[David Strom's Web Informant] Ten tips towards better collaboration with your consultants

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Sep 10 15:54:25 EDT 2018


Web Informant, September 10, 2018: Ten tips towards better collaboration
with your consultants

One of the more fun things that I do is working as a consultant with
different project teams around the world, helping them to make their
products better and more secure. I got inspired when I read some of these
horror stories posted on The Freelancer blog
<https://contently.net/2016/03/30/voices/humor/5-freelancers-share-their-worst-client-horror-stories/>.
Over the years I have learned a few things about how to best collaborate. I
thought I would share ten specific lessons. I have removed any identifying
details to spare any of the potential guilty parties.

*1.     How to have virtual meetings. * The best tools for doing this are
Webex and GotoMeeting, and both offer free versions. Next best is Zoom.us.
The problem is that often times a company has more than one meeting
product, and sometimes they use tools such as Lync/Skype for Business which
is a great tool for internal meetings but breaks down if used by outside
contractors that don’t have domain credentials. *Best to pick one standard
and use it*: in some engagements, we couldn’t start the meeting on time
because the participants got multiple invites with different products
(including one phone bridge just to make matters worse). This creates all
sorts of confusion as to where the “real” meeting was taking place.

2.     Part of a meeting is to show a presentation or review documents.
That is great, but if you are going to do* real-time group editing that can
get tedious*. Better to collect comments offline and appoint one person in
charge of that process. The times that I have done real-time line editing
it isn’t very efficient, and often the loudest voice in the virtual room
dominates over lesser ones that could have important points to make. Yes,
there is a time and place for real-time line editing, but only when a team
is used to working this way and everyone knows each other really well.

3.     Another way to do joint line editing is to send out an *email with a
link to an online document* in GDocs or O365, and allow everyone to post
their suggested changes over a fixed time period. If you go this route,
make sure all the participants have the correct access rights to the
document, especially if you are using contractors outside your corporate
domain. Also, if you do send out emails, send out the link and not the
actual document as an attachment – that could be counter-productive too.

*4.     Avoid endless edit cycles.* I have had my stories go through
several edit passes, and often after the first one these edits aren’t
adding any value to the piece and instead are more political nods to a
manager’s whims. While everyone thinks she or he is a great editor, few
often have the right skills. It also helps to be clear on who is going to
be doing the editing, and who just needs to see the document prior to any
final distribution. Sometimes you get stuck in a seemingly endless loop
between two editors: one undoes the other's changes.

*5. Appoint one person to collect all comments and resolve them if possible*.
Doodle did this survey a while back
<https://en.blog.doodle.com/2012/07/26/new-findings-a-small-number-of-initiators-organize-most-of-the-meetings/>
that triaged meeting participants into three types: initiators, herders,
and loners. It is worth reviewing their study to see how it can apply to
your particular team. You don't have to go a full-on Myers-Briggs but it
helps to know whom you are dealing with.

6.     Another tip: don’t *schedule any meeting until you are sure you have
deliverables in hand* to actually discuss. I had this happen to me a few
times: someone would schedule a series of weekly meetings, and nothing
transpired during the week so the meeting was pointless.

7.     This brings up another tip. Part of running a great meeting is *sending
out an agenda in the meeting invite* so everyone can start with the same
points to cover. And then making sure you stick to the agenda.

8.     If you need to have audio conference calls, you should *pick a
single conferencing product and stick to it*, and ensure that it can be
accessed from international numbers if you have clients overseas. Many
companies that I have worked for have multiple conferencing vendors, which
gets confusing when you are trying to schedule one.

9.     *Don't have a final project meeting without inviting the contractors
who worked on it.* This seems like common sense, but you would be surprised
how often this happens.

10.     *Use Calendly.com (or equivalent) to schedule your appointments*.
If you have several clients and they need to book your time in advance,
this is a great tool that removes the need for phone tag and a human
appointment-taker. They have s a free basic account, with premium accounts
at $8/user/month that add custom branding and URL links and reporting
options.

Feel free to share some of your own collaboration or freelancing horror
stories here too. <http://blog.strom.com/wp/?p=6715>
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