Want Better Project Communication – Make Your Project The Center Of All Things

Projects are rarely simple local events anymore. Teams are global, multi-culture, multi-lingual, and more complex than ever before. The ease of co-located team communications has been lost with the advent of time and distance. Keeping the stakeholders and team members engaged is essential, so project managers have had to find new and state-of-the-art ways to make project communications happen.

Enter the practice of Social Project Management. Social PM mixes the best elements of traditional project management with digital collaboration and communications tools. It provides an agile way to manage project data and information flow in an accessible, transparent, and secure manner.

The way I do this is by making the project, not the data or the communication medium, the center of all things; the project is our ’email hub,’ the ‘inbox,’ the ‘file archive.’ The project portal (aka the digital project center) is where all data and information flows. The project is dynamic and takes on its own vital life as the glue of the team. The benefits are vast. The PM is no longer a roadblock or taskmaster in the center of communications. Status is immediate.

PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY: A positive benefit of using social tools is personal accountability. Social communications by its nature makes every team member’s work transparent, and visibility forces accountability (at least on my projects).

THE PROJECT IS THE THING: When the project is the center of everything, everything is organized around the actual work tasks and not the tools used to communicate (email) or store information. This is true projectization. The beauty of working using social tools on a project is that the work assignments are clear to everyone (because they are written), each team member sees what other team members are doing (because the applications are universally visible and available), the team gets out of ’email jail’ (because activity streams are fluid lists), tasks are maintained and supported in a collaborative manner, and, most importantly, working in a social manner allows people to determine the appropriate level of engagement that they need to get their job done.

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CO-LOCATION

Don’t get me wrong, there are many positive things about having your team in the same physical space. When teams are co-located they have a degree of team awareness. Most people don’t realize the amount of constant communication and sharing that goes on in the day to day office environment. When you are face-to-face you have visual cues and other benefits that make a team cohesive. For example, many teams eat lunch together. They spend time whiteboarding, brainstorming and sharing ideas, both good and bad. Many times, they play outside games (bowling, softball) as a team (wearing team t-shirts). Team members know the state of the project they are on because, as a team, they live and breathe it every day, sometimes 7 days a week

As the size of my teams grew and projects became global, multicultural, and more complex, time and distance between the team members hampered team awareness. The co-located dynamic that made us feel like a team was gone. I noticed that communications started to become more and more compartmentalized. People seemed only to pay attention to THEIR tasks and were less concerned with the project as a whole. Information flow became a battle and email overload was common. It was getting harder and harder to get dispersed teams to perform at the same high level of delivery as when they were co-located.

WELCOME TO SOCIAL LOCATION

In the interim period, when teams were being globalized, before collaborative tools were common, there was a definite period of communication breakdown and a loss of team cohesiveness. This was killing delivery and productivity. Around 2007, with major shifts in technology (Apple shipped the first iPhone, Google launched Android, and IBM develop Watson), many of us started to leverage social media and social collaboration software, mixing the best elements of traditional project management with digital collaboration and communications tools. Some called it ‘Social Project Management,’ others were calling it ‘Project Management 2.0,’ but regardless of a name, by leveraging social tools on projects we kept the team, as well as stakeholders, up-to-date through active information streams and ambient online status updates. “This is what put the ‘social’ in social project management.

It was social networking services, like Twitter, that gave us a different paradigm when it came to information updates on our projects. No longer did we need to receive, open, read, engage, respond, and then archive an email. With small bursts of information (Twitter’s original 140 characters), we kept in touch with precise, to the point, informational snippets, where we learned what was going on in the project in real time from the team players. By reading a stream of information (think Facebook News Feed) my teams are able to know what is going on from the larger distributed team as things are posted.

AMBIENT AWARENESS: One of my goals on every project for the last decade has been to continue to improve ambient awareness for the team. “Ambient Awareness is the idea of being “ambiently aware” of another’s actions, thoughts, and experiences without having to be near them physically.” My teams are constantly ‘in’ the workflow and distributed processes of the project moment by moment. It is our ‘collective present.’ If you harness it, you will be surprised at how data-driven information can elevate your project team to a new level of communications.

Are you connecting with your teams and clients using social media or social collaboration tools? How are you leveraging your ‘collective present?’ What have you found to be the best way to keep distributed teams connected? Let me know. And remember to keep up the good attitude.

