Navigating the collaborative whirlpool: five tips for gliding through challenging publishing projects

ivana picWe’ve all encountered the notion that being thrown into the deep end of the pool is the most effective way to learn how to swim. But really, it’s the most effective way to defeat the fear of sinking (when you eventually realize you can float). Managing collaborative projects feels much the same; if you jump right in you won’t learn to swim right away, but it’s a great starting point for learning how to get things done.

After tackling the collaborative challenge of designing, typesetting and producing the new Kingston University Press book Martinis, Masterclasses and Space Missions in just a few weeks, I’ve come up with five tips to help avoid floating in organizational chaos:

1.     Do your research. Take some time with your group to make sure you know your project guidelines, as well as the limitations and goals of the task you’re about to tackle. It’s crucial to lay some groundwork down; be assertive and confident in your decisions by basing them on evidence and considered discussions. Your editor or client will be impressed to see that you know your stuff.

2.     Appoint a project manager (PM). The biggest misconception is that a PM does either everything or nothing, and neither of these is desirable in a group atmosphere. Essentially, a project manager oversees and leads group communication, scheduling and problem-solving, as well as staying in constant touch with the client. The group, project and client will all feel seismic waves if there’s no one to keep everything on track.

3.     Technology is your friend: use it to stay in touch remotely. I use Dropbox, as the group can see all the files in progress and continue working on what has already been accomplished. You can try Project in a box to create schedules and task lists and Teambox for all-around project management necessities such as file and task management and group communication. Even something as simple as a private Facebook group or a forum-like solution such as Freedcamp will help your group stay on top of things when you can’t physically meet.

4.     Acknowledge varying skill sets. Large group projects can be difficult to navigate and adapting to different personalities isn’t always easy. However, being aware of everyone’s skills and preferences helps the PM steer the group in the right direction, as well as promoting learning from one another. Bear in mind that if someone is a natural leader, perhaps they shouldn’t take on more than one main role. And if there’s a person who would rather be in the backseat, they can discuss what they can do with your PM.

5.     Be reflective and critical. Don’t just have your eye on the final prize; make sure you constantly revisit all your goals and tasks, and make changes if necessary. Issues will inevitably pop-up and sometimes things might not get done on time, but adaptability and perseverance will prevail.

Remember that a finished product is the sum of all its parts. Once you get in there, sinking just isn’t an option. So, successful management of collaborative projects isn’t necessarily the difference between sinking and swimming, it’s the difference between doggy-paddling in a circle and gliding to the other side.

Ivana Velickovic is Serbian-Canadian wanderer/aspiring publisher/wanna-be writer currently stationed in London. She is pursuing an MA in Publishing at Kingston University and may soon catch her diploma. She enjoys Lady Grey tea and short bursts of poetry writing in the darkest hours of the night when nuances are their finest.

Martinis, Masterclasses and Space Missions: New Frontiers in Contemporary Publishing is edited by Anna Faherty and published by Kingston University Press. You can find out more, and download a free sample, from the Kingston Publishing Blog.

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  1. Very interesting post. I use DropBox heavily (and GoogleDrive) but will have to check out Project in a Box, Teambox, and Freedcamp. Do you have any experience of the pros and cons of these?

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