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.