Take the Pain Out of External Collaboration

Why (other) project management tools aren’t designed for external collaboration

The hype around trendy project management applications is massive, both on a professional and personal level. Services such as Trello, Asana, and Monday are equipped with a wide range of tools that help you assign tasks, make collaborative calendars, and create roadmap projects for a variety of disciplines.

But have you ever wondered why your daily project management tools are never used to collaborate across organizations? We have too. After talking to over 150 experts in an array of creative fields, we think we’ve got it figured out. Here’s the scoop!

The Investigation

Finding the right project management software is essential to a productive team. They help you organize your work by getting all your teammates on the same page - in a centralized workspace decorated with visual boards and customizable features. But with an abundance of platforms to choose from, finding a service that best suits your team needs can be a daunting task.

But when it comes to including externals in the conversation, the general consensus is that these aforementioned platforms are no longer convenient, let alone useful. Less than 10% of the interviewees use these tools to collaborate with external clients, and only 2% use one tool with all their clients.

“Integration with externals is always a problem. We’ve tried so many different systems, but nothing has worked. [The system] needs to be easier and more intuitive.”

So why exactly aren't these project management tools effective with external organizations?

The Inside Scoop

There are three prevailing explanations for why collaboration between organizations and externals is inefficient; lack of a place to communicate, convoluted tools and accounts, and inconvenient methods of sharing

1. Top Secret

Every project has its secrets. Maybe you whip up an early draft of a project that is meant just for internal discussion. Or you might want to keep assignments and team alignment strategies under wraps. Whether it’s confidential information or just a creative brainstorm, there is always something that needs to be kept just between the team. But when external input is needed on a specific matter, this poses a new set of problems for these project management tools.

In an effort to share only specific information with externals, agencies will create specific boards or send subfolders to get feedback or the go-ahead from clients. This happens to be a common feature in Trello. But the downside is that creatives have to sync and upload everything manually, slowing down project progress.

Additionally, we found that oftentimes external feedback is not documented on the most current version of the project. This is frustrating for the creative team because information is constantly lost or outdated, creating delays in the project.

“Jumping back and forth between documents is a big pain. Sometimes something is not documented or updated and we have to search for information. It’s double the work. Mistakes are made and data is lost.”

Although these project management tools have the option to work with externals, they are not convenient and straightforward. Their services mainly accommodate internal teams and organizations. Information needs to be automatically updated and visible to selected parties in order for these functions to be helpful.

2. Uh, Not Another Tool

Complex usernames, numerous passwords, and complicated gizmos, such a hassle! During or expect talks, we learned that externals are not keen on creating new accounts to collaborate with a creative team.

Picking up a new tool is hard, especially if externals have to keep track of multiple accounts. How something functions on one platform might not work on another. And if externals have multiple projects with different agencies, things can get pretty confusing.

“The problem is that if one client decides not to use our same tool, then everything collapses”

Agencies aim for a smooth running project by reducing any complexities regarding external collaboration. But this often means that the creative team sacrifices their own convenience. What these project management tools lack are central features that promote effortless collaboration between both parties.

3. Inconvenient Sharing

Never underestimate the artrsty of the IT department! Externals are frequently blocked from using new tools, creating accounts, and accessing URL-links due to sharing restrictions by their company. This is another challenging situation for these common project management tools.

There are a couple ways to block a company from using a certain link; with a brute-force or a CASB. A brute-force approach includes defining which entities should be blocked on a particular server, or blacklisting so to say. Companies can easily create their own blacklists or utilize pre-made lists from third parties. This blocks any service considered a threat or even a possible threat, limiting collaboration between internals and externals.

A CASB, or a ‘cloud access security broker,’ poses a similar story. It is a software function that acts as a gatekeeper between a company’s infrastructure and a cloud's infrastructure, consisting of firewalls, authentication checks, and data loss prevention techniques. While these programs focus on security, it regularly blocks attempts for externals to collaborate on some project management softwares.

So how do creatives and externals normally share their work and ideas with each other?

We learned that all agencies resort back to emails as a primary method of collaboration. In fact, 40% utilize Microsoft teams, 25% use Slack, and the remaining 35% use another form of email service. And of course, all systems consist of their own set of difficulties.

“[Projects] are sent through email. It’s really exhausting. Too many people are involved.”

When collaborating on platforms not built for client participation, like email, both creators and clients are faced with the challenge of lost information, outdated documents, and blocked sharing methods (just to name a few!). This naturally prohibits productivity between internals and externals.

The issue with inconvenient sharing techniques and bothersome security blocks play back into our first two points: these common project management tools can’t get creatives and externals on the same page. Lack of a centralized space to communicate, complicated tools and accounts, and troublesome sharing procedures are the leading faults of these commonplace project management tools.

But what are your alternatives?

One Scoop of Collato, please!

Throughout our investigation, we found that popular management tools cater mostly to internal teams. This poses a conundrum for both agencies and clients: collaboration on a project is strenuous and inefficient.

The problem is that collaboration tools need to be two sided: super flexible on the creator side and really straightforward on the client side. The project management services that we examined strive to be the perfect tool for every user, but it simply hasn’t been done yet.

What sets Collato apart from these other services is that along with being creator focused, we put a great emphasis on the client as well. While talking with externals about the problems they face with creatives, we discovered that two things are critical to their cooperation on a project, accessibility and security.

1. Accessibility

We think that external organizations should be involved in a project, every step of the way. But as we pointed out before, there are many technical barriers that prevent this from happening. That’s why you can conveniently send any part of your project with a simple URL-link. And better yet, clients aren’t required to set up an account to access the URL-links. They can fully participate in the document without worrying about remembering account details. No login, no password, no nonsense.

Get things done one task at a time. You can invite clients to collaborate on a project by assigning them tasks (with reminders!), scheduling due dates, and encouraging them to comment, review and sign off directly on the project. This keeps everybody involved and updated on a project's progress, so everyone knows what to do and when.

But wait just one second! If my project and documents are so easy to access, does that mean my sensitive information is at risk?

2. Security

Don’t think that just because sharing your work is simple means that you're sacrificing your data security.

In addition to EU data security regulations, Germany has its own set of legislation that makes data protection even more secure. Since Collato is based here in Berlin, we adhere to all data security standards to protect your most important information. All shared URL-links are secure with a double-verification code, to make things easy and safe, for both parties.

On top of this, you have complete control over who has access to your project. Nothing you create will get lost in endless email threads or circulated without your permission.

And the cherry on top? You don’t have to worry about pesky sharing problems within your company. Our links are compatible with ‘internal IT,’ meaning we frequently check firewalls and CASBs to make sure externals can always access and collaborate on your project.

Check it out

Although communication is really hard work, it is essential to project productivity. It’s safe to say that common project management tools like Monday, Trello, and Asana spearheaded the reconstruction of how internal teams communicate. But what comes next? Looking into what problems creatives have in the workplace, the question is less about collaboration within a team, but rather how to collaborate with external partners. That’s when Collato joins the conversation.

We started out with the idea that collaboration with clients should be easy. But this seemingly simple idea hasn’t been fully executed, until now anyways. Since you’ll need to work with externals to plan, build, and execute their creative vision, we’ve designed Collato to help you make this process easy peesy.

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