Guest Post: How do you collaborate?

Karen Munro is a project management expert based in Australia, she teaches workshops and mentors project managers around the globe, and has recently adopted Xtrant into her workflow.  This piece was published on her blog Project Management Insight.

Collaboration tools make sharing information across a project team easier

Collaboration tools make sharing information across a project team easier.

The ability to collaborate as a project team is the key to it’s success.  As the Project Manager you need to ensure that collaboration across the team is easy and working.

For the past four months I have been using a collaboration tool for my own projects. There are a number of these tools available in the market, each with similar and different features.

I’m going to talk about my own personal experiences of using Xtrant so that you gain some idea of the value that I see in using this sort of tool.

Collaboration across site/country boundaries

One of the key benefits I’ve found with using this tool is that I have been easily working with others spread right across Australia. This collaboration involves sharing information, sourcing new information, having continuing discussions, creating and editing documents together. And yes, this could all be done via emails, BUT the benefit with the tool is that there is no long trail of messages that are being sent backwards and forwards. I don’t need to have countless documents attached to emails, or have to create multiple emails in order to move the attachments because of bandwidth issues.

The number of collaborators is unlimited

This has been valuable for a large fundraising project that I’m involved in. There are currently upwards of 60 people involved in this project.  What’s great is that there is one site where all of the information is published. Everyone has access to the same material.  Updates are made and everyone is aware of that. They can access the material in their own time, make comments, interact, share etc and again this is all together in the one place on the site. An email that is going to 60 people would become unruly, especially if each of those people interacts with it in some way.

I can access the information anywhere

Okay, so most people have their work emails downloading onto their smart phones these days. The limit with that is the ability to update and comment on documents on a smartphone – with an iPad or Tablet it’s different, and yes it’s doable.

The benefit of using a collaboration tool such as Xtrant is that anywhere I have an internet connection I have access to all of the documents and material that I need for the projects I’m working on. I can also add material whether I’m sitting at home, or in a cafe, or away interstate. I don’t need to have access to my work email to do that.

The information I gather and the history is all stored in one place

You know how you can have multiple email trails, sometimes related to the same topic or item. Well one of the other key benefits of using a collaboration tool is that the material is all there in the trail in the one place. I don’t need to know who sent me the email and when. It makes viewing and reviewing conversations and material so much easier.

I asked James Sposto, the CEO of Xtrant some questions about the tool.

Karen: “What are the features of Xtrant that make it useful as a project collaboration tool?”

James: “The feature set, as it stands now, is very simple – Each project, or workspace, has 5 basic elements – what the project or initiative is (Overview), who’s involved (People), what specifically is getting done (Milestones), a timeline of the files, documents and links being shared or uploaded to the project (Shared Assets), and the conversations that are about the project (Running Notes), keeping all this information contextually centered around the topic or initiative that the project represents.”

“We also have an algorithm that customizes the view for each individual member of a project, highlighting and bringing to the top any notes, assets and comments not seen since their last visit. This, along with the ability to check when your collaborators have last visited the project, makes Xtrant an “accountability engine”.  There’s no excuse for missing something, and once they’ve seen all updates and changes, the notes and asset timelines revert to the original posting order so the integrity of the project history is maintained.”

“This same ordering and notification system extends to the project dashboard – bringing to the top and highlighting the projects with updates that you haven’t seen – while keeping the rest of the projects in order of most recent update.”

“But the defining feature of Xtrant is its simplicity and flexibility – by incorporating familiar social protocols – the way most of us communicate online – allows for easy adoption of the system, which is important for any tool being introduced to a diverse team with different work styles. That simplicity also allows team members with different work and communication styles to use the same platform comfortably.”

Karen: “What are the limitations of the system (from your perspective)?”

James: “From my perspective most of the limitations are ones we are addressing in our product roadmap.”

“At the moment I’d say our biggest limitation is our mobile support – though the present web interface will work on a tablet, the web app is not optimized for mobile.  The good news is our mobile app is in beta and will soon be released for both Android and iOS (along with a mobile-web optimized version of the site.)”

“Other limitations we are addressing include the ability for our users to assign and transfer tasks or milestones to individuals on the project, and the ability to have discussions or comments around those milestones.  We’d also like to incorporate tagging into comments and asset posts.  By adding an @karenmunro tag to an asset or note, you would know it’s for you, and though it would be viewable by another team member, they wouldn’t get an email or mobile alert notification.”

“The final limitation I see is our continued reliance on Email as a notification system – which is somewhat ironic for what’s supposed to be an “email killer”.  The users already have the option of disabling email notifications in their preferences – or limiting them to a max of once every 6 hours, which is great for our clients who stay on Xtrant throughout the workday, but once we have Mobile alerts it will make sense for users to disable email notifications completely.”

“A traditional project manager might find the lack of dependencies, gantt charts or progress tracking problematic, we think that those functions are best left to tools of those PMs choosing – while our purpose is as a communication and collaboration platform that anyone can use.”

Karen: “What sort of people are you expecting will get the most out of Xtrant?”

James: “Anyone who uses email or multiple, disparate platforms to communicate and collaborate for business – that includes individuals who need a platform that can be both internal and client facing – like independent professionals and freelancers who work with a variety of people and need to collate their communication into separate verticals based on client, project or initiative.”

“We also see small teams within a corporate or small business environment – especially if one or more of them work remotely, getting a lot out of Xtrant.”

Karen: “Do you see Xtrant evolving in any way in the future?”

James: “There are subtle and obvious evolutions – the addition of a calendar view, outside calendar integration (syncing with Google or ICal) and task assignments – there is an extensive wish list for functionality, but those functions will be weighed and added judiciously to ensure the core experience and ease of use of Xtrant doesn’t suffer.”

“I see Xtrant integrating with other platforms – cross connecting to Google Docs (we employ google reader for previews already) and tangentially competing services like DropBox.  I also see opportunity in the new API that the Mobile app runs on (code named “SoulBurger”)  extending the capabilities and potential integreations and customizations of the platform.”

“Ultimately, I’d like to see Xtrant be the default platform for business communications – the way the world does business.  That may be pie in the sky, but there’s no reason not to aim for the stars, and the variety of users in all kinds of businesses that are already using Xtrant tells us that possibility is there.”

If you are considering using an online tool for collaboration, check the web to see what’s available . There are a number of tools out there today that provide these same sorts of service.  Personally, I like Xtrant.