Blackboard is a global market leader changing the way higher education operates every day. They provide educational institutions with advanced software and educational consultancy to help manage student life and enable faculty to simplify their jobs from every angle, including classroom management, remote learning, accessibility issues, student IDs, and more. They also offer educational services to help their users maximize every feature.
We talked to Rebecca Smart, Head of the Program Management Office, to learn how Blackboard Consulting uses Teamwork to structure their internal projects, develop new features within the software, and create training programs that help universities develop best practices for using Blackboard.
Blackboard has been the standard in classroom management for years. As their business grew, they realized that customers wanted the software plus tailored Educational Services.
Colleges and universities adopted the services rapidly, making it harder to keep up with the demand for new products and the best methods to onboard an entire institution. Blackboard quickly found that they needed project management tools that could connect remote teams working on multiple projects simultaneously.
Rebecca recalls that when she started with Blackboard, teams were using different methods to manage their own projects internally. Most relied on spreadsheets or personal management tools to track materials, responsibilities, tasks, deadlines, and more. Technically, every detail was accounted for, but updating files and sharing the information across departments was causing some real headaches.
As projects adapted over time, the spreadsheets couldn’t tell the whole story. Discussions and change histories were completely siloed in private messages or email threads, so tracking back and seeing exactly how and when adjustments were made took a lot of time.
"I knew we could do better than that, and that if we really wanted to scale, we would need something more sophisticated."
She organized a team of project managers within the company to review their options, demo tools, work out the financial realities, and choose a winner. From a field of about ten competitors, Teamwork went head to head with leading software in the world — and got top ratings for ease of use, cost, features, and more.
For Blackboard’s rollout of Teamwork, they started with a small team of users and slowly expanded it out to other areas of the company, usually by request after other departments saw it in action.
"The biggest impact for me since the switchover is having everything in one place. It’s easy to keep stakeholders up to date, and all of our deliverables are kept together so nothing gets lost."
Rebecca uses Teamwork for every meeting. She creates summaries for conversations and meetings, and uses project status updates to help everyone stay on track without the need for multiple messages or in-person meetings. Gantt charts are also one of her favorite features in Teamwork as they allow her to plot projects on a visual timeline.
Clients have noticed the benefits too. “At the beginning of a project, we send customers an email with their Teamwork login details and let them know they can find everything right there,” said Rebecca. “They know that they can find everything related to their project in that one single place. The materials, milestones, communication, and tasks are all easy to access.”
From management’s perspective, having an auditable feedback trail has been an important asset. “When we create documents for clients to review, we can use the comments to track input and decisions. It makes it easy to see how the discussion has evolved and it gives us more context for better collaboration,” said Rebecca.
Getting everyone on the same platform has increased the sense of organization on every level — for in-office and remote teams, for management, and for clients. Having a single location for all the necessary information, as well as different ways to share or represent that info depending on specific needs, has saved them all time and effort.
“We never realized how much time was being spent on day-to-day collaboration,” said Rebecca. “All the time we had been using to find, update, and verify files is now back in our schedules. Exchanging information seems almost effortless now.”
They no longer have to lose time trying to coordinate different organizational preferences, either. By letting each team work the way that works best for them and their clients, they can minimize distractions and focus on making progress. With all of their tasks and timings outlined, “everyone has a better sense of what to do without in-depth explanations and discussions,” Rebecca said. “They know how their responsibilities fit into the larger scheme, and they can see what everyone else is doing.”
Managers are also finding that using Teamwork makes it easier to communicate best practices to their team members. Tools like task templates give them the ability to imbed reference documents, SOPs, and preferred task progression directly into workflows. Best practices are reinforced by simply following the task list.
One benefit Rebecca hadn’t anticipated was the way Teamwork supported staff development, especially in the performance of their project managers. As some of their PMs experimented to find ways to increase efficiency, Teamwork gave them to the tools to create a process, clearly present it to the team, and then have data to use for adjustments if needed.
“Teamwork didn’t automatically give our PMs better skills. They still needed to invest the time to really create good processes and find the right software features to support them. But once they got that right, having the ability to plan it and automate it let them focus on fine-tuning instead of last-minute overhauls,” she said.
"We’ve really ramped up our best practices and standards, and it’s extending out to all parts of our business as we get better training and find new ways to leverage the features. Any business that is serious about scaling shouldn’t hesitate to start using Teamwork."