Controlling Chaos: 6 Agile Steps To Finding Sanity

Have you lost control of your day? Is the pace of everything getting faster and faster, so that you just can’t get done what you need to? Do you feel like your projects are spiraling into chaos? Finding ways to maintain one’s sanity while managing large, fast-moving projects is a creative dance. Recently, while teaching a course on “Managing Projects in e-Business,” one of my students asked me how I controlled chaos on my projects. My answer: “I plan for it!”

chaosMy job as the Project Leader is to keep the project moving forward; to meet deadlines, budget constraints, ensure performance, and most of all to manage the client’s expectations. I know better than to think that I can ever ‘really’ control things, so I put processes and procedures in place to make sure that maybe the roof won’t blow off when the tornado comes through (if you get what I mean), and to know what I might do if, and when, it does. I have been managing chaos for years (long before there was Agile PM), with solid planning,  a deep understanding of my team and client, and with a nimble attitude.

What is Chaos Anyway?

On a project, especially in today’s complex and dynamic environments, chaos can be defined as “a state of the (project) system where the future development of the system is not predictable, or only poorly predictable.” (Avoiding and Managing Chaos in (Construction) Projects, Sven Bertelsen and Lauri Koskela, 11th Annual Conference on Lean Construction – Denmark, 2009  ) Basically,  a small unpredictable event, like the delayed arrival of key resource materials, may seem like nothing more than a nuisance when it happens, but the cumulative effect of many deliveries not taking place over many months can delay you to the point of no return. When you are dealing with complex projects, you are sitting on the edge of chaos most of the time. If you plan accordingly, it is less likely that you will be overtaken by events. (How to Save a Failing Project: Chaos to Control, Ralph R. Young, Steven M. Brady, & Dennis C. Nagle, Jr.. Management Concepts, Inc., VA, 2009)

Sanity = Practicing Good Project Management

  1. PLAN:  Make a plan, work the plan, and update the plan continuously. Do you have a Project Management Plan (PMP)? If you don’t have a roadmap, how do you know where you are going? You don’t have to document a tome of stuff, but as Agile Modeling tells us, “keep your plan simple enough, but not too simple.”
  2. TRACK: Know where you want to end up and keep your focus there. Stay on track. Do you have a Project Charter? Knowing what you are sponsored to deliver is critical to getting there.
  3. MONITOR: Have a metric by which you know how to check the health of your project. Do you have an analytics dashboard? How do you know you’re on track if you can’t show it in a graph somehow?
  4. PREDICT:  You need to know what your mitigation strategy is because something will go wrong. What is your Plan B? Do you have a Risk Management Plan? Chaos management is really just risk management. You may not know what is going to happen but you can plan how you will fix it when it does.
  5. FIX: Prevent everything you can from going sideways. You do this by a continuous (iterative) review. Do you have a Change Management process? Remember to change the easiest things first and get them going in the right direction. Repeat after me:  CHANGE IS GOOD when it gets you closer to your goal. Little changes along the way are a lot easier than a big change near the end. (It’s that cumulative thing again.)
  6. DANCE: Be agile in approach and attitude. You need to be open to alternatives when you need them. Stay close to your client and your sponsor so that you can make decisions when they are needed in the moment.

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I know it may sound oversimplified, but most of the battle of controlling chaos is staying calm and practicing good project management.  What dance steps have worked for you?

Communications Management: 5 Virtual Team Tips For Better Understanding

When I started to manage global teams, it became apparent to me that people everywhere were generally bad communicators. People tend to talk, not listen, and with the loss of visual cues, multiple native languages, and different writing styles, I saw a recipe for significant misunderstandings. On a project, especially an agile one, misunderstandings can cost time and money.  miscommunications

Virtual environments of communications, (email, text, and phone, to name a few) pose a higher risk of miscommunication because they lack the ‘visual components’ that we find in face to face communications. This poses both challenges and opportunities for us as Project Leaders (“Social Networking, The “Third Place,” and The Evolution of Communications,” 2007). The challenge comes because we lose body cues that help us understand whether the other person is listening, or mulling over our questions, or getting ready to answer. We are not necessarily sure that our communication has been received as intended. On the other hand,  we have the opportunity to incorporate new modes of contact into our virtual communications that can provide us with enhanced team collaboration, knowledge sharing, and understanding. (“Six Sigma Team Dynamics, Roles, and Success Factors,” Skillsoft, 2017)

I put this list together after decades of successful virtual management of worldwide teams to maximize project communications and minimize misunderstandings.

pascal1. Be Brief: Use as few words as possible. Utilize the technology medium (email, twitter, instant message), that will convey your message without extra fluff.

