Integrated Project Management: Collaborative Working

Duncan Ross Russell
Effective collaboration is key to integrated project management. Establishing it takes skill and leadership, setting the conditions from project inception to ensure the team will support each other.

In this series I have introduced the philosophy of integrated project management, a philosophy that recognises the different make up of each project and applies strong leadership to a team, encouraging a collaborative working ethos with clarity of purpose and strategy to deliver a successful project. In this fourth article, I will look in more detail at the need for collaboration and how it is achieved.

Why do we need Collaborative Working?

Integrated project management provides the glue that holds the team together in delivering success. Collaboration is a major element of this ethos; developing strong teams is the foundation of a successful project. By working together as one team, the experience and knowledge from all parties can be shared and exchanged and common goals and objectives can be established.

How do we develop Collaborative Working?

Successful collaboration requires:

  • The right team with the necessary skills to deliver the project
  • A clear, optimised Work Breakdown Structure
  • An ethos and atmosphere that will engender collaboration

The Right Team

In forming the team, the project manager is looking for a set of complementary skills, experience and personality traits that will fit together like a jigsaw to deliver the team attributes required by the project. Project team members will come from a variety of professions and organisations with a variety of experiences, creating different perspectives of the project. The project manager is not looking to homogenise the team but seeks to maximise the opportunity these differences present and manage the risks.

Optimise the Work Breakdown Structure

All projects are delivered by dividing the complex project challenges into a series of achievable tasks that will add up to deliver the required outputs; this is a Work Breakdown Structure. The boundaries between tasks and organisations created by the Work Breakdown Structure introduce risks and a requirement for collaboration.  For example, an architect and structural engineer will need to collaborate over the structural grid and size of structural members in a building design if it is to be fully coordinated. In optimising the Work Breakdown Structure, the project manager should consider how to structure the projects so as to maximise the opportunity offered by the different skills and experience in the team, whilst minimising the risks created by the boundaries. The philosophy for creating a clarity of strategy enables the project team to understand the freedoms offered by these boundaries as opposed to a box in which to be constrained. This is achieved by ensuring boundaries are well defined and understood and there is open and active communication between the team members along these boundaries.

Engender Collaboration

Collaborative working does not come naturally and must be carefully nurtured. As pressure builds on a project, participants will want to retract into their comfort zone and their areas of responsibility when actually they should be looking to provide and receive collaborative support from others within the team. To ensure collaboration when under pressure it is important for the project manager to establish a collaborative environment from project inception. The whole team must share a collaborative ethos in which they understand both expected behaviours and behaviours that indicate the breakdown of collaboration. This is most easily achieved through a workshop that will engage all stakeholders and team members in developing the collaborative working ethos required for success. The workshop will build team relationships and set the ethos by working on outputs that focus on the requirements of the project, creating a number of key project objectives, setting the conditions for effective collaborative working.

These outputs include:

  • Business benefits
  • Clear objective
  • Measures of success
  • Project execution strategy
  • Decision making protocol
  • Key decision points
  • Project governance
  • Stakeholder management plan
  • Opportunities and risk register

How Do We Maintain Collaborative Working?

Collaboration is maintained through careful monitoring and steering of the project environment. A well-established project ethos will encourage participants to identify the signs of a breakdown in collaboration, however this cannot be relied on alone. Leadership comes from the top and there is a requirement for all senior project participants, from the client and stakeholders to the project manager, to demonstrate collaboration in the way they approach project problem-solving. A client with an overly directive approach to problem-solving will undermine collaboration in his teams, whilst a client that recognises his role in supporting the project team in delivering the business benefits will encourage collaboration.

In integrated project management, the project manager will chair a regular Collaborative Working Steering Group with representatives of all project participant organisations. This group will monitor the success of the project’s collaboration, praising and encouraging where due and identify and implement actions to address deficiencies before they undermine this approach to delivering success.

Should there be a significant change to the project, either through the introduction of a new significant stakeholder or on the change of a project phase, a further workshop should be undertaken to refocus the group on the new team/phase and provide a project ethos reset.

In Summary

Effective collaboration is key to integrated project management, establishing it takes skill and leadership, setting the conditions from project inception to ensure the team will support each other for the good of the project as the pressure builds. Setting a collaborative ethos is essential, but will not last if it is not also carefully maintained. It is a key function of the project leadership, including the client, to set a clear example of collaboration, through both directing and supporting the project team.