Project Community

For the past few days I have had a myopic obsession with the word “community”. So, of course, I began to wonder what happens when you combine the concepts of Project Management with the concept of Community. The first thing that pops into mind is the community of people that are project management practitioners. A worthwhile area of investigation, but I want to look at something a little different…

What happens when we think of “the project” (any project) as a social object? By social object, I mean, something around which conversation naturally emerges. If the nature of a project was so compelling that people chose to talk about it out if interest, as opposed to out of requirement, it could really change the complexion of project effectiveness.

I am not talking about getting rid of PM tools, I am just saying that if people were passionate about a project, there would be less need to beat them about the neck and shoulders to meet deadlines. The point here is not that Social Media, as discussed in earlier posts, directly drives efficiencies, but that is can create a community of project stakeholders that are passionate about the successful completion of a project.

Project Language Translation

Now we have a conversation going…

Dennis’s response to my last post:

Lee, there is no way that you are going to convince me to manage a multimillion dollar project with hundreds of employees and multiple vendors without a formal, structured budget, a schedule, a defined set of tasks, or a defined set of responsibilities that can be communicated. I will also insist on an appropriate set of formal tools to efficiently keep track of all the “moving parts” — including the budget.

First, let me disclose, the majority of my PM experience has been with smaller projects than the ones Dennis is referring to. Therein may lie part of the difference of opinion.

{lunch}

As I pondered this post over lunch, I realized that Dennis and I maybe talking apples and oranges. My issue is not with the use of traditional PM tools for their intended use. No, what bothers me is when we try to use those tools “as is” to communicate to stakeholders. Think about it, if you are a Project Manager, what happened the last time you showed a 1000 line plan to your business sponsor?

The trick is for the project manager to find some mechanism to present the project content in a more consumable format, and to allow the stakeholders to effectively respond without having to learn the “syntax”. Enter Social Media.

As I look at Dennis’s “wish list”, most of the items deal with this translation from the inner jargon to an understandable conversation, and do it with a social media mentality.

Tools of Communication in Project Management

To tell you the truth, I think Dennis and I are pretty much in agreement that Social Media is a great tool for supporting project management. But how boring is that if everyone agrees all the time. Soooo, let me see if I can stir the pot a little….

In his post Leadership and Collaboration are Needed, Too, Dennis stated:

Formal project management tools can serve as starting point for communications about who is supposed to do what, and when. The larger and more complex the project, the more important role communications plays — and the more inmportant formal tools are in order to keep track of the many different “moving parts” in a large project.

I think that for the most part formal tools are vestiges of a time when information was required to flow through formal structures. The formal toolset is just professional jargon that has developed and been codified over time. The purpose was to create a shorthand way to communicate between “knowledgeable” people, i.e. those that knew the language. It kept project managers from having to “re-invent the wheel” for every project (not to mention providing job security).

As the fundamental process by which we communicate changes, a broader variety of people are becoming involved in the project process, therefore we need to move away from jargon and inaccessible tools. Social Media based tool, because of their flexibility and ease of use, can be used to meet the communications needs of projects, without carrying the baggage of the more formal tools.

The gauntlet has been thrown.

Re-Imagine Project Management

The other day I was having a v-con (voice conversation) with Dennis McDonald, a well-known advocate of using social media tools to support project management activities. We were having a great conversation when we had the idea that we should take it online. So here is the initial post of what we hope will be an ongoing and dynamic o-con (online conversation) about Social Project Management.

My key points for today:

  • Most of the value of a project plan comes from creating the plan, not having the plan.
  • Project Management is fundamentally about communication.

I think General Patton said something like, make the plan and then throw it away. (I am sure that is nowhere near the actual quote, but it serves my purposes). The point is that the process of design or creation is the point where knowledge is formed. The artifact of the creation process, the plan, has little relative value, as compared to the knowledge that was created. The lesson here is to be inclusive of everyone that will be a stakeholder of the project when you are developing the plan. Those that just see the plan document after the fact will be way behind the curve.

Use social media to engage stakeholders while a project is in the formative stages.

Once a project is underway, the most important role of project management is to keep everyone coordinated, i.e. to facilitate communication. If you think about all of the gantt charts, and cost estimates, and dashboards used on a project, they all serve one purpose; to effectively communicate what is going on. If these tools do not accomplish this function they are useless. Social media again can play a key role, because at its heart social media is about communication.

In many instances, the effective use of social media as a PM tool can reduce or eliminate the need for many traditional tools.

So Dennis, what say you?