Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Changing Role of the Social Project Manager – Part 1

The project management 2.0 movement sought to eliminate the role of the project manager completely, replacing centralized management of projects with a sort of egalitarian utopian vision for co-management. What project management 2.0 could not do, project managers themselves will do if they ignore the social wave in project management. The business process landscape is changing, and project managers need to adapt to remain relevant.

Project managers usually have influence that is out of scale to their productivity. Before you jump down my throat, I do not mean that project managers don’t work hard, or aren’t important. What I do mean is that project managers influence has historically not been based upon what they themselves produce, but is based upon the key role that they played in the social network of an organization. This role most often worked out as intermediary between two groups that had very little overlap – namely the executive or management team, and the project team. We must never forget that the project manager’s role has always been social, even before social technology, but with the rise of social technology, the focus on the social component of the project manager’s role is shifting even more to the forefront.

A recent article posted at TechRepublic highlights this shift (they summarize this Harvard Business Review article). They highlight four skills that are defined as critical for collaborative managers:

  1. Become a global connector
  2. Engage peripheral talent
  3. Collaborate at the top
  4. Show a strong hand

While these are skills that are necessary for any collaborative leader, when operating in a social software enabled environment, these skills become at the same time easier to exercise, and more critical.  So, how does social business software help?

First and foremost, social business software platforms like IBM Connections or Jive SBS provide the foundation for social networking inside the firewall, and across partnership chains. Without the presence of social networking software, little actually changes. In order to connect and engage, one must rely on the available social network. When that social network is not online, it is the person’s personal social network. However, when the company’s social network is digitized, it becomes a resource to mine for opportunities to connect and engage.

However, while this visible, digital, social network is an enormous resource for the project manager, it is also a game changer. In a social collaboration environment, access to the team can no longer be managed by the PM. Some PMs may sense this is as a loss of power and control, and in environments where power and control are valued, it probably is.

Project managers who rely on position-driven power and control of communication will fail in a collaborative social-networked organization. As fallen dictators around the world have learned, a networked group of people cannot be controlled. However, they can be led.

Leaders connect and engage the right people to get the job done, and allow them to work (within some defined boundaries) to accomplish the goal. The project management role will change from one of commander of the team to one of enabler of the team. By connecting the team to the right parts of the social network, the social project manager enables the team, reduces their own role as knowledge and communication conduit, while increasing their visibility as connector and leader. Project managers like that generate good will from their team members, and develop rich networks of willing resources for the next project they lead.

Nothing could be further from the truth than to say that the role of the project manager is over. Teams, especially collaborative teams, still need a directly responsible individual – and that person is the project manager.

We’ll continue this discussion in part two, and discuss how social project management software helps the project manager to balance the structure of the project management process, with the emergence of the social collaborative paradigm…next week!

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The NYT weighs in on Social Business Software

Well, now that the newspaper of record, the NY Times, has weighed in on social software, we can now say that social software inside the firewall is mainstream. The article, unfortunately, is very shallow, and only serves to reinforce stereotypes about social business.

First, the article focuses most of its attention on Salesforce Chatter, which, while it is a very nice social tool for CRM, is not one of the leaders in social business software (at least according to the Gartner Magic Quadrant, which is always right 🙂 ).

Second, the article focuses strongly on the need to control and filter what is said on social networks inside the firewall. While it is true as the article said that users should take the attitude that “if you don’t want your company president to see it, don’t post it,” realistically most social software users have become well sensitized to the fact that posting on social networks is visible, and most of the anecdotal evidence supports the fact that people behave as professionals on social business platforms – in other words people don’t behave in the same ways on work social networks that they do on Facebook.

Another paragraph of the article states: “For instance, some workers prefer to be “lurkers” who read posts rather than write them. Others are just not interested. At Symantec, the computer security company, a few employees initially disliked the idea of an internal social network, but nevertheless used it to air their complaints.”

This point illustrates our core contention (stated in a previous post) that it is not enough to simply install a social network inside the firewall. Doing so will not provide the incentive to the majority of users to actually adopt the software. What is required is the establishment of reasons to use social software. Please distinguish between reasons to use and rules to use. Reasons to use are things perceived as useful to a user, rules to use are perceived as commands to be obeyed. Which of these two do you believe is more likely to spur real adoption and social emergence in your company. As we have stated before, we believe that social project management is an  excellent reason to use social software, and that it is perceived that way by people naturally.

Giving people reasons to use social networking software means making it part of getting their jobs done. More importantly, it means making it a part of getting their jobs done better than they could otherwise. Any other driver of adoption, whether policy or making it a part of performance evaluation will be seen as compulsion, which is anything but social. Only when you give people reasons to use the software will people stop lurking and stop resisting.

While it is wonderful that the gray lady has recognized the phenomenon of social business software, the story is incomplete. Where are the stories of the benefits of social, the reports of 40, 50, 60% reduction in workflow, the reports of emergent networks of employees who have never met working together to solve business problems before they escalate, etc.? Perhaps the NYT needs to take some direction from Paul Harvey, and seek out the “rest of the story”? We can only help that they will do so in the future.

