How to combine project management and collaboration

A look at several products that offer both chat and project management in one interface so that conversations can be turned into workflow, milestones, calendar entries and other actionable items.

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The collaboration software market has gotten a bit crowded, with dozens of virtual workspaces offered, each tool taking a slightly different approach to appeal to business needs. These days any office manager or administrator looking to choose one can easily become overwhelmed. 

Many of these workspace collaboration tools go beyond simple chat, online meetings and file sharing. These collaboration workhorses turn conversations into action, letting you quickly create and assign new tasks, while making sure multiple, simultaneous projects are hitting their deadlines. 

Here we’ll take a look at ways collaboration tools incorporate project management, or how to outfit your existing tool to get the job done. 

Related: 7 Free Online Collaboration and Project Management Tools

Three collaboration options

You can take one of three different approaches for using workplace chat and project management tools in an office setting: a multi-tool approach, third-party apps or a hybrid chat and planning tool. 

The collaboration software market has gotten a bit crowded, with dozens of virtual workspaces offered, each tool taking a slightly different approach to appeal to business needs. These days any office manager or administrator looking to choose one can easily become overwhelmed. 

Many of these workspace collaboration tools go beyond simple chat, online meetings and file sharing. These collaboration workhorses turn conversations into action, letting you quickly create and assign new tasks, while making sure multiple, simultaneous projects are hitting their deadlines. 

Here we’ll take a look at ways collaboration tools incorporate project management, or how to outfit your existing tool to get the job done. 

Three collaboration options

You can take one of three different approaches for using workplace chat and project management tools in an office setting: a multi-tool approach, third-party apps or a hybrid chat and planning tool. 

In the first scenario, an organization might decide to use one app for collaboration and another tool for project management. The collaboration software is used to send instant messages to coworkers -- remote and on site -- share documents and other files, start audio and video calls, and share information across the organization. A second, separate, app is used for keeping projects on track, with features for assigning tasks, developing calendars and creating Gantt charts or other timelines. 

Related: G Suite vs. Office 365 cloud collaboration battle heats up

An alternative approach is to use collaboration software that lets users or administrators install third-party apps, sometimes called integrations. A project management integration could allow coworkers to create and assign tasks inside their collaboration tool, reducing the need to open another program. Inside their chat tool, team members can change who tasks are assigned to, provide comments about the task, or change a due date -- all without leaving a single interface.

Slack or Microsoft Teams, the most commonly used collaboration tools in the enterprise, both integrate with hundreds of apps, including project management tools like Trello and Asana. This method isn’t as full-featured as actively working in two discrete apps. In some cases, employees will need to open the project management software to handle complex tasks. But for day-to-day assigning and editing action items, an integration can save time.

A third approach instead incorporates collaboration and project management into one tool. Some examples are Ryver, Quip or Atlassian, which offer both productivity and chat features. 

Consider how these might look in the workplace: Within any organization, there may be several collaboration tools in use by different departments, each with a different approach that’s tailored to their business needs. And those departments may set up other collaboration tools as needed, for example to work with outside vendors.  

Project managers or developers of software products might favor the bug-tracking features in Atlassian, which has built-in chat. A business division that relies on Office 365 might prefer Microsoft Teams, which can integrate with a project management tool, like Trello or Asana. And the office staff might see benefits from a combination chat and project management tool, such as Ryver.

[ Related: 4 tips for picking the right collaboration suite ]

Integrations

Integrating a project management app into your existing collaboration software is quick and easy, with a few caveats. Here’s an overview of how to add apps to the widely used collaboration tools Slack and Microsoft Teams.

In Slack, employees by default can install any app they choose. However, the owner or administrator of the Slack workspace can set permissions that block all app installations that haven't been approved by the admin. Or the admin can block certain apps, or create a list of apps that are all pre-approved.   

During installation, each app will ask for permission to access certain information, for example your email address, or seek permission to automatically post a message under your name, among other rights. Depending on the rights requested, your admin may find them too broad. If you own workspace, you’ll want to carefully consider what you allow a third-party app to access, and what actions it can perform, in your virtual workspace.

In Microsoft Teams, admins can “pin” certain approved apps to the workspace, which users can then install. Admins can pin apps that are widely used in the organization (for example, Trello or Jira Cloud). Admins can also set the workspace to restrict -- or allow -- installation of apps by user or groups, for example setting rights globally for all users or by department. 

Standalone apps

If you and your coworkers decide two tools is one too many, consider software designed to meet an office’s communication and project management needs in one interface. Here’s a quick overview of some of the more notable multitasking tools in this market.  

Ryver is an interesting choice because, where some tools are focused primarily on either collaboration or project management, this tool takes an equal approach to both. Ryver uses a Slack-like chat interface, which also allows you to convert a conversation into tasks, keeping all the associated chats together in one thread. Then you can schedule those tasks, track them, and at the end of the project, mark them complete. Ryver also offers integrations with common communication and business software, including Gmail, Dropbox and Salesforce.  

Project management mainstay Basecamp has its own inbox for messages and notices about new tasks, as well as a chat tool called Campfire. Users can message each other privately, use live chat, post links or share files in Campfire. Basecamp aims to keep chat messages connected to projects so that communication around that project are centralized and easy to find. 

Sales teams in particular may want to investigate Quip, a collaboration tool that was purchased by the CRM software company Salesforce. Quip allows users to collaboratively edit documents, presentations and spreadsheets in the Salesforce interface. The integration also allows Quip spreadsheets to pull in data from Salesforce, for example spreadsheets that stay up to date as information is updated.

Like Basecamp, Asansa is a project-management product that includes a commenting feature around teams that functions similarly to chat, and connects those conversations to tasks. However, you can also integrate Asana directly into more chat tools, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, if you prefer -- and many teams will -- as they’re more full-featured communication tools. 

Following up

Choosing workplace communication apps that boost productivity is at top of mind for those making buying decisions about enterprise software, said Raul Castanon, a senior analyst at 451 Research. 

“Incorporating productivity features makes sense because they’re used on a daily basis by knowledge workers and they are critical for planning and executing work,” Castanon says. “Improving the line of sight from strategy to employee execution is a top priority for IT decision-makers. There are good examples of how this approach can be effective, specifically within the devops and IT environments -- for example, tools by Atlassian, or even Slack thar has a strong core customer base in those areas. We’re seeing growing interest in extending this mode of work to other areas throughout organizations, although it’s still in early stages.”