What is Collaborative Work Management?
We’ve written a great deal about project management and work management and the benefits they bring. But what exactly is collaborative work management? Why is it different, and how does it benefit knowledge workers and their teams? Let’s find out.
As workplace models evolve, so do the terms and practices which companies use. Hybrid working – where employees enjoy a mixture of remote and office working – has soared. Mobile devices are better integrated, and time spent in meetings is being scrutinized more closely. Companies are beginning to understand that a successful team isn’t merely the result of sharing a physical space or of individuals working efficiently in isolation: effective collaboration is key.
What is collaborative work management?
In a previous article, we compared project management with work management. In essence, project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to complete projects effectively. But, as its name suggests, it is generally restricted to managing projects, rather than broader activities across an organization.
Building upon these principles, work management streamlines and transforms business processes to improve broader company operations, as well as individual and team projects.
Collaborative Work Management (CWM) is an evolution of work management. It focuses on enabling employees to communicate efficiently, access resources quickly, and generally, work together more effectively – even if staff members are in separate locations using different devices.
CWM is a collection of small but powerful elements which transition your company from personal productivity to collective performance. However, being a digital-age concept, it didn’t manifest through materials like paper and pens; CWM emerged via the realm of cloud software.
What is CWM software?
As with project management and work management software, a CWM solution helps users plan and execute their activities, and uses cloud computing to synchronize progress across all of their devices. The software combines task management, project management, workflows, and automation, with employee communications, reporting, analytics, and dashboards. Therefore, CWM tools are a natural progression from work management and virtual meeting solutions.
Many CWM tools focus on planning projects and tracking time. But if you are in the business of selling time – such as a consultancy, agency or professional services firm – these aspects only form the two middle stages of any project.
At the start, you need to sell your offering, i.e., you need the tools to help you compile a quote for consideration. Then, at the end of the project, you also need to bill the client. This is something that most companies use a point solution to do, whereas using an end-to-end collaborative work management platform can facilitate this in a few clicks.
Therefore, it’s important to look for a solution that incorporates all four stages of a project: Sell, plan, track and bill.
A comprehensive CWM software should provide the following features as standard:
- Preparing quotations (if required for consultancies/agencies/professional services firms)
- Task planning and management for different projects
- Team and project workspaces for adding and sharing content
- Communication features for tasks, projects, and content
- Data visualizations, such as charts, for dynamically updated activities
- Real-time interactive reports and dashboards, with views across multiple projects
- Surfacing relevant information based on user activity
- Notifications, reminders, and event triggers to request actions or information
- Customized automation of repetitive sequences of actions
- Integration with other software tools
- Prebuilt templates for specific work
- Integrated billing based on quotations, orders or work reports (if required for consultancies/agencies/professional services firms)
While CWM solutions subsume the regular and repetitive processes addressed by work management software, they are designed to go further by strengthening collaborative workflows in a user-friendly manner.
The benefits of CWM software
1. Increased productivity
A study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity, which surveyed over 1100 companies, found that firms which promoted collaboration were five times more likely to achieve high performance.
CWM software can automate manual repetitive processes, such as updating calendar items, which reduces unnecessary work. Additionally, prebuilt templates provided by many vendors for standard processes or projects only require minimal customization, which saves considerable time on setup.
2. Increased efficiency
There is no need to search emails for the latest version of a file, or a piece of information required for a particular task – CWM software provides a single place to unify all company data, simplifying processes and enabling automatic updates to all parties.
Eliminating spreadsheet management and unnecessary meetings (e.g. to go through in-person status updates) saves so much time for everyone working within a particular team. The time that can then be better spent on problem-solving or decision-making.
3. Independent of location
The best CWM software is entirely cloud-based, meaning remote or hybrid working can be handled with ease. Users can log in to any enrolled device, be that a laptop, desktop, or smartphone, and continue work where they left off. They can access and exchange all files, tasks, comments, and feedback.
This degree of freedom enables staff to work flexibly and autonomously, and for teams to become more self-directed. Meanwhile, team leaders can rest safe knowing that team members are working within an agreed framework, with appropriate guardrails and constraints.
4. Accessible to all employees
One aspect which sets apart robust CWM solutions from other platforms is that they are designed from the ground up to be accessible to non-technical business users, instead of primarily targeted at project managers or IT teams. Good CWM software can also function well when only the outline and constraints of tasks are known, with the details being filled in when they become available.
Users today expect intuitive and easy-to-use tools, regardless of whether they’re tech-savvy or not. And business leaders seem to agree, with 73% of respondents in one survey reporting that reliability, ease-of-use, and ease-of-integration are the most critical aspects when selecting this type of software.
5. Increased transparency
Since CWM software is inherently a centralized data solution, information can be communicated to all staff members and managers at all times. It provides real-time visibility of activities, with statuses, dashboards, and notifications. For example, CWM software can incorporate a Gantt chart to display a project, or a calendar view to show a portfolio of multiple projects. Task and project stakeholders can be kept updated easily and automatically.
Transparency (via version control) also improves accountability. Since all activity is time-stamped and user-tagged, everyone is aware of who actioned what and when. Managers and team members can therefore look back to identify mistakes, and prevent them from reoccurring.
6. Reduced costs
As well as saving time, CWM software saves cost in other ways. Since staff members can work remotely, the company can save on overheads such as heating, lighting, and cleaning. And by using CWM in conjunction with videoconferencing, team members also save on travel costs such as transport and/or accommodation.
One survey found that 80% of employees spend half of their week on repeat work due to poor communication, so a good CWM solution saves these working hours, too. And, as all managers know, avoiding confusion and the potentially disastrous mistakes this causes can save incalculable losses. When considering the subscription cost of an integrated software suite, it pales in comparison to the combined cost of these factors.
7. Improved project outcomes
A team is more than the sum of its parts – a great team can produce far greater results than individuals working alone. It is well known that improved collaboration results in higher-quality project outcomes. And even research going back to 2006 has shown improvements in product design when using group software.
It stands to reason that an environment in which team members can share ideas, experience, and opinions – even virtually – produces more positive results than a seclusive workplace.
What makes a CWM solution different?
Conventional portfolio and project management software is based on the traditional top-down approach, whereby a project manager creates a plan which employees must follow. The project manager’s time would consist of assigning tasks, chasing team members for work, updating the plan, and generating reports for stakeholders.
Instead, CWM technology is designed from the ground up to be team-centric, incorporating self-management and independent working. This enables your company to plan work in fine-grained detail while embracing the operational benefits of self-organization and close-knit working among team members.
The CWM concept, and its technical implementation, is at the heart of digital transformation, since this software not only links the entirety of a company’s data in one place, but strengthens the human connections between staff.
Currently, CWM software is often deployed in a specific situation to a small team. However, company-wide deployments are gaining popularity as business leaders realize the benefits. With all the talk of ‘not wasting the crisis’ of Covid-19 (a sentiment originally coined by Rahm Emanuel during the 2008 recession) and digital transformation, businesses would stand to gain from moving ahead of the curve with collaborative work management software. Those who haven’t already should be planning rollouts of solutions across their entire operations.
The imperative to adopt online work tools has never been greater. But implementing tools for collaborative work management software shouldn’t be seen as an IT expense forced upon begrudging businesses. Instead, it’s a culture-changing, long-term investment. And, when implemented well, it provides companies with better-equipped teams who collaborate effectively.
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