Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

By Jean Radish

(Also known as: Social Media Comes to Project Management)

When I was a kid, the best part of Halloween was sitting on the living room floor with my older brother and 2 younger sisters, our treasure pile of candy from the evening’s haul spread out in front of each of us, bargaining and trading for our individual favorite candy. Now of course we each had a stash not included in the big trade…oh, wait, maybe I was the only one who did that…well, let’s come back to this in a bit.

Since that time, I’ve grown up, don’t really do the Halloween costume thing, still have (and eat) my favorite candy (sharing most of the time). I’ve become a project manager in an internet marketing agency, and…oh yeah…I am a baby boomer. Barely a baby boomer, but a boomer just the same.
It’s the Halloween season and these memories of Trick or Treat have me thinking about how social media tools are the new treats of project management, and in fact, there’s really nothing to be afraid of.

Trick or Treat

(Also known as Positive Motivation)

The basic premise of Halloween is pretty easy. Trick or Treat. If you don’t have treats for me I’ll play a trick on you. Avoid the toilet papering, the eggs, the doorbell ringing and just let me grab some candy for my pumpkin bag. Call it positive manipulation. Social media and project management is really just as easy. It’s the art, science and technology of getting things done through teamwork. It used to be that project management was all about “on time, in scope and in budget”. That’s old candy and not really going to be worth much in the trade deals. The new metrics for successful project management center on the team and using engagement, cooperation and relationships via social media. We can call the candy treats that come from utilizing social media methodologies within the context of project management Empowerment, Confidence, Ownership and Commitment.

Here’s another good treat: social networking provides context to information. There’s not just your usual status metric of percent complete, but comments and responses that provide value and qualitative information on project status. A major element in project management is the ability to manage project variables and variations from the project plan. Social media provides the quick, accurate communication to address urgent situations and find quick, effective resolutions. Just like eating too much candy at Halloween can make you not feel well, jamming tasks and schedules down team members’ throats can turn their stomachs. Let them help set the pace, find process efficiencies and roll the changes across projects in real time. Most team members use social tools naturally. It’s just good sense to let them work with tools they’re already comfortable with.

Fear of the Dark

(Also known as What’s Wrong with Command and Control and What’s Right with Collaboration)

We always got to go trick or treating at night. There was a unique dynamic to wandering the neighborhood streets in the dark. Suddenly what we were so comfortable with during the day was filled with dark shadows, weird noises, strange lighting, and scary decorations (like big cemetery tombstones draped in spider webs in the front yard). Current methods of capturing project info are complex and time consuming, alienating team members and forcing pm’s to beg, persuade and nag for status updates resulting in incomplete or inaccurate project information. To add to this scary element, major project decisions are often made on this information. Social networking provides more relevant information with clearer visibility into project and stakeholder initiatives. Team members become full participants rather than passive recipients of tasks and schedules. Staying entrenched in tradition is painful, especially since communication is the largest tool and responsibility of a project manager. Facilitating real-time conversations around projects helps keep an accurate pulse on the business and allows executives to make more proactive decisions. That’s right— proactive decisions. Stop the old stress-laden fire-fighting approach to managing projects. There’s a big leap into the unknown, and a pretty scary thought for some who find command and control their comfort blanket.

Here’s another scary concept – “Social is all about the collective and what they can share and achieve together.” Having the team work together with the project manager as a hub of communication rather than requiring every tidbit of information go through the project manager creates an environment of client focus and project success. Here’s another treat—the real value of project management is not creating project plans and schedules—it’s facilitating collaboration and value-driven solution implementation. For additional insights on teams, Steve Denning, in a recent article for Forbes wrote, “The mode of coordinating work must shift from bureaucratic control to dynamic linking.”

Saving the Best for Last

(Also known as The Bottom Line)

Everything has its price. When it came to that living room floor candy trade, I had a definite negotiating strategy not just to increase my “haul” for the evening, but to make sure as much of it as possible was my favorite kind. This meant assigning value to the candy I had as well as recognizing the value of the treats I wanted.

What would you trade for fewer meetings and increased efficiencies? What would you trade for rapid coordination of operational efforts and quick plan adjustments? Let the project manager do more than monitor their emails for tasks, status updates, change requests and waiting for team responses. Drive issue resolution with collaborative posts. Multiply the opportunity to increase project profitability and enhance client satisfaction. The trade is easy—go for the better information and better decision making, trust your project information, and work in an environment team members enjoy. There’s a tangible and intangible contribution to the bottom line.

For those of you looking for metrics regarding what’s happening in the professional world of project management and social media, the Project Management Institute (PMI) conducted a study on the subject of social media regarding how project managers are using social media on their projects—181 people responded, showing that LinkedIn remains the most popular social media tool for professionals, 85 percent of the respondents used social media to stay in touch with friends; 48% used social media for document sharing; 36% used it to stay in touch with team members; 27% used social media for status updates; 25% for managing teams; and 24% to communicate to project stakeholders. Stats per PM Network magazine (PMI Institute, Aug 2011, Volume 25, Number 8). These stats are a statement that project managers are definitely using social media for personal connections and are realizing the value within project management methodologies. There are three factors that will continue to increase these stats: technology will continue to focus on social media; tools will continue to be developed and refined; and lessons learned during project management will standardize their application.

Until Next Year

(Also known as Halloween will be Back Again Next Year and You’ll Have to have a New Costume)

OK. So at this point I’ve basically shared all I can about project management and social media; the tricks, the treats, and the trades. Now…about that little stash I mentioned that I held back and didn’t include in the sibling Trick or Treat trade…it wasn’t much…really…just a few special items that I would selfishly keep for myself.

Trick or Treat.

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