“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” (translation: “I have made this [letter] longer than usual, only because I have not the time to make it shorter.”)Blaise Pascal

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2.  Choose Your Medium Wisely“Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”Martin Lomasney

3. Pick Up The Phone or Skype: If a text or instant message dialog goes for more than 5 minutes (5 texts back and forth), it is best to pick up the phone or Skype and talk to the person.

4. Practice Good Emailing:

  • Less is more. (See Rule #1 & #5)
  • Try to make it fit on 1 screen.
  • Be clear about your point and organize using bullets and headings.
  • Write using good grammar.
  • Avoid attachments.
  • AVOID ALL CAPs, emojis, text-messaging language and colored type.
  • Proofread each sentence.
  • Don’t send something you would not want the world to see.

5. Choose the 1 Question you want to be answered: If you send a note with several questions in it, typically, only one question will get answered. Often, it is the last one. Occasionally, it is the first one. But usually, it is the most interesting one.  Why not decide instead of leaving it up to fate?

Miscommunication poses an unnecessary risk and cost to any project.  In a future post, I will talk more about successful global team communications and communication plans. Following some simple virtual rules can make all the difference in being understood.

OMG!! You Want Me to Open What?

Oh My Goodness!  Many Project Managers are cringing when I talk about their teams being more open and transparent and leveraging social technologies. Has everything we know about project communications changed?  I think I finally understand why they worry, but let me assure you, a good communications strategy is still a key to project success, you just need to tweak it a little.

Fear

I know that it may feel like trying to manage projects with transparent and open communications is the antithesis of everything that we were ever taught as project managers about communications.  Being open just feels risky (kind of like buying something off of Craig’s List and meeting the person in an abandon building).

The principles of social collaboration seem to challenge all the conventional ideas that we have as PMs for project communications. Traditional guidance on project communications tells us that one of it’s main principles, is identifying what information is to be shared, when it should be distributed, to whom, and how it should be prepared.  How do you control communications in the open?

Yes, social collaboration means that the team, and maybe even the client, might have access to the non-confidential information about the project that is being worked on.  But, there is a tremendous benefit to working project details out in the open.  This allows the team to participate, collaborate, and react in a just-in-time way.  As PMs we need to embrace the fast-moving business environment that we work in, harness the reality of the current technologies we deploy, and leverage the globalization of our project teams.

What Transparency Means

Our communications job as Project Leaders is to ensure the team and the stakeholders have current information (status) on what, where, and when.  Being transparent, in the project context, means having an open and honest dialogue on the current state of your project.  Many projects run behind and even fail, because teams don’t want to tell each other, or the customer, the truth about scope creep, schedule slippage, resource challenges.  But, that is the reality of the project and once the team can embrace being real, all the time, in real-time, magic happens.  Being transparent is not about getting positive or negative feedback on an item, it is about disseminating information quickly so that all players can digest it, discuss it,  and react to it.  Some examples of transparent communications are:
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  • Open planning sessions to discussion and gather new ideas
  • Show milestones so everyone knows where you are going and can comment on their parts
  • Open discussions about issues; ask the team to comment regardless of if they are part of that subteam or not (solutions come from many places)
  • Show schedule and dependencies and let others own their commitments instead of being bottle necked by the PMs weekly status round-up.
  • Open your status meetings and let the extended team comment. Status now becomes ubiquitous.  There is no longer a need for lengthy status reports because it is up-to-date all the time. (Gee, I love this as a PM because it sure makes my reporting easier.)

Business today is very agile and the old top-down communications models don’t always work anymore.  The new social technologies allow teams to provide a continuous loop of feedback and ideas at the speed never before possible.  This transparent feedback loop can help a project manager, or the executives of a company,  make quicker course corrections, which means better response time to customer requirements or industry changes.

Recently, I was moderating the webcast of a global panel on Social Project Management (with 4 speakers and over 700 participants) for IBM. With only 4 weeks to put it together, all the planning, scheduling details, resource needs, were coordinated through a Lotus Connections Community.  Everyone knew what was going on, what was needed, who needed what, when, and even, how we did after the event.  Though the panelists sat in different countries throughout the world, that caused no problems because everyone checked in and chimed it, at their convenience. Issues were handled immediately (like people dropping out, or equipment not arriving).  And, except for one conference call before the event (yes, I still hang on to some old school needs like making sure people are not robots – LOL), everything was discussed, resolved, and documented in our open space.  We had a 98% participation satisfaction rating.  I know this wasn’t a big project example, but I wanted to give you a flavor of how it works.

Just try it on a small subproject first.  Let me know how it goes.

