Project management is about teamwork. Boiled down, sifted through, wheat separated from the chaff, (insert figure of speech here)... a project is only as successful as the team's ability to work together. And the foundation of great teamwork is communication. Sure, there are other factors that come into play. But at the core, communication is the stripe about which that barber pole twists. (Ok, you make up your own metaphor, smarty.)

Of course, there's a certain amount of pain that comes with coordinating a project: the seemingly endless check-ins and back-and-forths required to get it going, keep it running smoothly, and deliver it on time.

What's the remedy? Frequent, quick communication—the kind you can only get with group chat.

On cat herding (or, You need answers now)

There are approximately a thousand people (slight exaggeration) you need to talk to when starting a project, and the way we traditionally go about getting their input is a whopping "surprise!" email.

"Hi all, please read through this email and find the places with your name where I need answers or approval. If you can get your answers to me by Friday, that would be great! Because I can't move forward otherwise... *hint-hint*"

You know the rest of that story.

So change the script. Instead of staring longingly at the laundry list of "open questions" at the bottom of your project plan, you can get quick answers from everyone using group chat—no matter where they are. And that's important: today's teams are rarely in the same place at the same time. (Even co-located teams get split up due to travel, meetings, etc.)

Also, without group chat, there's a tendency to resist involving more people in your project. You think, "I'd really like to get Kevin involved, but I just can't deal with yet another schedule to work around." Group chat solves the "calendar hell" problem since it's so easy to reach out to people only when they're needed. And because you're not asking them to sit through a bunch of meetings, you'll probably get more thoughtful input (often in real time).

Now that I've dredged up the painful memories of projects past, let's look at how group chat can help you chart a new course. 

Getting the answers you need

Think of group chat as a command center for your projects. It even becomes a kind of central knowledge base. Here's how.

  • Rooms: Create a project room and invite everyone involved in the project into the room. In a project room, everything discussed, every conversation and file shared, is available for the room's benefit. The persistent history is always available for review.

Pro tip
A group chat tool has the ability to integrate with your issue/project tracking software. Connect your issue tracker to your group chat rooms, and the status notifications for your team's tickets can be pushed right into the room. Everyone can see what actions are taking place and the statuses of various items.

If your team uses an intranet or internal wiki, it never hurts to connect that, too. Alerts about updates to pages or new pages created can be pumped right into chat rooms.

  • File sharing: Let me take a wild guess: your projects involve files. With email, when important project files and documents get passed around, nobody's sure who's seen what, or when. But with group chat, file sharing is simple (not to mention drag-and-drop). Every file shared can be accessed within the chat stream.
  • Ask a team: If you're asked a question and don't know the answer, suggest a room for that person to ping instead of another individual. This encourages an open and safe practice of asking a team a question, and it offers the benefit of the team's collective knowledge. In addition, the person needing an answer won't be waylaid by an individual's schedule.
  • Video calls: This is a killer feature for distributed teams in particular. Having the ability to see and talk to someone is invaluable, and eliminates the occasional misinterpretations of tone when communicating solely by text. For those working on remote teams, group video chats come as close to having a physical stand-up meeting as you can get.
  • On the move: Even if your team is co-located, people are sometimes riding the train or buzzing around town when you need those answers. Group chat on mobile devices lets you stay connected to your team no matter where you are so you can always stay on top of your projects. It's super handy. (Pun intended.)

Do you need a better communication tool for your projects?

Consider this common behavior among teams that don't use group chat:

  • A teammate IMs another about a project. To explain what was talked about to another teammate, and another, and another, the entire conversation has to be copied and pasted and sent around 1:1.
  • Some team members use Google Chat for IM. When something important must be found, the search gets mixed in with gmail and the results are messy.
  • For video chat, the team uses Skype. But Skype IM isn't very good, the history is poor, and sync is problematic. Also, Skype file sharing requires you to stay online for downloads.
  • If you're away from any conversation for a length of time, it becomes very hard to get context.

If any of this sounds familiar, group chat will be a major upgrade for your team. 

Between the 1:1 chats, team and project rooms, video calls, mobile, and file sharing, group chat lets your team communicate in far better ways than email and meetings.

Here at Atlassian, we happen to make a group chat tool called HipChat. And we use it... All. The. Time. It has nifty features like @mentions (to get someone's attention or pull them into a room), and a whole lot more.

Check out how one of our program managers uses HipChat:

From quick and efficient text conversations to video calls, group chat will help you communicate with your team and manage your projects better—and get work done faster.

Posted by Jamey Austin

8 min read