Can social media help to deliver projects in 2013

This morning I read an interesting question on The Association for Project Management (Official group) on LinkedIn, the question asked “Can social media help to deliver projects in 2013”.

Yesterday I attended the APM Conference in London and sat in on an insightful session where Jonnie Jensen, Digital coach at Live+Social, spoke on social collaboration and knowledge sharing to deliver project excellence.

My perspective on the question remains unaltered to what it was earlier in the week. Certainly the insight of Jonnie and the other speakers have supported my view. Though I may not be typical in the project management community (as I’ve been a proponent of collaborative methods to improve information worker effectiveness and performance since the late 1990’s) having worked for various blue-chip firms to influence, drive and effect such change.

Here is my 10 cents to throw into the pot…

Historically (what has been done in last 15 years) we are not doing anything fundamentally new.

Social media is a term that appears to make some executives cower in their “ivory towers”.

Seemingly social media’s revolutionary impact is causing anxiety and is wider spread than I thought.

Confirmed at yesterday’s APM conference where several project management professionals expressed unease at adopting such platforms, tools and processes within their organisations or their projects.

Strange really. Many organisations have already adopted “social working” platforms, tools and practices within their organisations; and have been embracing these for a decade or more. What we have today is the next evolutionary step. Social media is effectively a colloquial expression; a synonym used to describe a variety of different Internet-based applications used for a shared or collective experience.

Social media is a means of interaction among people; various technological enablers to facilitate the creation, sharing, and exchange of information, knowledge and experiences; permitting ideas to evolve effectively within virtual communities of interest (amongst a network of people who share a common interest/passion). This is not a revolutionary concept. It is just that technology has evolved rapidly (as have peoples user experiences) and today social media enables greater things to materialise. It’s not entirely new, it’s been done before within the enterprise (with varying degrees of success/failure).

Cast your mind back to the late 1990’s. Numerous organisations were embracing Internet technologies on their internal networks; “Intranets” were the colloquial expression used for corporate portal endeavours. These first Intranets were basic but widely adopted on the premise of platforms for corporate culture-change, enhancing collaboration (facilitate working in groups, teams irrespective of locale), improving workforce productivity, delivering timely communication.

All too often the intended strategic objectives and benefits of Intranets were not fully realised. Primarily due to the immature technology at the time and endeavouring to deliver advanced solutions to satisfy stakeholder expectations.

Such projects faced numerous technical challenges with resulting workarounds, this often led to budget over runs. This was a time when project teams were expected to be able to deliver effective discussion/chat rooms, virtual team meetings, project collaboration, audio/video conferencing, online events and discussions, blogs. (As a programme manager of one such initiative (for a UK bank) in 2001, I recall fondly the numerous challenges faced by all involved along with resulting discussions).

A year or two later and technology had moved on radically. Enterprise level intranet portal platforms had been developed by major software firms (often acquiring multiple niche software developer vendors). These software vendors were driven by enterprise customer demand for such platforms. Enterprises appeared happy awarding contracts for £50m – £100m or more for the software platforms to enable implementations of these intranet portal platforms!

Enterprise level intranet portal platforms, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint, enabled those corporate strategies to be finally realised. Plus delivered a great deal more (that had previously been “blue sky” wants). Such intranet portals not only provided team collaboration and document sharing/management, but social networks, enterprise-wide search, through to business intelligence. (I recall introducing SharePoint within a global SI, drove the adoption of collaborative communities of practice (CoP). Developing numerous focussed communities, that fostered a network of global interactions, encouraged a willingness to share problems and ideas. One of the most active CoPs was for project management)

One of the key challenges faced by enterprises was the adoption (effective use) of the intranet portal platforms by their employees. Internet use was not as prolific as it is today (indeed many employees had no experience of the internet). One way to overcome this was to allow employees to use areas of the intranet for social interests (discussions groups, sub sites, etc.). Such social interest (and passion) promoted the intranet and fostered ongoing use. I recall that one of the most popular areas on one firm’s intranet was the recipe site (for all the foodies within the firm), resulting in these advocates becoming intranet champions driving adoption across the enterprise (for work).

In a nutshell, what we are doing with social media is not revolutionary. The underlying social media platforms, tools and practices have evolved rapidly in the public domain; driven by competition and public demand (or steered by major forces, such as Facebook and Google). After all it is human nature to always demand more.

Organisations will ultimately realise the value that social media has to offer over and above what they already have in place today. Enterprise adoption of social media will continue to following a similar path to intranet portals, albeit at more rapid pace (such change replicates Moore’s Law). This adoption will be driven by the evolution of enterprise-ready platforms (based on those platforms developed and used by the general public) and by the executives of enterprises being forced to adopt widespread social working if only to remain competitive (adapt or die).

Employee adoption challenges remain today with any social media based working.

It is always difficult getting people to embrace change when they are reluctant to change. One would hope that as so many employees use similar platforms in the public domain (with the prolific use of personal computing devices, tablets and smartphones) adoption will be considerably faster than it was with intranets.

Where does this leave project management?

Project management has not been left out of this “socialisation” process. The days of managing projects in isolation (or isolated projects without interdependencies) has long since passed. The vast majority of projects have interdependencies with other projects, whether or not they are part of a programme or portfolio, or with third parties. Managing multiple relationships along with extensive collaboration is the nature of the project beast.

I recall in the 1990s using a desktop version Microsoft Project (and Hoskyns Project Manager Workbench (PMW) before this) was all you needed to plan and track individual projects with dedicated, single location teams.

Today projects co-exists with many other projects across the enterprise, across the globe, encompassing virtual teams, different time zones, etc. Embracing ever-increasing demands from: 1) senior management for greater control, reporting, governance and analysis, 2) stakeholders to deliver more for less (or with less) and be quicker too, n) numerous others, we have seen a dramatic transformation of the tools we use to support our project endeavours. EPM/PPM software providers such as Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, CA Clarity have responded and delivered enterprise wide project platforms to enable full collaboration, planning and reporting across organization boundaries at the project level. Unthinkable 15 years ago!

The majority of these project management platforms deliver team based collaboration, document sharing/management, enterprise-wide search, business intelligence and social working. Enabling the project teams to remain connected to the people and information they need to in order to get their work done for the benefit of the project and organisation.

Undoubtedly these platforms (or add-on extensions to these platforms) will evolve what is offered further and will reflect and embrace what is currently happening in the social media world. Look at Yammer and ProjectPlace as examples.

Indeed Yammer sells itself on the basis of “brings the power of social networking to your company. Yammer is as easy to use as great consumer software like Facebook and Twitter, but is designed for company collaboration, file sharing, knowledge exchange and team efficiency”.  Sounds like an enhancement of what we already use today in the EPM/PPM space.

Personally I think social media will not only help to deliver projects in 2013 and beyond, but will increase the efficiency, speed and effectiveness of project delivery. Sounds like a win-win situation…for those that embrace it!

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