PPM solutions are particularly well-suited to providing this level of team collaboration since, by their very nature, they are accessible to all team members regardless of geographic diversity and the information they contain is always available in near real-time.

I would argue, however, that this limited view of collaboration is incomplete.  Looked at from a broader perspective, an entire organization can be viewed as a collection of units which must all work together in a coordinated fashion toward the common goal of alignment and execution against the business’ corporate vision and strategic objectives.  Thus, business-level collaboration is necessary to establish the direction for an entire organization.  “Business Direction” includes the definition for the organization’s Vision, Goals and Strategies.  By sharing and collaborating on the Business Direction, the business teams will be better prepared to drive the various work efforts.  True business-level collaboration therefore depends on the free flow of information between the project teams and the outside world – management, other departments, executives, stakeholders, etc. – to facilitate proper alignment and effective decision-making throughout the entire organization.  It is this level of “business collaboration”, as opposed to individual “team collaboration”, which is often missing from a company’s collaboration strategy.  All too often, anyone not on the core project team is actually excluded from access to the system of record for project performance and must therefore depend upon periodic status updates or word-of-mouth communications to understand, participate, or make critical business decisions on project information.

Business collaboration provides a level of transparency and visibility to project details throughout an organization.  At its heart, business collaboration makes heavy use of enhanced dashboarding and powerful reporting capabilities to expose appropriate project information to those who are outside the core project team.  Ideally, facilitation of business collaboration also provides processes and methods for these external resources to submit inquiries and participate in discussions, access project documentation, and all of the other traditional collaboration capabilities as well.

When examining the collaboration strategy within your organization, be sure to keep the big picture in mind.  Team-level collaboration is certainly important.  But enabling collaboration across departments and across levels within a larger organization can often be even more critical to the success of the entire business.

Mobile Devices in the Enterprise

by Tom Stone

I was talking with my mom the other day about some of the differences between what I experience in the workplace now and what my dad experienced while I was growing up.  It struck me that one of the biggest changes has been in the boundary between “work-time” and “off-time.”  When my dad, who was a manager at a large communications technology company, was away from his desk, he was truly away from his desk – and all of his normal work-related activities waited for his return.  This was true when he was home for the evening, on weekends, on vacation, on business trips, or even sitting in meetings.  If he wasn’t physically in his office, he was truly disconnected from his regular everyday activities.

In today’s connected world, this is no longer the case.  I can’t remember the last time I was home in the evening or over the weekend, or even on vacation, when I wasn’t regularly checking email and responding to the ongoing demands of my job.  And hardly a meeting goes by when I don’t see a handful of people responding to some time-critical request via their phone or tablet. 

Mobile devices allow us to stay connected to the goings-on of our job regardless of our location – we’re no longer tethered to our desk phone or desktop computer, nor do we need to be in order to remain productive and involved.  And this business trend isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan trend, either.  According to Strategy Analytics, iOS and Android smartphone device manufacturers shipped a total of 21.3M units in the US in the 2nd quarter of 2012 alone.  And smartphones aren’t the only mobile game in town any more.  During that same quarter, Apple sold 17M iPads across the globe – and other tablet devices are appearing with increased frequency.

To the enterprise, mobile access doesn’t simply mean the ability to tweet or post an update to <insert your favorite social media site name here>; it means the ability to see what work needs to be done, respond to critical events, post updates to your tasks or projects, and have immediate access to business-related information.  This is particularly true for project teams, project managers, and PMOs in general.  Project status information is expected to be up-to-date at all times.  Project managers are expected to have their finger constantly on the pulse of their projects.  And requests for status updates are expected to be satisfied anytime, anywhere – not just at the regularly scheduled “status update briefing” meeting.  Being away from your desk is no longer a viable excuse for not having the latest information at your fingertips.

In order to satisfy this new anytime/anywhere business trend, enterprises need to include mobile access in their plans for all mission-critical systems.  Here are some key criteria with which to evaluate your mobile access strategy:

  • Fully available from any location – Easy access is key.  Any barriers to access, even as straightforward as signing on to a corporate VPN, will reduce usage.  Ideally, users should have full access from their mobile device’s browser or application regardless of where they are, without heavy configuration or connection processes.  Typically, SaaS solutions meet this criterion nicely, since they are already Internet-based and are not “hidden” behind corporate firewalls.
  • Device independence – With the proliferation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, the need for your solution to address a wide variety of devices, screen sizes, operating systems, and browsers is greater than ever. 
  • Avoid native applications, if possible – This one might sound counterintuitive, but relying on native applications puts a much greater burden on the user and your IT organization.  If your corporate policy allows users to update their own devices, you’ll soon find yourself with multiple versions of each application being used by your staff.  When you add the permutations of applications specifically developed for the different Android revisions and specifications, iOS applications, and tablet applications, you can see how easily this variety of targeted native applications can get out of sync or out of date from a functional and support perspective.  Browser technologies, such as HTML5, are sophisticated and feature-rich and can provide an application experience that rivals any native application.
  • Avoid proprietary UI formats – The use of Flash or Silverlight technologies can make an application look “cool” and modern, but they are also completely incompatible with most smartphone and tablet browsers; rendering them unusable for mobile devices.
  • Security – One oft-overlooked aspect of mobile devices is their tendency to be easily lost or stolen.  Be wary of any application which stores your company-confidential information on the device itself.