In a project – large or small – a great deal of information and documents are created. Furthermore, a large number of messages and discussions between the team members are exchanged. There are also a large number of tasks to carried out in the project. It is a lot more efficient to collaborate in a collaboration tool with a shared project space than to email and use fileservers like we have done for the last twenty years.
Emails and fileservers are not so efficient
You probably recognise the situation when a document circulates in several different versions and in the end you do not know which one is the latest, or that a thread in an email gets so long that it is difficult to follow. When you delve in to the fileserver there are several copies of the same document and it is difficult to know which is the current version.
Putting documents on disks and shared fileservers only to send them via email is usually not very efficient. Nor is it very efficient to have conversations via email. It takes a lot of time for us as users and it creates uncertainty.
Another drawback is that it is difficult to get an overview of the project. The documents are at best in some kind of structure on a shared fileserver, but usually they are spread out in the participants´ emails and computers. Discussions, changes – and the history of the project is often hidden in email threads. As a new project member it is impossible to hit the ground running and unnecessary time is spent on gathering information, as a team member or viewer it is hard to get an overview of what is done or what is left to do.
It is smarter to share information, documents and discussions in one place rather than moving it around. It is more efficient for you as a team member and it gives everyone a better overview. A collaboration tool usually has functionality for activities, discussions, files, notes and tasks that support the team in the collaboration. Here are a few tips on how you take advantage of these.
One version of a document
To begin with – stop creating documents for everything. Each document encapsulates the information and requires an extra click from the user. A document is therefore best to use as a format when the information needs to be formalised i.e. a project description, plan or agreement. It should then be a stand-alone document to be printed (e.g. for signing). Notes, messages or summaries is better to put in the project discussion or the function for notes.
Documents that are shared should be put on the shared project space, and from there you can send links to the other members if needed. If comments are needed they are added within the document (and you as the owner are notified). We then have one version of the document and it is also easier for new members to understand the project history.
Notes as notes
Notes from the work or summaries from meetings do not need to be placed in a document. It is better to put them as notes in the project space. This way you avoid wasting time on formatting and handling a document. Furthermore, your notes are accessible (and not hidden in a document) for yourself and other members if needed.
Notes are often to be consumed while fresh i.e. their value depreciates the more time passes and the project moves forward. Place decisions and activities in the task function in your collaboration tool.
Tasks for everyone
Use the task function in your collaboration tool to add activities that should be solved in the project. Give the task a headline, a description, a list if needed, a date if relevant, and assign it to a member.
The member that is assigned to the task gets full clarity and the overview for all the members is better, everyone knows what is up next. It is easy to identify the bottle necks and overloaded members, the understanding and overview is increased for everyone. Even tasks without assignees should be added so they become clear.
As a member you can usually see all your “to-dos” for your projects in the project tool. It is then easier to have the overview and prioritise your commitments.
The tasks are checked off as they are completed and it gives a great sense of achievement and progress.
Conversations in a shared space
Messages and discussions between several participants are added in the conversation flow rather than sending emails to group. Everyone that takes part in the project group can participate and they can see the discussion in their workflow. If you would like to draw a members’ attention to something you can usually “ping” them by writing their name (the person gets a notification to catch their attention).
With messages and discussions in a conversation flow the need for sharing information through meetings is reduced. A great deal of information, knowledge sharing and reasoning is available and also the history is accessible for new members.
Make it happen
It is more efficient to handle the project in a shared space rather than emailing information and documents, but how do you make it happen, how do you get people to work in the more efficient way?
Leading by example is obviously a good method, but it is more effective if you as a group or organisation agree on how you should work. Together you can train on the work method and routines, and when you are confident you will be more efficient as a group. There is also coaching and help that can get you started, educate and improve efficiency.
Good luck on the project collaboration instead of emailing!