Project collaboration: the key to successful project management (and happy teams)

People connected through different elements of project collaboration

If you’ve ever tried to complete a project without the right tools, the right team, or the right resources, you know it can feel like an impossible task. But you don’t have to go it alone.

Project collaboration is the key to happier employees, project managers, businesses, and let’s not forget—customers.

There’s a reason we say “teamwork makes the dream work.” Cringe-worthy? Sure. But science is on our side. In fact, collaboration is what drives workplace performance. We’re talking higher engagement, lower fatigue, and overall higher success rates. What’s not to like?

In theory, collaboration sounds… easy. In practice—not so much. In this post, we’ll dive into how you can foster collaboration in project management and increase the chances of project success.

But first, let’s cover the basics.

What is project collaboration?

Project collaboration is when a team of people work on the same project to achieve a common goal. They will come together to share skill sets, ideas, resources, and information to complete that project. 

Collaborative teams may include project management experts, as well as other stakeholders and specialists required to execute a particular project successfully.

Depending on their roles and responsibilities, a collaborative project team will be responsible for working together to strategize, plan, execute, monitor, and report on the progress of a project from beginning to end. 

During project collaboration, team members will also use tools such as shared documents, project management software, resource management software, and communication platforms to enable synergy between team members. This means collaborative projects can be carried out as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Project collaboration examples

Collaborative projects: Example 1

Collaboration between advertising agencies and their clients are common. The client may have a rough idea, an unpolished storyline, or an angle they want the agency to explore. Next, the agency’s creative team will work together on how to bring those ideas to life and work with the client to understand which ideas would resonate the most with their audience.

By using effective feedback loops and enabling a collaborative project environment, together, they can bring a great idea to life. The result of bringing customer insights together with creative minds might just be something as bizarrely brilliant as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk “Eyebrows” advertisement, created together with the advertising agency, Fallon.

The project required collaborating with Fallon’s executive creative director, the senior brand manager at Cadbury’s, and a film director. The ad went viral and is considered an ITV “Ad of the Decade.” 

Not bad! Not bad at all.

Collaborative projects: Example 2

Let’s say you’re launching an eBook. While possible, it’s unlikely that you’ll have all the skills needed to bring that eBook from idea to execution. You might need writers, editors, designers, marketing—you name it—to bring your project to life and make it a successful one.

With this in mind, let’s talk more about the advantages of project collaboration.

The importance of collaboration in project management

Project management and collaboration go hand-in-hand. 

When you work with a team, you get a whole bunch of brains working together to solve problems and develop creative solutions, and this is why collaboration is so important in project management.

For a project, team collaboration means lots of extra hands on deck to get stuff done faster. As the age-old saying goes, “many hands make light work.”

Collaborative projects will help you reach your project management A-game. Trust us, your team (and your stress levels) will thank you.

5 key benefits of collaborative projects:

  1. A better atmosphere: A collaborative environment can build a sense of workplace community. Team members have an opportunity to build stronger relationships which can boost morale.
  2. Speedier production time: When team members collaborate, they can divide and conquer tasks, leading to increased productivity. Team members can work together to overcome any roadblocks that may arise, ensuring that the project stays on track.
  3. Greater innovation: Collaboration brings a variety of perspectives and ideas to the table. The team encourages one another to think outside the box, brainstorm, and bounce ideas off one another, leading to fresh and innovative ideas. This can also result in new and improved products or processes.
  4. Killer communication: Collaboration promotes open and clear communication. By working together, team members can discuss ideas, share updates, and resolve any issues on time.
  5. Shared knowledge and skills: When team members collaborate, they can share their unique knowledge and skills to come up with creative solutions to problems. This can lead to more efficient and effective use of resources.

So next time you’re working on an idea or finishing up a project scope, don’t forget to ask yourself this: who can help me make this project a success?

Man saying "who's with me?"

What type of projects requires collaboration? 