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Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

Facebook: http://facebook.com/TheDigitalAttitude

(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)

Want Team Engagement? Embrace Ambient Awareness

team1Project Management, by its nature, is social. Communications is at the heart of what we do as project managers. We project managers are constantly talking to people. influencing, proposing, negotiating, mediating and, our favorite, updating. We are über communicators, and that will not change – but HOW we communicate, at least on my projects with my team – has.

Liz Pearce, CEO of LiquidPlanner, recently wrote a post on “How social tools work for project management, saying “Good project managers communicate, build consensus, persuade, and influence others to achieve goals. With the rise of social software platforms, many of them are coming to believe that transparent collaboration and planning make for faster work flow, better results and happier teams.”  And at the end of the day, adopting social project management practices means more engaged and happier teams which translates into better delivery and happier clients.

Using social software with your project team makes a difference. Mostly because of what the psychologist’s call  ambient awareness. User experience designer, Leisa Reichelt, says that ambient awareness “is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”[1] If you missed it, I first talked about ambient awareness in my post on Solving the Project Managers Social Dilemma – Part 2.

Using social software on projects allows teams to experience a level of connectivity never before realized, even in physical co-location.  Reality theorist Sheldon Renan calls it “loosely but deeply entangled.”  It reminds me of the Jungian psychology concept of ‘collective unconsciousness,” where a part of the unconscious mind is shared by a society, a people, or all humankind.  I’ll call what happens to the project team. the ‘collective present.‘  Everyone on a project collectively participates in the dynamic flow of the information and is accountable for their parts in a way they never were before.  They are responsible for creating and keeping up the data flow.  And, as part of this ‘collective present’ on a project, the connections are wider and contain more possible touch points for interaction.  The team, the client, the stakeholders, all those that are part of the collaborative process through social media, now are part of the ‘collective present’ of the project and have data-driven information (and accountability), elevating the project knowledge to a new level of engagement.

teensTo help you visualize this concept of ambient awareness, think about young people today and how they use their mobile devices.  They are in constant contact with their cohort.  They know where everyone is almost all the time because they ‘check in’ on social networks[2], they ‘Geo-tag,’ and they Tweet. No one has to update anyone on the who, what, where, and how, because ‘they just know.’ This new awareness is bringing back the dynamics of small-town life; where everybody knew your business and therefore, you had to be genuine and honest.  Think about it: you probably know more about your Facebook friends than you do the neighbor down the street, unless of course, the neighbor is on Facebook.  You know what is going on from your News Feeds [3], and you can pick and choose what to act on (“Gee, I need to call my sister about that”) or not (“Do I really care that Howard’s kid winning the science fair?”).

Incorporating the work styles of the digital generation into the more traditional business models, even into project management, is showing good rewards.  Ambient awareness improves the communications and project knowledge of the team, which in the end, translates into better delivery of the project. Being ‘in’ the project versus being ‘told about’ the project, changes the speed of understanding and the sense of personal engagement.  Seems like a ‘win’ to me.

Still don’t believe me?  Think about the traditional project manager – usually the single point person that updates the plans and milestones, creates Gantt charts, holds endless status meetings, and updates the team and client, maybe weekly. Now think about the social project manager – whose team collaboratively updates the milestones and activities as part of the project process, reducing the need for status meetings (since status is known by all ambiently) and where team members follow what each other are doing, subscribe to each others feeds, and basically, work in the ‘collective present’ in a new and improved way.  Team time is now for greater collaboration and development.  Even clients could be updated through the social process.

communications 2In Social Project Management, the project itself becomes the center of all things. It is the ’email hub,’ the ‘inbox,’ the ‘file archive.’  All data and information flows through the digital project center.  And, since every team member is working in this transparent way, the personal accountability is very visible.  How perfect for project management!  How refreshing to really be projectized and have everything organized around the actual work tasks and not the tools used to communicate (email) or store information.  When using social software for a project, the work assignments are clear to everyone, each team member sees what other team members are doing, the team gets out of ’email jail,’ tasks are maintain and supported in a collaborative manner, and, most importantly, working this way allows people to determine the appropriate level of engagement that they need to get their job done.

When I managed traditional co-located teams on projects, I noted that we would build a certain team awareness.  We were in constant communication and sharing mode.  We ate lunch together.  We spent time white boarding and brainstorming and sharing ideas, good and bad.  We moved as a team.  We had shirts and hats with our team logo. We knew the state of the project because we lived and breathed it every day, sometimes 7 days a week. But even in this scenario, we only knew the information that we shared with each other in status meetings or in the elevator.  Communications depended on physical meetings or emails.

