How does your team like to collaborate?
It’s an important question—and one that every project manager should consider before investing in collaboration software. After all, that flashy application with all the bells and whistles won’t accomplish a thing if your team doesn’t use it.
People have a tendency to fall back on what’s familiar. In fact, our research shows that roughly 70 percent of teams still use email as their go-to communication method. This is despite the fact that long email threads are reported to be one of the worst offenders of perpetuating ineffective communication among teams.
So what can you do to ensure you’re providing your team with not only the best collaboration tools, but the ones they will actually use?
To answer these questions, Software Advice surveyed project teams in the U.S. to discover how they prefer to collaborate.
This article reveals our findings and outlines must-have features, pitfalls to look out for and top solutions to consider as you evaluate collaboration software.
(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)
Preferences in Collaboration Tools
To start, let’s define what we mean by “collaboration tools.” This term includes any software that connects teams through a standardized, centralized platform and facilitates communication and cooperation between users.
Teams commonly purchase collaboration software in one of two ways:
- As a stand-alone tool that specializes in one aspect of collaboration, such as chat/messaging or content management.
- As part of a larger project management (PM) solution.
We asked respondents which they prefer: Nearly 60 percent say they prefer to collaborate using a full-featured PM solution over stand-alone collaboration software.
Preference for PM Software
This finding reflects the multifaceted needs of project teams. While specialized tools can boost efficiency in one area, they lack the capacity to meet multiple needs at once. For example: a chat tool may restrict attachment file sizes, or a content management application may lack an activity feed.
Additionally, teams using stand-alone tools must ensure they’ll integrate with the other software solutions they use, such as their main PM system or time tracking application.
Isolated systems can decrease efficiency due to time lost from duplicate data entry, etc. In fact, “integration with other systems” is one of the top challenges cited by respondents in our survey (more on this later).
Conversely, a comprehensive PM solution with collaboration features provides greater connectivity across multiple channels. For example, instead of emailing a file to another user to review, team members can both access it from the centralized location, work on it together and discuss any changes via chat.
Additionally, comments and project status updates are often displayed on a user’s activity feed, so teams stay on the same page.
Benefits of a Full-Featured PM System
Features to Look For
We next asked respondents about the collaboration features they use most:
- Chat/messaging (27 percent)
- Collaborate on documents (20 percent)
- Share files (20 percent)
- Stay up-to-date with an activity feed (19 percent)
Must-Have Collaboration Features
While the majority of teams prefer to collaborate within their PM solution, stand-alone tools can be beneficial when needed to supplement an existing system.
For example, if a team needs additional document storage outside the limits of their current PM platform, they might choose a content management solution, such as Box (first ensuring that it that integrates with their existing PM tool).
However, if your team needs all the features listed above, there are several highly-rated PM solutions that can meet their needs. Two examples include:
Highly-Rated PM Systems
Challenges to Look out For
We asked teams about the biggest challenges they’ve experienced using collaboration software:
- Getting staff to use the software (26 percent)
- Training staff on the software (24 percent)
- Doesn’t integrate with other software (14 percent)
Top 3 Collaboration Software Challenges
Challenges of Collaboration Software
Take Advantage of Free Trials and Demos
One way to avoid the issue of staff not using the software is to have teams vet the product before purchase. Take advantage of the free trials most vendors offer. By demoing several products, teams can choose the one that best fits their workflows. This also encourages them to take ownership in the software and incorporate it into their day-to-day activities.
Trialing a product can also help teams evaluate the solution’s integration and application programming interface (API) capabilities. This is crucial for teams looking at stand-alone collaboration software, or those who will eventually need to supplement their current PM platform at a later date.
Ask About Training and Support
Training staff on new software is difficult—teams must take time away from their day-to-day activities to learn the new system. To assist with training, many vendors offer extensive online help centers and guides.
Some vendors, such as Mavenlink, also include tutorial videos and training webinars in their support forum. Be sure to ask vendors what training tools they offer before your purchase to ensure the product you choose supports your team in the ways they need.
Top 3 Tools to Consider
We surveyed users on the PM platforms they use to collaborate with their teams. The top tools named by respondents include:
- Basecamp (12 percent)
- Zoho Projects (10 percent)
- Mavenlink (7 percent)
Progress screen showing user activity in Basecamp
“Basecamp – Great online content management system. This system is very easy to upload to and share information with your workgroup. It is not that expensive and will give you great capabilities if you are working on more than one project or if you need to share information with work partners.” – Scott, Praeclarus Press
Identify overdue and critical tasks in Zoho
“Everything about this is amazing. They have clearly thought through UI and UX from a user’s standpoint.” – Chris, Project World Impact
Dashboard in Mavenlink
“[Likes Best:] The ease with which Mavenlink makes it possible to manage and organize projects by sharing, posting and getting real-time updates about the flow. It’s super easy to find relevant information without having to refer to my very large collection of emails.” – Elizabeth, Integra Optics
If you’re ready to start evaluating collaboration software, here are some steps you can take:
Read user reviews. At Software Advice, we list hundreds of collaboration tools that have been reviewed by actual software users. Check out the reviews to see how other teams have rated them for qualities such as support and ease of use.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m available to help answer any questions you might have about collaboration software. And when you’re ready, I can also help you start the software selection process.