Reimagining Project Collaboration
Project collaboration is one of the most important and perhaps the most overlooked component of any company’s operations. Companies are composed of people, and a successful company organizes and utilizes its people power in a way that optimizes their performance. Project collaboration is what ties the skills and talents of people at a company together to achieve the company’s goals. Ideally, project collaboration will enable efficient communication of ideas between team members and cooperation toward the project goals during all stages of the project. However, many companies are stuck in a rut, and project collaboration processes that should be more efficient are outdated.
A typical project collaboration setup at most companies uses a data lake system of organization, where the engineer might access a series of spreadsheets, databases, legacy systems, flat files, data historians, SCADA, web services, and the Internet of Things, all haphazardly jumbled together. The engineer can go to this data lake and pull information to do his own calculations, and then, for collaboration purposes, load it back up to a centralized website like SharePoint. There, the engineer’s teammates can go to the SharePoint site to pull whichever file he had worked on and modify it. This is a common method of managing project collaboration—companies reason that the centralization of everything their engineers need on SharePoint is sufficiently simple. But this method is not as efficient as it seems. Even when SharePoint sites are meticulously organized, it can be difficult to find the correct information for a number of reasons. There are frequent version-control issues that can cause team members to work with outdated data. Sometimes team members who are responsible for stewarding these projects are moved from the team, and their knowledge of the site goes with them, leaving the team members who are left behind to puzzle out which files are the most up-to-date or even unable to find the files at all. Excel spreadsheets, in particular, are prone to errors that can render the whole spreadsheet useless. There are taxonomic inconsistencies that require a significant amount of time and money to address in the form of large-scale conversion projects. And no one ever connects their financials to their data lakes.
Emails are also a ubiquitous tool for project collaboration—for most people in the industry, the idea of working largely without emails seems impossible. Emails are the primary means of communication, and therefore collaboration, in most companies. But emails also have flaws that hinder effective communication. Due to the nature of reply chains, important information can be lost when a team member replies to the wrong email. Sometimes important people can accidentally be left out of the conversation. When team members are out of the office, an email chain can grind to a halt, stymieing any forward movement on the project. Email is taken for granted as the default way to achieve business communications, but it is an imperfect method that deserves reevaluation.