Although most projects can benefit from collaboration, there are certain types that will require excellent collaboration more than others, including:

  • Projects with tight deadlines
    • For example, marketing or growth projects working on fast testing sprint cycles  
  • Projects that are complicated or technical in nature, and require a range of specific skills 
    • For example, software development projects need teams working together to design, code, test, and debug software
  • Projects that typically require many different teams
    • For example, big advertising campaigns often involve the collaboration of various teams—including creative, media, and research teams—to develop successful strategies and assets 
  • Projects with a large scope or budget 
    • For example, large event planning projects involve the collaboration of many team members, such as those responsible for logistics, entertainment, and budget management
  • Projects requiring specialists outside an immediate team to inform decisions and strategies
    • For example, working with researchers to collect data, and analyze results
  • Global collaboration projects, or projects with a remote element
    • For example, a team working on a content project with writers distributed internationally, collaborating to develop copy but working remotely in different time zones

Speaking of collaborating remotely, let’s look at some remote collaboration tips.

Download the eBook, Confessions of a Project Manager

Remote project collaboration tips

Since the pandemic, there has been a shifting trend toward remote working. In fact, McKinsey’s annual American Opportunity Survey found that in 2022, 58% of their survey respondents had the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week.

This means that the need to collaborate remotely on projects is becoming more common. 

Here are some top tips when collaborating remotely: 

  • Over-communicate: When you’re not in the same physical space, it’s easy for things to get lost in translation (literally and figuratively). Make sure to communicate clearly and often to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Use the right tools: There are tons of great tools out there to help you stay connected and collaborate effectively with your team, even when you’re not in different locations. Experiment with different options and find what works best for you.
  • Take breaks: Working remotely can be isolating, so make sure to take breaks and stay connected with your team in a more informal way. Whether it’s virtual coffee breaks or scheduled team bonding activities, taking time to connect with your colleagues helps you stay motivated.
  • Embrace the awkwardness: Virtual meetings can feel awkward—there’s no denying it. But that’s okay. Embrace the embarrassing silences, the frozen screens, and the occasional miscommunication (and of course, the accidental cameos). It’s all part of the virtual collaboration experience.

Woman on a video call interrupted by a child on a scooter.

How to create a collaborative project environment

Make collaboration part of the team culture:

Brainstorming sessions work wonders for collaboration. Whether you’re using the “5 whys” technique or “crazy 8s”, running regular team workshops will help everyone bond and work better together. This, in turn, will lead to better project outcomes. 

Use tools that fuel collaboration:

From project management platforms to resource scheduling tools and everything in between, there’s plenty of software to help your team collaborate smoothly.

Find the right people with the right skills:

A project without the right people is dead in the water. That’s why getting the right people, with the right skills on the right project is essential. You can collaborate as much as you want, but if you don’t get resource scheduling right, your project runs the risk of failure. 

Keep the feedback loop open throughout the project:

Ongoing feedback throughout the project life cycle is a must. It’s not just about collaborating during the project initiation or planning phase. Keep the feedback loop open at all times.

Enable collaboration through trust and delegation:

Whether you’re a project owner or project manager it’s your job to enable collaboration by avoiding micromanaging and trusting your team that they’ll do the job they’re there to do.

Reward a collaborative team spirit:

High-performance organizations are 5.5x more likely to reward teams to encourage collaboration. It’s not rocket science. When team members work together they get better results, let’s recognize it.

Essential project management collaboration skills

Collaboration is not only about bringing the right team together, but working together effectively. Now, collaboration in itself is a process, but collaborating with people and doing it well is something that requires skills shaped by experience.

So what exactly is required to get people to work together successfully? 

  • Leadership: A good project manager is able to lead their team toward a common goal. This involves setting clear expectations, motivating and enabling team members, and making tough decisions.
  • Communication: The ability to communicate with team members, stakeholders, and other key players is crucial for project collaboration. This includes listening, giving clear instructions, and providing timely updates (even if it’s just to say “still working on it”). And let’s not forget that knowing when to push back is also part of the communications toolkit.
  • Adaptability: Collaborative projects often involve working with different people and organizations, each with their unique perspectives and ways of doing things. Good project management adapts to these changing environments and finds ways to work effectively with everyone involved (even if it sometimes means pretending to care about things that really don’t matter).
  • Problem-solving: No project goes off without a hitch, and a truly collaborative project team is able to think on their feet and find solutions to unexpected challenges on the fly.
  • Organizational skills: Now this might be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about a project manager. And it’s true—keeping track of tasks, deadlines, and resources is key to a successful project. It’s the project manager’s job to make sure that the project scope is foolproof (but flexible), the resource plan is solid, and stakeholders are aligned. 

