Using a ‘Collaboration Workstream’ to improve project performance




Mar 28, 2023

Projects often start with positive intentions, especially if you hold a good kick-off workshop which generates lots of ideas and action plans, and the team leave the event feeling energised and hopeful. Pretty soon, however, the reality of delivery kicks in and all the plans that would have embedded collaborative ways of working drift to the periphery of the agenda. So how do you keep the momentum going after the initial workshop is over? The best mechanism we have found is to establish a collaboration workstream.

A workstream is essentially a cluster of tasks that need to be completed to achieve a particular outcome within the project. The point of the collaboration workstream is to follow up on the actions and initiatives that the leadership team know are important, but are often otherwise displaced by the urgent issues that typically dominate their agenda. To give an example, the following list of questions emerged from the output of a recent project kick-off workshop:

  1. How do we establish a culture of ‘collaborative delivery’ throughout the project so that everyone understands the positive behaviours?
  2. What are the teams’ non-financial objectives and what are activities that will support their achievement?
  3. What actions are needed to develop a well-considered Relationship Management Plan?
  4. How does the project leadership monitor and measure the relationships between the key parties involved?
  5. How do we establish a communication strategy that emphasises the underlying narratives that will support a collaborative culture?
  6. What is the collaborative maturity of the teams and what training is needed to improve their collaborative skills?
  7. Where are the potential areas of disagreement/dispute that potentially lie ahead and how do we prepare the teams to avoid or resolve them?
  8. How do we define collaborative ways of working and how do we communicate them to everyone working on the project?

Each of these questions is a component of the overall delivery strategy that will require different levels of attention throughout the project lifecycle. As you can see, there is a lot to do, and so the tasks that arise from the discussion need to be resourced, organised and managed. It, therefore, makes sense to form a ‘Collaboration Workstream Steering Group’ that meets at regular intervals to oversee the progress. We recommend that the membership of the group should be no more than 5 to 6 people.  Within this group,  there must be a senior project manager or leader and ideally a collaborative specialist. The remainder of the group should be selected from individuals senior enough to ensure decisions are acted upon.

The other critical success factor is to identify and set up metrics that are reported to the project leadership team regularly. Collaborative metrics might include:

  • Culture of trust and openness
  • Clarity of delivery strategy
  • Alignment of teams to the common goal
  • Effective communication
  • Effective meetings
  • Information sharing
  • One team ethos

Throughout the programme, one would expect to see these metrics move positively and negatively depending upon periods of pressure. We have found that reporting the trends regularly keeps the people element of the programme higher up on the leadership team agenda, prompting actions that can then be managed by the ’Collaboration Steering Group.

Collaborative delivery is as much a philosophy as it is a series of activities, but to be effective it must sit at the heart of a project or programme. By establishing a collaboration workstream, the management team is creating the facility to ensure the behaviours needed to achieve success are embedded into the team’s culture.