Do the Basics Right

A week ago I was despairing that a collaborative project had an end April deadline and hadn’t been started due to the pressure of other projects. A week later it was delivered a day early. It is worth reviewing why because it is a reminder that the key to step change in productivity is the little things in collaboration. We often don’t do the little things well.

The project was to deliver a document, leveraging a range of specialists all located at home in different states. Here’s how that project came together.


  • All the potential team members joined a kick-off conversation to discuss the project, clarify the goal, understand capacity and get buy-in.
  • The next task was to develop a collaborative document to summarise the strategy so that everyone could work with both the end and the way in mind.
  • We set up a governance process for the week with regular check-ins.
  • The team is used to collaborative working and had a full suite of tools – Office 365, Teams, Sharepoint, etc to support the work. Everyone was familiar with these tools and this mode of work.
  • People were given the autonomy to do the work as they saw fit. If they needed to bring in others they did so and if they needed to change things we respected their unique expertise.
  • There was trust and alignment in the team around the value of the work and its importance. Everybody was coping with challenges and isolation but everyone committed to the project as best they could.


  • Everybody worked out loud all week. Accoutabilities were clear so we worked in parallel. There was shared visibility of the work underway, the work to be done and any challenges or input needed. Working in this way meant there was cameraderie in the struggles too.
  • Documents were open to review, editing and comment by others as they were being written and finalised.
  • We were able to leverage the organisation’s knowledge resources so that much of the content creation was editing previously prepared quality content. We ‘stood on the shoulders’ of the work of other projects and other purposes because it was all available to be reused. We only had to create new content at the edges of the project and to align to the specific client and strategy.


  • Challenges were shared widely within and beyond the team so that the collective capability of the organisation and even external stakeholders could contribute to the quality of the solution we developed.
  • If something didn’t have an immediate answer we would break out into agile chats or calls to discuss and resolve. There were no meetings, just interactions (chats or conversations) that lasted as long as they needed to solve an issue or to point someone towards the solution.
  • Some problems were clarified and resolved in the collaboration features of the documents themselves (collaborative editing, markup, comments, etc).
  • Differences of opinion were recognised as differences of opinion. Accountability for decisions and clear lines of expertise enabled us to ensure that differences of opinion didn’t get in the way of an outcome.


  • We knew from the outset that we needed to do more and different to succeed so it opened the entire team up to ask ‘what if’ and explore new solutions
  • We treated these as ideas for experimentation and threw a lot of things in for trial. Not all made it through to the final output but the result is better for those value adding ideas that worked after tweaking.

There’s no individual piece of magic in this approach to a collaborative project. There was a lot of just hard work and long hours to finish early. There was luck. However, all that was possible because a lot of little fundamentals were understood, agreed and done well. None of the steps above are beyond any team or any organisation. The challenge is how we organise our teams and our work to deliver better and more productive results.

The magic isn’t just one thing. Often it’s a lot of little things. Doing the basics consistently well is one of the reasons magic is so rare.

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