Group projects can be great experiences for many reasons. In addition to learning from a team of people who are experts in their respective roles, you’ll likely find yourself developing professional relationships – sometimes even friendships.
For almost six years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with people across North America – and more recently the UK – on proposals and presentations for large client programs. There are usually many moving parts and details to pull together into one cohesive strategy – and that takes communication plus coordination.
Here are a few best practices I’ve picked up along the way – mostly through trial and error:
1. Communicate early, communicate often. Schedule a call when the project first comes through the pipeline to review requirements, brainstorm strategies and assign responsibility. One designated person should follow that call up with a document detailing what was discussed, who is responsible for completing which tasks, and deadlines for each responsibility.
Periodic status calls are a great way to keep everybody on track, but be careful not to overdo it. People are busy, and time spent updating the group is time spent away from actually doing the work. Say a project’s turn time is two weeks and you have the initial strategy call on Monday. Make sure the group briefly touches base again before the weekend and use that meeting to gauge follow-up frequency for the following week. I’ve worked on simple projects that required just two calls before they were wrapped up and ready to go. For more complicated projects, the team met for an hour every afternoon in the five days leading up to deadline.
2. Establish a centralized resource. As pieces and parts start coming in from multiple sources – vendors, colleagues, partners – things are going to get a little disjointed. Assign a project coordinator to collect the information from all parties and rework/tweak it into a cohesive masterpiece. As an added bonus, 15 people won’t be pinged every time someone has an update.
There are also great web-based resources out there to give everyone on your team real-time access to the latest project drafts and files. I use DropBox.com, and it’s been a blessing!
3. No question is too stupid to be asked, no detail too small to be raised. This goes for typos, confusing statements, anything and everything that might seem off to you. I would much rather embarrass myself by asking a stupid question in front of my internal team than keep quiet and have the client catch an error.
4. Did I mention communicate? As the group rolls on, happily compiling their assigned information, there might be some bumps along the way. Any number of things can pop up that prevent you from getting a piece of the puzzle submitted in time. When that happens – and it will – be sure to let the rest of the team, or at least the project coordinator, know as soon as you do so they can plan around the missing information.
5. Recognize contributions. Sometimes people go above and beyond, bringing irreplaceable value to a project. Or, they jump in at the last minute to help you out in a pinch. Be sure to let these people know how much you appreciate their input. You’ll likely need it again.
6. Keep the team informed. There are few worse feelings than dedicating countless hours to a project and then never hearing about it again. If you’re the one responsible for follow-up on the opportunity after that first big push, be sure to keep everyone up-to-date as it moves along. This can be as simple as a quick email – “We haven’t heard back from the client yet,” or “They liked our plan and have requested a meeting next week.”
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. Since I’m far from the only one out there working on group projects day after day, I decided to cruise the Net for additional tips. The link below is a detailed three-part series about project management from EnVeritas Group, an Internet marketing firm. And be sure to share your tips in the comments!