What Is Collaborative Work Management?

By: Tayla Carpenter - Guest Contributor on February 28, 2024
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With mountains of tasks in your employees' daily to-do lists, deciding what to do, when, and how can drag down their productivity. When they need help with a task, reaching out to teammates often involves time-consuming interactions, such as waiting for replies to emails or playing "phone tag" over voicemail.

Even though traditional work management tools can mitigate some of these issues, they may not enable the kind of connectivity you need for seamless interactions between team members. This is where collaborative work management (CWM) comes into play.

By using collaborative work management, you enable employees to streamline and automate tasks while interacting with each other in a supportive, team-based environment. In this way, CWM solves two business problems: adding efficiency to the way work gets done, and fostering a collaborative, interactive environment where team members support and help each other, thereby boosting productivity.

In this guide, we dive into what collaborative work management is, its benefits, how to prepare your business for CWM adoption, and some common pitfalls you'll want to avoid.

What is collaborative work management (CWM)?

Collaborative work management refers to the process of coordinating and managing tasks using a team-based, collaborative approach. It hinges on tools and methodologies that encourage and make it easier to communicate within a team atmosphere to support enhanced productivity.

CWM, as the name suggests, adds collaboration tools and techniques to traditional work management, which provides a system for communicating what work needs to be done. With collaborative work management, in addition to teams getting messages about what they have to do and when, they also have channels they can use to communicate with each other, such as instant messaging or email. They also can collaborate on designing timelines, adjusting deadlines, and suggesting new ways of solving work problems.

For small-to-midsize business (SMB) leaders and project management professionals, a CWM platform unifies your team, making it easier for them to combine minds and efforts around boosting productivity. Using CWM can also foster transparency and allow employees to have their inputs valued by decision-makers.

Many businesses may struggle with inefficient communications hampering productivity. For instance, to ask a clarifying question, someone may have to place a phone call, initiate a video conference, or send an email and wait for a response—all of which can be time-consuming. The same goes for sharing ideas or getting feedback. However, collaborative work management gives team members convenient, versatile communication systems that make it relatively easy to work together toward business goals.

What are the benefits of collaborative work management for SMBs?

Collaborative work management systems enhance project planning and execution. Also, their communication and scheduling tools add flexibility to the project management process.

Benefit 1: CWM tools help streamline project task planning and automation

As per Gartner research [1], using CWM tools, you can plan a wide range of work activities, by:

  • Breaking them into tasks. You can divide tasks into smaller, easier-to-manage pieces so individuals and teams know how to focus their energies.

  • Establishing dependencies. You can map out which objectives and future tasks are dependent on current initiatives.

  • Specifying timelines. With a holistic view of the full scope of a project or task in your CWM, it's easier to set up reasonable timelines.

  • Select appropriate resources. You can directly link the human and technological resources you need to specific tasks using your CWM platform.

You can then take your efficiency to the next level by automating elements of your task planning. For example, you can establish a system that automatically calculates how much each team member gets paid based on the number of tasks they perform. This information could be automatically interfaced with your accounting and payroll systems. You can also make it available to decision-makers who decide which people to assign to individual tasks.

Benefit 2: CWM tools improve team collaboration and project tracking

Collaboration is central to CWM because it empowers users to tackle processes as a team instead of depending solely on a top-down approach to task management. For example, team members can [1]:

  • Create and share documentation in connection with specific tasks

  • Update the project plan based on new information or the completion of sub-tasks

  • Receive and send notifications in connection with tasks and the greater project

  • Talk about the progress or status of a project

  • Work together to design the next steps in response to new developments

To illustrate, suppose a software team is developing a web application. The front-end design team has already chosen widgets, color schemes, banners, and images that users will interact with. However, they need to understand the app's internal logic before deciding what each button does. Designing the app's business logic is under the purview of the back-end team.

With a CWM solution, the front-end team can see where the back-end team is in terms of their progress toward wrapping up the business logic. They can also send quick messages asking for updates. Or, if some back-end elements have already been finalized, the front-end team can get this info and use it to wrap up at least a few user-facing features while they wait for the back-end team to complete the rest of the logic.

