Category Archives: Social Business

The 5 Questions You Should Ask Any Social Project Management Vendor – Part 4

(This post is the fourth in a series of five)

In this post we discuss something that many collaborative software vendors don’t talk a lot about…how does the software support the needs of upper management and stakeholders?

Back in post one, we argued that for a social project management software product to be considered “social”, it should be integrated into the enterprise social platform, the “social fabric” of the organization. This is because so many of the operations of the project team, including issue resolution, expertise identification, status reporting, etc., are impacted by the social processes that are  possible only when integrated into the wider social network of the organization.

This post focuses on another by-product of the software being socially embedded into the organization by asking the question: “Does your software support what management – outside the team – needs?”.

The core premise of social business applications and, of course, social project management is that they leverage the social network of the organization. For this reason social business applications must consider the needs of all of the types of users for whom social ties exist. Realistically, project teams’ have three key classes of social ties – team members (of many types), project management, and stakeholders.

Unfortunately, while many web collaboration systems provide a number of the features required by a project team, few think about the greater needs of the program and portfolio management team, to say nothing of director-level or executive-level management. In some cases, this is due to the ideological stance of the vendor – those seeking to “democratize” projects, or to make teams more “egalitarian” see little value in recognizing the reality of the large, hierarchical enterprise and the requirements that these organizations place on the project manager and team. In these cases, project managers are often left with the tedious task of converting the information stored in the web project management system into reporting and other templates necessary for communication with upper management.

Just as a social project management system must provide visibility and engagement for the project team, it must provide the same ability for visibility and engagement for stakeholders. It can do this in many ways, but most importantly it should:

  1. Promote engagement by allowing stakeholders to not only view, but participate in the social activity stream of the project.
  2. Promote visibility by providing project and portfolio-level reporting for stakeholders – in real-time – without requiring additional project team or project management overhead to provide it.

Unless the system expects stakeholders to directly interact in the social process of the project, and unless the system provides the functionality for the stakeholders to transparently see the progress of the project, it will fall down on this point. Why should project stakeholders not be part of the same “democratization” of project information that is properly recognized as being a key requirement for social business?

Project stakeholders often complain that their project teams are a “black box”, that they cannot see into. Interestingly, many project team members often are unaware of the power that they possess to keep information hidden from stakeholders (of course, others are far too aware of that power). Because of this, the ability for stakeholders to have constant, real-time, and transparent information regarding project progress is often an unrecognized need, or an intentionally neglected need, when evaluating project management systems.

So, a social project management system engages the social ties with stakeholders in the same fashion as it engages project team members. By providing the information that each person needs, when they need it, while minimizing the work necessary to provide that information.

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The 5 Questions You Should Ask Any Social Project Management Vendor – Part 3

(This post is the third in a series of five)

In the first two posts of this series (here and here), we discussed that the first order of business when dealing with a social project management software vendor is to determine first, if they are selling social software at all, and second,  if they are selling project management software. In this post we discuss something that most vendors claim to provide – support for social enabled teamwork and collaboration.

The third question that you should ask any social project management software vendor is: “Do you provide what my team needs to collaborate fully on the project while minimizing the impact of project management tasks on project completion.” In order to deliver on this question, a project management software system must (1) help the team to connect together to collaborate, (2) allow as much project information as possible to be shared widely and openly, and (3) provide capabilities for project team members to perform their “project management” tasks easily, and preferably, transparently.

Team Transparency and Interconnectedness

Too often, projects are plagued by a lack of transparency and connectedness, both between the project team members, and between the team and the project manager. This is even more true when teams are geographically distributed. Transparency and connectedness is typically highest in teams that are collocated in the same room. This is due to the ambient awareness that emerges within a group of people who have few barriers to their ability to “catch” portions of conversations, body language, and other non-verbal communication cues. As barriers to the development of ambient awareness, via walls, miles, or organizational barriers, transparency and connectedness become more difficult to maintain. This is one place where social software has a potential transformative application.

Most software applications that claim to be “social” apps utilize the concept of an activity stream, or a “wall” that shows a continual stream of updates. This concept is, of course, most famously implemented in the Facebook wall (now News Feed), and is becoming nearly ubiquitous in the “social” software implementation. What makes this activity stream so important is that, when well used, it is nearest approximation that we have yet devised to the stream of “ambient” information available in the environment when we are near other people. In fact, there is emerging research that illustrates that people are better able to “make sense” of a number of small chunks of information than of a large, detailed document.

Further, as the nature of the information within the activity stream becomes more diverse (as when multiple apps are integrated into an enterprise social system), the activity stream becomes even more like a real project team environment, where multiple tasks and execution contexts are simultaneously occurring .

Finally, to be clear, an activity stream is NOT a discussion forum. Although it exhibits characteristics of a forum, an activity stream’s value and power come from the fact that the information in the stream can be posted by people intentionally, people unintentionally, and by the system itself. Intentional posts are the “status updates”, questions, and other pieces of information that people add to the stream. On Facebook, this might be the cute photo of your kid, or your post about the fact that you were stuck in traffic for an hour.  Unintentional posts are the “by-products” of action within a system. On Facebook, this might be a notice that you’ve “leveled-up” on Mafia Wars, or that you’re listening to Billy Joel on Spotify. In a social project management system, an unintentional post might tell the team that you’ve just finished a task, that you’ve added a document to the document library, or that you’ve just opened an issue that affects the team. Finally, system posts are those posts that humans are not directly involved with. On Facebook, it might be a “friend suggestion”. In a social project management system, it might be a notification to the team that the project has crossed an action threshold, or has missed a deadline.

In short, the integrated and diverse nature of the information on an activity stream helps increased transparency and interconnectedness on your project team.

Access to Project Information

However, far more information is generated and consumed on a project team than what is represented on the activity stream. Project schedules, documents, issues, changes, reports – the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in most projects these documents are restricted in their distribution and are, in some cases, limited in the access that project team members have to them.

Here is one area where social project management is most closely related to Project Management 2.0. Social project management systems embrace the PM 2.0 concept of the democratization of data access, even while at the same time ensuring proper control over data modification. By this, we argue that Project Management 2.0 had it right when it argued that all of the project information should be available to and accessible by the project team, no matter where they are. However, we also hold strongly to the perspective that most projects still need to be managed, and that certain documents such as the project schedule, still need to be controlled by the project manager. The project plan (and, depending on your project other documents as well) should be always available online to the entire team, but must be able to be controlled.

So, a social project management system is differentiated from a Project Management 2.0 system in the capability to control project information granularly, while ensuring the constant and broad access to the same information.

Project Management Task Execution

Finally, a social project management system isn’t very useful without assisting in the maintenance and completion of project tasks. A social project management system differentiates itself from a social task management system in that the tasks represented in a social project management system are tied back to the real project plan that is the heart of the project (the differences between these systems will be expanded upon in a later post). Rather than a simple to do list, in a social project management system the project tasks assigned to each team member in the project plan are surfaced to each team member. More importantly, when a project team member updates their task list, by marking a task partially complete, or fully complete, or by adding a comment to the task, or attaching a document to the task, this information is reflected in the system wherever it is relevant. Task status updates appear on the wall, the Gantt chart is automatically updated, project and portfolio reports reflect the change, and other people assigned to the task can see the document and comments.

In short, a social project management system should strive to minimize the “work about work”, and let reporting and (appropriate) communication be a by-product of action. Gone should be the days when a project manager chases down the team for task status updates. A team member should never have to wonder if a team member finished a blocking task. This information, and much more, should be represented in the system with as few manual steps as possible.

In summary, a social project management system should (1) help a team to be integrated and connected by simulating as closely as possible the interactions that are only really possible when collocated, should (2) democratize the data of a project, without eliminating necessary controls, and should (3) streamline and eliminate as much “work about work” as possible.

Stay tuned for question #4. Please comment below.

The 5 Questions You Should Ask Any Social Project Management Vendor – Part 2

(This post is the second in a series of five)

In the first post in this series, we argued that in order for a project management software provider to claim that it is providing “social” project management, it first must show that its product, in fact, a social business application. In this post, we will argue that the second thing that a project management software provider must illustrate is whether their product is, in fact, a project management software application.

Project management software is everywhere, and it seems like every day a new project management product appears. Lately, this trend has become evident with social project management software as well. As these products (with very different capabilities) multiply, it is important to understand the key capabilities of social project management software, so as to cut through the noise.

