Published in “Project Times” website, March 21, 2016
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How important is collaboration to project success? Several years ago, it was important but not critical; however, within the last 5-10 years, it has become a cornerstone to success.
In today’s Amazon-impacted world, customers have higher expectations of rapid turnaround, 24/7 accessibility, and increased levels of service. These expectations drive complexity. Additionally, we are in a global economy. Executives are hard-pressed to find a product sourced solely from the country of origin. Most likely, at a minimum, your suppliers’ supplier will be from another country. On the customer side, typically, those who export grow sales more rapidly than those who don’t. The bottom line is that we are more interconnected than ever before; thus, collaboration is critical to success.
Although external collaborators are what we typically think of in a global, Amazon-impacted world, it is often just as important if not more important to consider your internal collaborators. Does your sales team talk with production? Does R&D talk with marketing? Does your Ohio location talk with your California location? Often times, different sites within the same country can be more collaboration challenged than when coordinating with sites in other countries. How often have we heard the challenges in collaborating across the U.S. yet we seem to be able to coordinate across borders? Quite frequently! It is as if we are speaking a different language even though it might be the culture of the south vs. the hustle of New York or the laid-back nature of California.
No matter whether we are collaborating across functions, sites or countries, these keys to success will give you an advantage:
- Provide background – Instead of jumping into a conversation and assuming your internal or external partner knows about the initiative, take the time to provide background information. Make sure they are comfortable with the topic and understand what you want to accomplish, why it is important, etc. If you are on the receiving end, make sure to ask questions. Starting on the same page makes all the difference in the world.
- Take a breath – This tip relates just as much to collaboration as it does to everyday communication. Do not run on for several minutes on a tangent without pausing to see if your audience is following along. Don’t assume the lack of questions is good news. Ask for confirmation that you are answering their questions and whether what you are saying makes sense.
- Build a framework together – What reason are you collaborating? Most likely you are working on an initiative together or need help or advice from the other person. Either way, build the framework together. Thus, if you are putting together a project plan, make sure to put it together with a give-and-take perspective. Suggest a place to start. Ask the other person where you should go next. Trade off consistently if you need a way to force yourself to remember to ensure fairness. If you have become more expert at collaboration, mix it up. Start with the first few tasks, if you are strong in those areas, and defer to the other person for the areas they are strong in. Build upon each other’s strengths.
- Compare resources – Another way to collaborate is to compare resources. For example, if you are rolling out a product, you could have internal and external resources involved in the project. Compare the resources of different team members vs. your objectives. Most likely, each person will be more successful supplying inputs and resources to the areas of the project within their capabilities and resources. It seems quite obvious; however it can often be an overlooked key to success. In the new product rollout, the engineering group is likely to have access to resources to optimize the production process whereas the logistics group will have more resources available to optimizing packaging. Match up resources with project plans.
- Share successes – Sharing in successes and creating opportunities for quick wins encourages collaboration. It is always a good idea to look for opportunities where you can turn 1 + 1 into 22 instead of 2. Collaboration will achieve 22!
Collaborating has emerged as vital to success for any project or major initiative. We must communicate internally among departments, facilities, and levels of the organization. That alone can put most companies over the edge. However, in today’s Amazon-impacted, global environment, we must collaborate externally as well. Customers, suppliers, supply chain partners and other business partners such as trusted advisors must come together and collaborate with a clear, shared objective to achieve dramatic business results.