Benefit 3: CWM can be applied to many use cases across multiple teams

CWM solutions are effective tools for use cases in a variety of industries. For instance, a company can use a CWM solution to [1]:

  • Coordinate multiple business activities in parallel, such as managing an advertising campaign for a new service while fine-tuning the service's features

  • Allocate resources and track how they're being used

  • Support a strategic operations system, such as a supply chain management process that involves coordinating inventory, order fulfillment, and product shipping

  • Manage marketing operations

  • Manage the product development lifecycle

  • Facilitate IT operations, such as a system for fixing bugs and resolving usability issues

  • Design HR systems and track individual HR activities, such as a complicated interview process

  • Streamline and organize legal operations

  • Coordinate events, such as upcoming company meetings or parties, breaking them down into tasks, which get assigned to individual stakeholders or teams

Further, you can leverage a CWM solution to build executive dashboards that let those in the C-suite know what's happening and who's involved so they can make adjustments. For instance, an executive can pull up their CWM solution and click on a task that needs to be completed by the end of the fiscal year. In a moment, the executive can see, via a percentage, how far along the task is towards completion. They can also see which action items have been checked off, which ones aren't yet complete, and which employees are associated with each task.

For instance, let's say an IT team has been using a central manager to accept and distribute work tickets across the support team. Each team member reports on their progress directly to the manager, who provides feedback or guidance. This is time-consuming and laborious, especially for the manager.

On the other hand, with a CWM system, team members can interact with each other. For example, if someone has recently dealt with an issue that just arrived in one team member's queue, they can team up to tackle it together, without having to get the already-busy manager involved.

Prepare your business for adopting CWM

Like other technologies and approaches, preparing for a CWM adoption shortens your runway so you can get it off the ground faster—without sacrificing the end-user experience. Here are some steps you can take to position your organization for an effective CWM implementation [1]:

  • Choose use cases that fit well with your CWM tool's functionality. These may include planning, executing, and reporting on tasks, as well as triaging and assigning work.

  • Clearly outline who is allowed to do what with the CWM tool. For example, you may allow only managers to assign tasks, or you may set up communication boundaries. For instance, you may enable project managers to reach out to executives via the CWM, but not grant these permissions to regular employees.

  • Start using the CWM on a small scale, then scale up as the team gets used to the system. This makes it easier to get your teams comfortable with the technology before you use it across different kinds of tasks.

  • Design a long-term plan ahead of time for using your CWM system for all or most tasks. In this way, you establish a global adoption goal, something your teams can expect and prepare for.

  • Build a shortlist of CWM solutions you're considering. To do so, create a list of use cases and check to see which solutions enable the most uses. You should also factor in usability and test each solution before committing.

Avoid these common CWM deployment pitfalls

By keeping the following pitfalls top of mind, you can prevent complications from hampering your CWM adoption [1]:

  • No plan for using the CWM across the entire business. Sometimes, CWM software gets introduced by an individual, and there's no plan for a widescale deployment. To avoid this, unite all stakeholders prior to your CWM implementation and devise a plan together for how to best use the CWM to accomplish each department's goals.

  • Unclear roles and responsibilities in connection with your CWM governance. You need to have procedures set up for quality control, managing data, and updating your CWM system ahead of time.

  • A lack of skills needed to use the system. Some employees may not have the technical knowledge needed to work well with CWM software. To sidestep this obstacle, you can demonstrate the CWM tool's value-add and provide training on an individual, as-needed basis.

  • Inadequate vendors or products. CWM is still a relatively small, immature market, so many of the larger software developers haven't yet provided solutions. Small CWM vendors may not have the support systems you need to train users or address issues. To avoid choosing the wrong vendor, you should make a list of the kinds of support you'll need and for how long. Then, you can ask each vendor if they're able to meet these needs.

Explore your CWM options and boost productivity

Using the info in this guide, you can use CWM tools to empower your teams to accomplish more in a more collaborative environment. You can also get started with choosing a CWM solution that fits your operations and team culture and avoid pitfalls that could get in the way of an effective implementation.

Your next step is to dive deeper into collaboration software and task management solutions. Here are some resources to get you started: