Four issues when undertaking collaborative projects

You did all the groundwork and your collaborative project is underway: great! Keeping it on track is now the priority, and it’s all about planning and communication. What is the best way to keep in touch, and keep everyone informed?

Foundation Forms Set

Image credit: Armchairbuilder.com, Flickr Creative Commons

Each project has its own needs, but they may fall into one of the following four categories.

1. Assign tasks

Identify the tasks and then assign names of those responsible and deadline dates to the tasks: you might find project management software useful in doing this.

Or if project management software is overkill, perhaps you could use a spreadsheet with a line or row for each task, and columns for the initials of the person responsible, the due date, etc. There is plenty of good advice on project management for scholars on the Vitae website.

2. Keep checking on progress

Set up regular checks to review progress against your plan, perhaps at group meetings, or through a co-ordinator who will ask for progress reports, verbal or written. You may even need to review your plan, from time to time: consider in advance if there are there particular points when this is desirable. You have probably already experienced how much more difficult it is to be flexible in your work, when you have to change the direction of a whole team and signalling any possible changes early will help.

3. Keep up the momentum

Ideally, your team will consist of both those people who are great initiators, explorers and starters, and also people who are called “completer finishers” by Belbin. Even if no-one is a natural “completer finisher”, then you can take on that role. What does it take? Here are some practical ways, to keep momentum going:

  • Establish regular tasks and reminders to accomplish those tasks, perhaps in a group calendar.
  • Ensure that meetings are truly effective: use agendas beforehand, and action points attributed to people, ideally with due dates in any documentation afterwards. (There’s lots more advice on effective meetings out there: I like the mindtools site.)
  • Review the frequency of meetings required throughout the project: initially, you may need to meet more often (eg weekly). Once you have established practices, then perhaps less often (eg monthly). As you near project completion, perhaps more meet often again.
  • Map out your project milestones and celebrate your successes along the way.

4. Make the most of tools for collaborative working

Meetings can be held across various locations, using tools like Google hangouts, Skype, WebEx, BrightTALK, etc. The key here is to consider what your project really needs:  Do you really need to meet in person? Do you really need to be online and to see everyone’s faces, or will a teleconference suit better? Do you need a video record of the meeting, so that people can catch up?

Documents, slides and spreadsheets can be shared through Google Docs, so that you can all be working on the same document at once: it is a little spooky to see your colleague editing the same document as you, at the same time! Dropbox is another tool (one of many!) that helps you to share documents.

Group and forum tools like Google+ Communities, listserv e-mail lists or LinkedIn groups could help you all to keep in touch. What are your team members’ preferences?

Share references through facilities on Mendeley and other reference management tools. Academic networking sites like Academia.edu and ResearchGate also have group sharing facilities. Which ones you might want to use would probably depend on which sites or tools your collaborators already use, and what the hurdles are to effective use of such tools.

Finally, you can watch what your collaborators are tweeting about by creating a list on Twitter, and share weblinks online through Delicious or Diigo, or other bookmarking sites.

The Piirus blog will be exploring some of these tools and tips further, in the future. Do you have any experiences or advice to share? Please feel free to comment below, or to get in touch and offer us a guest blog post!


Post by Jenny Delasalle, Piirus blog editor.

jenny_new Jenny Delasalle is the new editor of the Piirus Blog. Jenny is a freelance copywriter and librarian, currently based in Berlin, Germany. This means that she works collaboratively and remotely with the rest of the Piirus team. Jenny is interested in scholarly communications, bibliometrics, copyright and many other things besides and blogs and tweets as herself. Jenny previously worked at the University of Warwick Library in support of researchers at Warwick, for a number of years as well as at other UK university libraries, before that!

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