So there you have it. If you can master these skills, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a collaborative project management pro.

The challenges of collaboration in project management

Managing project teams in silos is an expensive affair. So, even if you or your team aren’t used to collaborating, once you’ve smoothed out the bumps in the road, it’ll be worth it. You’ll save time and money, while building a better team culture. 

(That’s a win-win-win if we ever saw one.)

So what are those bumps in the road that you might encounter? Here are the usual suspects:

The Great Divide: When you’ve got a team made up of people with different backgrounds, personalities, and opinions, conflict is unavoidable. A good project manager knows how to negotiate a peace deal that everyone can live with. It’s all about finding creative solutions that keep the projects moving forward.

Loudest person wins: The loudest person in the room often gets their way. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way. That’s why it’s important to make sure that more quiet team members have their ideas heard—not drowned out by more assertive or confident team members.

Organizational mess: This can sound like, “I didn’t realize we were using that version of the document,” “I didn’t know that was my job,” or “I didn’t see that email”. Make sure that roles and tasks are defined early and clearly in your resource plan. That way, you’re reducing the risk of running into unnecessary conflict.

Resource confusion: Project timelines can forget to count for availability or shifting timelines. This can make it difficult to see what resources are available and when. When you add competing deadlines, time off, and fluctuating resource capacity to the mix, it only adds to the confusion. Using a project scheduling tool can help you visualize and plan team member availability and capacity.

Assessing collaborative project delivery

Now, if collaboration makes all these grand promises about project success, how do you go about assessing collaborative project delivery? 

Well, in the same way you’d go about measuring the success of any project: look at the deliverables. Did you hit project milestones and goals? (Not sure what performance metrics to look at? We’ve put together a list of 7 essential performance metrics to track.)

And remember, at the outset of a project, be sure to define project success criteria with both your client and your team. Ask your clients what success looks like to them before setting goals. While doing so, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, get clarification, and ask questions. The same goes if you’re a resource manager or a project team member. Remember, stakeholder alignment is everything

A good project manager should have drilled the goals and objectives of a project into the team’s minds. If your goals need to change, be sure to communicate them. This way, everyone focuses on scoring the goals they’ve set.

Best online project collaboration tools 

Project collaboration tools are the glue that keeps teams together—remote or not. Unsurprisingly, 83% of workers depend on technology to collaborate. 

Whether you choose to bookmark a collaboration website for your project, download a project collaboration app, or invest in project management collaboration software, leaning on these platforms could be the difference between project failure or success.

We’ll run you through some of the features to look out for, to help you collaborate with ease:  

  • Collaborative editing: We all loved the early 2000s, but let’s be real, nobody wants to send documents back and forth over email. The ability to work on documents with other team members is essential. The launch of Google Docs back in 2006 sure brought collaboration to a new (much-needed) level.
  • Meetings: Whether it’s hopping on a Slack huddle or a Google hangout, Making real-time calls and scheduling video conferencing will clear up async mishaps and keep teams aligned.
  • Communication platforms: Communication issues between (distributed) teams are a thing of the past. There are plenty of tools that allow team members to communicate in real-time or asynchronously across borders and time zones.
  • File sharing: Every project needs a single source of truth (SSOT) for all project documentation. Whether it’s Google Drive or Dropbox, the ability to upload, share and store documents, images, and other files with team members will keep collaboration smooth.
  • Resource management: Helps plan different available resources needed for a collaboration project, and helps identify team skills and availability to put the best possible project schedule together. Plus, you want a tool that has the ability to integrate with other tools (such as calendars) and platforms, either through native integrations or a robust API. This can help avoid double booking, allow workload transparency, and ultimately make resource scheduling easier on collaborative projects. 
  • Project management: Collaboration requires tools that let you create, assign, and track the tasks associated with a project. They’re what keep teams on top of their assigned tasks and make sure there’s no confusion.

Join the collaboration revolution

Done right, project collaboration can be a game-changer.

Sure, it exists to divide up work and delegate tasks to the right people, but it also boosts team morale. Plus, it’s just plain fun to work with others and bounce ideas off each other. Did anyone ever enjoy working in silos? We doubt it.

So let’s kiss those chaotic, disorganized projects goodbye and give project collaboration a try—your project (and sanity) will thank you.

Related Resource Guru reads:

Download the eBook, Confessions of a Project Manager