As team size grew and my projects became global, multicultural, and more and more complex, I noted that time and distance between team members started to become a problem.  The co-located dynamics that made us feel like a team of course were gone.  I also noted that communications started to become more and more compartmentalized.   People only paid attention to their tasks and were less concerned with the whole project.  Information flow was a battle and email overload started to become a nightmare.  Many good virtual tools became available, but getting the dispersed teams to perform at the high level that was needed to deliver on time and with quality, got more complicated.

Enter Social Media.  I feel like Social Media has given me back team spirit and team vitality. Ambient awareness, which is only recently being applied to distributed teams and work flow, has given my teams and my clients, a sense of connection to the end goal, and to each other. This is not your old project management process translated into something social – social project management is a way of working that you and your team have never experienced before.  Once you take the leap into the collective present of project management, I assure you, you will never go back.

Are you connecting with your teams and clients using Social Media? How are you leveraging your ‘collective present?’

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Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)

References

  1. Disambiguity — Leisa Reichelt’s Professional Blog. October 2011
  2. “Three Best Ways to Use Location-Based Social Media”. Riva Richmond, The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., September 10, 2010
  3. Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, Clive Thompson, The New York Time Magazine, September 5, 2008

Doing Project Management, Socially

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At some point, everybody is a project manager.

From planning a birthday party for a 3 year old to delivering a complex application for a banking client, the way you get the tasks done is called project management.  But just because humans are social, that does not make the application of project management to your tasks – Social Project Management.  It is clear that few people know what Social Project Management is yet or how to use it.

The other day I found a perfect example of the misuse of the term Social Project Management. While doing my daily internet reading I stumbled on an article called Social Project Management: A Necessary Element for Success. It was about managing a social media strategy by using project management (which is a great idea). They were applying traditional project management to a project whose product was a social media strategy.  That is not Social Project Management but project management of something with content, that just happens to be about something social .  Obviously, when a concept is very new, it can easily be misunderstood.

As business moves more and more into the social spaces, and with downsizing, rightsizing, the push to a ‘results only work environment [1]‘ and the advent of ubiquitous computing power in the hands of all employees, people are becoming what I call ‘accidental project managers.’  It is not their job title, or even something they knowingly pursue, but employees are personally managing a broader range of tasks in their work assignments and the flow of the information they use and create now sits in their hands more than ever before.  Team sizes are shrinking and practitioner work load is increasing and each person is taking on the responsibility for self-directed delivery.  Everyone is doing mini-projects and becoming an accidental project manager.

Not that accidental project management is bad at all, I think it is perfect for adoption of Social Project Management.  In response to the shift in business priorities and organizational transformations, project management has been becoming more agile over the last few years, and it should.  By leveraging the good work being done in social design, a few early adopters are starting to break down the silos, streamline collaboration, and drive transparency into the dynamism that characterizes a project. [2]  This is enabling collaborative productivity across small teams, empowering small-scale projects to leverage the transparency of social media, keeping  everyone up-to-date and engaged.

projectclipBig projects, complex and multinational programs, program management offices (PMO) and large-scale operations may always need the more traditional PM methods and the dedicated delivery professional.  There is a long history of solid governance and successful practice in strong project management methods.  But traditional ways of doing project management are not very social. Today’s social tools allow us to break away form the traditional methods of delivering projects and incorporating new, more collaborative ones. Do you remember the infographic on The 5 Laws of Social Project Management. I showed you in my post, Solving the Project Manager’s Dilemma – Part 2?  I agree withLiquidPlanner‘s rules that collaboration, team participation benefits, transparency, personal autonomy, and realistic scheduling, will allow for new thinking when it comes to getting the job done. (Note: this is not a pitch for their software one way or the other, since I have not used it, but I like some of their ideas.)

The new self-directed and open social project team (made up of Millennials, GenXers, and maybe some of us dinosaurs (me)), is hungry for a social way to collectively participate on their projects and in the success of the business.  When you give people a deeper understanding of the process in which they are involved, a greater appreciation of the context in which they work (and make them part of creating it), and the opportunity to be directly engaged with the outcome, they will be more productive and more motivated.  All that, from a little socialization.

I am transforming my teams every day to work socially. Are you?  Tell me what changes you are making with your teams to go social.

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Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)

References

  1. Results-Only Work Environment is a management strategy where employees are evaluated on performance, not presence. In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results – increasing the organization’s performance while creating the right climate for people to manage all the demands in their lives . . . including work.
  2. Accelerate the Flow of Work with Social Project Management, CIO White Paper by VMWare