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Critical Things To Consider Before Investing in a Team Collaboration System

Apr 1, 2008
In today's interconnected world where more organizations are collaborating with partners and clients, and coordinating virtual staff, online team collaboration solutions have become a 'must-have' to keep everyone on the same page. Trying to juggle communication between partners, staff, clients and other team members through email alone often leads to serious bottlenecks, lost information, and more project lag-time than necessary. Password protected extranets or secure online workspaces offer organizations powerful tools to collaborate online and work more efficiently and effectively.

However, with so many team collaboration tools available today, how do you know which one is the best solution for your particular business or organization? Companies and other organizations that work with clients and teams around the world suggest evaluating three critical things before investing in a team collaboration system:

How Steep is the Learning Curve?

Many team collaboration tools are loaded with tons of features for added selling points. Oftentimes, these features are more valuable as a 'buzz' factor rather than an actual tool to help teams communicate efficiently. If the project collaboration software is too complicated to use, it can be very difficult to get people on board with using it.

Most people are already busy enough and don't want to take hours out of their week just to learn how to communicate with you. Clients especially tend to get frustrated if they have to adopt a complicated system just to work with you. For this reason, it is essential that the team collaboration project you choose be simple and not bloated with features that aren't essential.

Does the Team Collaboration Solutions Provider Offer Some Sort of Online Training?

The project portal should be simple, intuitive, and not overwhelming to new users. If the project management system is too difficult to learn, you'll find yourself spending a great deal of time training current employees, new employees, and customers how to use it while the productivity of the project itself dives. Regardless of how simple it is, most new users will need some sort of light training on how to use the system effectively.

You could spend hours on the phone teaching employees, partners, and customers where to click, how to upload, and how to interact with the system. Another option would be to create your own training documents or screen-capture videos to send to new users. However, to save yourself more time and frustration, look for team collaboration tools that already have published videos that show new users how to interact with the system. This way you can simply send them a link and new users can be off and running.

How much structure should the collaboration tool have?

There is an inherent trade-off between the amount of built-in structure a collaboration tool has and the tool's ability to be adapted to different groups needs. Some tools have too much structure and hierarchy and it can be confusing to users where to click to find the right document library or discussion group.

SharePoint, for example can be difficult to set up in a way that is intuitive and simple to use for users. It can be packed with features, but if only the most sophisticated users can figure out how to perform the most basic actions, getting users to actually adopt and use it can be a real challenge.

The real value of any team collaboration system is in its ability to keep a team up to date and on top of the latest developments in a project. Nothing can slow a project down faster than when team member B thinks he is waiting for team member A to complete a task only to find that the required task was already complete but went unnoticed.

An excellent online collaboration tool should offer "portals" or workspaces for individual projects and message threads within those projects that different members can subscribe to and receive message alerts by RSS or email. Those who do not need to follow communication on every thread should be able to remain off of that thread to avoid information overload. At the same time, it should be simple and fast to add a new project member to an existing thread if the discussion turns into one that they need to be aware of.

Documents relating to specific projects should be grouped into one place without users having to sift through endless threads to find a particular document. Without this feature, an online collaboration tool ends up having the same problem as email where messages with important files attached become lost in the growing stream of communication. There's a lot of buzz these days about wikis as online collaboration tools. Wikis are collaboratively editable web pages and are great tools for some situations. They are very flexible and allow groups of people to contribute to a shared body of knowledge (e.g. Wikipedia). They work very well for developers and others who need to develop software documentation, frequently asked questions, policies, human resources information, etc.

In some cases they work very well for groups that need to collaborate on projects and activities. However, they are not as good a choice for groups that need to share documents, manage tasks, maintain a shared calendar, and have discussions.

Wikis can be too unstructured. For some groups wikis don't work well for team or project collaboration because they don't provide enough structure. For groups that primarily need to share and collaborate on documents, manage tasks, and have discussions, it can be cumbersome to post these to wiki pages and organize them so others can find and update them later. Some groups should consider an online collaboration tool that has more structure out-of-the-box so that groups can just start using it - documents, tasks, discussions, and news can be posted with one or two clicks and don't need to be organized or managed carefully to keep them from getting lost.

Wikis can take more time to set up and administer. For administrators, some tools that start off with the right feature set in place can often be far easier to set up because they already have an intuitive navigation structure built in. Wikis sometimes require a lot of effort to set up a skeleton structure of pages that can organize the groups content effectively. In addition, less sophisticated user groups often require more training on how to interact effectively with the wiki. This can be a real problem for groups that need to set up hundreds or thousands of workspaces.
In conclusion, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing an online collaboration tool. The most important are simplicity and ease-of-use, strong help documentation and online training, and the right amount of structure to ensure your teams don't need to figure things out for themselves.

Whatever collaboration tool you choose for your organization, they offer powerful and effective ways to help organizations share documents, manage tasks, and coordinate more effectively with staff, partners, and customers.
About the Author
Author is a freelance copywriter. For more information on Online
, visit http://www.projectspaces.com.
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