The Next Big Thing in Social Business Software…

Alistair Rennie (General Manager, IBM Collaboration Solutions) was interviewed recently on Forbes, and was asked several questions about the future of social software. One of the questions he was asked was “What is the next big thing in Social Business software?” Alistair mentioned the drive to incorporate social into the process of business. This is a welcome development from one of the major players in social business software.

While much of the Web 2.0 movement was powered by a justified reaction to structure and top down management, the early enterprise 2.0 tools focused more on the ability to develop emergent collaboration and minimize structured processes.

However, while Andrew McAffee’s seminal piece on Enterprise 2.0 (Sloan Management Review 2006) trumpets the benefits of emergent collaboration (and rightly so), he is clear that the power of this emergent collaboration paradigm can be merged successfully with more structured contexts. He states:

“Their different approaches to structure, however, do not mean that Enterprise 2.0 technologies are incompatible with older ones. They can be added to the channels and platforms already in place. In addition, existing channels and platforms can be enhanced by adding discrete SLATES components; many e-mail clients, for example, now have the ability to receive RSS signals. In other words, technologies that let users build structure over time can coexist peacefully with those that define it up front.” (page 26, emphasis mine)

What this means is that businesses do not need to make a choice between structure, and emergent open collaboration, and it is great to see IBM beginning to publicly discuss a vision for the merging of the business processes that require some structure with the social collaboration that thrives with low or emergent structure.

Social Project management is a great example of this “next big thing” already in action. Traditional project management techniques are highly structured, and involve significant monitoring and management. Earlier “project management 2.0” technologies focused primarily on empowering the emergent collaboration of a project team, but left the project manager and her process out of the loop (see earlier post). What we are seeing now is that companies that require traditional, rigorous, project management processes are also recognizing the power of social business, and are looking for solutions that enable both the structure of PMI-style project management and the social capabilities of enterprise 2.0 platforms.

Social project management is a great entry point for businesses beginning the social transformation precisely because it does provide the structure of an existing business process, embedded within a social platform like IBM Connections. While IT-savvy users will explore new platforms, many users require structure to understand the ways that the features of a new platform impact their work.

We expect that social project management, social CRM and the other early business-process centric social applications that are emerging are just the tip of the iceberg, and that Alistair’s prediction is a very safe one. What needs to be recognized by all of the social business application vendors is that they provide more value by augmenting the general social platforms being developed (such as IBM Connections, Jive SBS, Microsoft Sharepoint, etc.) rather than being stand alone solutions.

It is not enough to be a “social business app”, but rather to really be a social business app, you must be integrated into the entire social network of the organization. Only then can a social business application provide necessary structure for a business process, while still allowing the rich, open, and emergent collaboration enabled by the social business platforms.

ProjExec featured on Luis Benitez’ Blog

ProjExec 5.0, which delivers Social Project Management to the IBM enterprise customer, was featured last week on Luis Benitez’ “Socialize Me” blog.

Luiz calls out some of the cool features about projexec, including the activity stream, and the widget for Lotus Notes users.

For full information about ProjExec, check out the Trilog Group website.

Social Software and Productivity

There is a lot of buzz about the potential productivity gains of social software. Luiz Benitez tweeted a link to an article on The Province, which described a variety of situations where social software like IBM Connections was leading to perceived productivity gains.

The examples cited in the article noted the increate in productivity that occurs when people are linked together in collaborative communities. But is this really what is new about social software? Online, collaborative communities have been around for a long time.

However, those communities were usually closed, meaning that you had to be a recognized “member” of the community to get a login credential, and these collaborative communities generally failed. Why? We propose that some component of that failure has to do with the centralized control indicative of most enterprise implementations.  Interestingly, this central control paradigm is hinted at in the article referenced above:

Dr. Anne Bourhis “cautioned that social networking isn’t a cure-all. She said businesses need to plan in advance how the tools will be used before they implement a new network, since there are a multitude of tools that serve very different purposes.

“You can’t use it because it’s in fashion,” she said. “You really have to understand what the need is. If it doesn’t meet the need of employees, they won’t use it.”

While we agree with the second paragraph without reservation, the first paragraph is indicative of a non-social, centralized planning approach. What businesses really need to do is to understand how to provide general purpose platforms (like an IBM Connections), along with tailored, initial business contexts through which to introduce the platform. If those tailored entry points are well thought out, the network of users will identify the next wave of uses of the platform, without any input from IT or management.

What is impossible,  once an open, social system is introduced within a business context, is for a centralized planner to predict and manage where the social network will take the software. Business can plan how to introduce the platform, but cannot plan how the tools will be used. If they do so, and restrict the ways the tools “should” be used, the value of the emergent online network will be impaired.

If businesses create an open, social network, where everyone in the organization has access, and where access restrictions are kept to a minimum, the kinds of linkages that are described in the article can take place naturally. This is what is really different about social networking, in comparison to other online collaboration spaces. Rather than “pre-identifying” communities, in social networking contexts, communities emerge in practice, based upon the needs and desires of the users, not a central plan.

This is part of the true value of social networking software in the enterprise – allowing the connections of people in the business to emerge as business requirements dictate, in real time, without IT intervention or management declaration.
This does not mean that it is unimportant for there to be a plan for the introduction of the platform. But that plan should be just that…an introduction, rather than an arranged marriage. That well thought out introduction can blossom in ways no one can anticipate.