The word collaborate according to
the Merriam-Webster dictionary means “to work jointly with others or
together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” For today’s IT projects,
this definition translates to:

  • More
    than one team is involved
  • Individual
    contributors represent diverse job disciplines
  • Teams
    are located in several different physical locations
  • Communication
    often occurs across multiple time zones

If someone were to ask you, “How’s collaboration
working within your IT team on your current project?” What would you say?
Would you describe it as: Excellent? OK? Not good at all? What if more specific
questions were asked? For example, do you believe expectations across teams are
clearly defined, communicated, and met? Does the work you receive from
dependencies (teams or individuals) meet agreed upon acceptance criteria and

If you answered “No” or “not as often as I’d
like” to those last two questions, or if you described your current
collaboration as just “OK,” or worse, “not
good at all,” your collaboration efforts need some improvement and this
article is for you.

Why? Because there are many costs associated with
collaboration failure. Do any of these apply to you?

  • Deadlines
    are missed
  • Project
    is over budget
  • Volume
    of user complaints is high (or they refuse to adopt the application)
  • Team
    morale is low
  • Loss
    of trust among teams
  • “Brand”
    or reputation of IT team suffers

So what can you do to reduce these costs? Take the following
four steps now to improve collaboration for your current or next project.

  1. Identify the #1 challenge you face
    when working across multiple groups.
    It’s not as onerous as it sounds.
    At your next team meeting, take 5-10 minutes and ask everyone to
    brainstorm all the possible challenges they face when working with other
    teams. Don’t allow specific names or personalities to come onto the list,
    just identify the challenge. For example, communicating across multiple
    time zones, lack of follow-up, knowing who to contact or who is accountable.
    (Be aware, the list could be 10-20 items. It’s constructive to allow
    individuals to vent their frustrations.) Next, ask the team to identify
    the top 3 challenges that are causing them the most pain or frustration.
    Once you’ve narrowed the list to 3, think about the cost associated with
    each of these items. Your #1 challenge will often become obvious. If not,
    you can ask your team to rank the list.
  2. Analyze what is at the heart of this
    challenge or its cause
    . Ask the following questions:
    • Is
      it a tracking/reporting problem? Risk and/or change management issue?
    • Are
      incentives for collaborators to work together clearly defined?
    • Is
      it fundamentally a communication issue (not timely, not enough or too
      much, big picture is unclear)? Your challenge could appear to have more
      than one root cause. For example, knowing who to contact or who is
      accountable for different aspects of the project or features of your
      application could be considered a communication issue or a
      tracking/reporting problem. What is at the heart of this challenge? Is it
      that individual team members simply do not know who to contact for what?
      (Root cause = communication issue.) Or, are some individuals not included
      on the distribution list of status and therefore are not informed or
      consulted on matters that may affect them? (Root cause would therefore
      equal a tracking/reporting problem. Many might argue the cause of this challenge
      is really a risk or change management issue. The point is to analyze what
      is the root cause for your particular team before proceeding to step 3 so
      that you can implement the appropriate solution.)
  3. Choose and implement a simple
    “tool” that will help mitigate your number one challenge
    Maybe you already have some procedure in place, a 30-page requirements
    document, or a detailed Work Breakdown Structure. Maybe it’s too complicated
    or involved for the individual contributor. We live in a complex world of
    information overload. Don’t throw out the detailed documents and processes
    you need to help you manage and communicate your project objectives for
    specific team members. Do figure out how to make this information simpler
    and more accessible to all project participants. For example, if you
    determine that your #1 challenge is a communication issue because all team
    members simply do not know who to contact for what. Create a simple “contact
    information” spreadsheet and post it one click away from the home
    page of your team website. Include the name of each feature area owner,
    how to contact them (phone, cell, e-mail), the
    feature area of the product application they are accountable to deliver,
    and who or what component is dependent upon that feature area. If you’re
    working across multiple locations and/or time zones, it is often useful to
    include the physical address as well.
  4. Measure if the tool was successful and
    modify as necessary
    . Identify an individual on the team to be
    responsible for following up within a reasonable timeframe (one month or
    less) to determine if the challenge has been addressed. If not, what
    aspects of your solution have helped? Determine what is needed to make
    this work better for your team and modify if necessary. Then, look back
    through your list of top three challenges, mark off the first challenge as
    “solved,” and repeat steps 2-4 on your next prioritized

Solving your prioritized challenges with simple, practical
tools will allow you to reap the benefits when collaboration works: projects
are completed on time and on budget, customer satisfaction is improved, cost
recovery is improved because you have identified efficiency gains or eliminated
redundancies, brand perception has improved along with team morale, and the
list goes on!

Stacey Dickinson has worked in the technology
industry for over 23 years on many projects which required collaboration among
numerous teams, with individuals from diverse job disciplines, located in
several different sites (often across multiple time zones).

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays