My brief experience with online collaboration platforms and my quest to focus in a world of multiple distractions
Project management is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while now. Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty organised but whilst working online, with social media, has strengthen my multitasking skills it has also somehow made me pay less attention to (dull) spreadsheets. Having a collection of documents each one with one purpose and function looks to me like quite an old concept. You have a project plan in one place, a budget allocation in another document, you have to organise your folders hierarchically so you can find them… That’s not how the brain best functions, not sure that’s the best way to be productive.
The truth is… my description of the situation is slightly exaggerated (but you would be surprised of how many companies still working JUST with spreadsheets… far too many) as there are, of course, other options available out there.
The first, most widespread one is Google Documents which recently added the possibility of including drawings. Google Docs is the best way to share documents allowing several users to edit the same document at the same time and without even having to register in any new site (unless you’re one of those belonging to the almost extinct species of non-gmail users / you’re a mum).
I have tried other collaboration platforms that claim to make your work life easier and more productive, and some of them did help but only if you understood how disorganised the project was before the tool was introduced. In one case, I was working with several parties in one quite complicated project. The parties involved were production companies, writers, digital agencies, brands etc. All the communication was done by email so I used to receive hundreds of email a day, some of which didn’t actually relate to anything I was doing. It was total confusion, for most of us. Keeping up with all the emails while trying to do some work is very hard. Trying to organise all that information to make sense of it, it’s even harder. So for my own good I decided to (force them to use) gently introduce a collaboration platform well-known by me at that time, but just a buzzword for the others.Basecamp.
Basecamp is not overly complicated and a massive improvement from email. Easy to organise by workstreams and easy to share the right information just with the people who need to know about that particular piece of information. It works more or less like a wiki, in which documents can be shared and commented on, text pieces can be created and edited by various members whilst keeping all the versions in one place. Easy to feedback and approve decisions by several parties. Tasks can be assigned to different members and dynamic timelines set up. As some of the best tools, this one is not free either. Nevertheless it doesn’t have the best of the interfaces and the more workstreams you create, the more documents you upload the more complicated it gets and it’s not that easier anymore to find anything and keep up. So I wouldn’t say it’s completely scalable and appropriate for all projects.
Of course Google Wave seemed promising, like a dream of collaboration. It sounded perfect on paper but it didn’t quite work out to be that way. It was clunky, buggy and collaboration was taken to the extremes… so far that it wasn’t productive anymore. Being able to edit the other person’s text in real-time was just an example of ‘over collaboration’ or ‘collaboration without order’. Google Wave went far beyond that because it aspired to change the way people communicate… instead of reacting to a behavioral change, it was forcing the change in people.
Lately I started using one rather different platform/tool which is so similar to the social networks that we are currently familiar with (Facebook and Twitter) that it doesn’t even feel like a ‘work tool’. I am talking about Socialcast. Its major advantage is integration. It offers integration with Outlook, Gmail, Sharepoint, mobile, desktop etc. Each user has a profile, groups and activity streams can be set up, you can keep up to date through your mobile app, you can access it through the desktop application not having to access the website, it allows for microblogging… But probably the best feature is how the information is organised and the tasks are assigned / messages are directed to people; just in the same way as Twitter using tags and @username language. Tags are included in messages and added to files to group content in activity streams or groups. There is a free version as well as paid-for one, with extra features and extra space. However, I am still struggling to classify it as THE project collaboration platform; just because I don’t see how projects can be planned, because the ‘time’ element of the project doesn’t have a place on it at the moment. It’s great to share information, but not to show progress and keep that project on track.
The conclusion is that I still haven’t found the collaboration platform that really helps me manage my projects, my time and my workload more efficiently in a world of multitasking and continuous distractions. Is really a collaboration tool going to make me more productive? Have you found a better tool that does the job?