In order to cut right to the chase, the second question that you should ask your social project management software vendor is: “Do you support what my project managers need?” or, in other words, “Does your software support real project management?” There is a very tangible difference between collaboration systems that allow simple task list management, and a project management system that allows for hierarchical project work breakdown structures that include thousands of tasks, with constraints, split task assignments, critical path and over-allocation analysis, and financial planning and tracking. True enough, many very small teams do not require all of these features, but a project management system must have the capability to support all of these things.

In addition to the ability to track large numbers of tasks with very detailed information, a project management system must support the discipline of project control management. Rather than a free-for-all, in which anyone on the project can add and change the commitments of the project team, a project manager must have the ability to track tasks, control the addition of new tasks, track the reasons why those tasks were added (or changed), and provide the ability to report against baselines. Therefore, a project management system must provide true issue management, change management, and traceability of all tasks to associated changes and issues. In short, the project manager is still central to the management of the project, and her project management system must allow her to enforce the discipline of the project.

NOTE: This argument may seem to fly in the face of the “democratization” argument and the “self-managed” team wave, but it does not. While we completely agree about the democratization of project management DATA (which will be addressed in our next post), we couldn’t disagree more with the notion that any but the smallest teams, working on limited scope projects, can truly “self-manage”. Realistically, even these teams are being managed – it is simply the customer that is performing the “project management” for them.

Finally, a social project management system should augment the features described above by integrating them into the social fabric of the organization. Issues should be “crowdsourceable”, conversations from the activity stream should be able to be tracked as issues, estimates of change impacts should be able to be voted on by the team, people and tasks on the project plan should be able to be tagged in posts, and so on and so on.

We are unaware of any product that has, at the time of this post, truly leveraged the social paradigm in a fully integrated way as described in the previous paragraph. But a social project management system should at least have the capability to track all of the items discussed, and a vendor should have the vision to deliver to the promise described above.

To be clear…your social project management system must be able to support…drum roll please…project management. Team collaboration + task management is not enough.

In summary, we believe that the first two questions you should ask your social project management software vendors establish the bona fides of the product – is it a social business application, and is it a project management application…if one of those two is missing, the rest of the questions might not matter. Stay tuned, and comment below.

The 5 Questions You Should Ask Any Social Project Management Vendor – Part 1

(This post is the first in a series of five.)

Social Project Management is increasingly being recognized as a dominant future trend in the evolution of Project Management, and “social project management” software vendors are multiplying rapidly. But are they all selling Social Project Management? There is already a distinction emerging between “Social Project Management” and “Social Task Management”, but even these categories, along with many vendors’ pitches, are doing little but muddying the waters. We think that there are five questions that you should ask any social project management vendor to identify what their offering really is.

First and foremost, ask your vendors “How does your tool allow me to leverage the expertise of my entire organization?” As we’ve noted here, here, and here, social project management isn’t really about collaboration per se (although that is a key part of it). Collaboration tools have been available for decades. Slapping the label “Social” on a product, or adding an activity stream to a product doesn’t make it a “social” business application at all.

Social business applications, and social project management specifically, need to be integrated into the enterprise social network of the organization. Project Management 2.0 vendors complained  that most project tools were only for the project manager. But vendors such as AtTask and Vantage simply widen the scope to include the defined (and LICENSED) project team members. This is why these and other project team-centric applications are not enterprise class solutions.

For a project management tool to be a social project management tool, it must allow the team to identify the expertise of the organization intentionally, and unintentionally. By this, we mean that the tool must be able to poll the organization for the expertise that the team understands that it needs, and the tool must help the team solve problems for which it doesn’t know what expertise is needed to solve it.

To do this, a social project management tool needs information that has been stored about the experiences and expertise of everyone in the organization. This is not possible in a point solution, but is definitely possible when the application is integrated into the social enterprise application (e.g. IBM Connections, Jive SBS). This is an example of how social business applications both leverage and multiply the value of a social platform investment.

Additionally, a social project management tool needs to enable the team to ask for help – even when the project team isn’t sure who to ask. As such, a social application must be able to crowdsource problems to the entire organization. Again, this is possible only when the tool is integrated into, and accessible by, the entire organization’s social structure.

Therefore, integration into an enterprise-wide social platform is necessary, but not sufficient, for any application to be called a social business application. In the next four posts, we will discuss the key features that a project management system requires in order to be called a “social” project management system.

“Crowdsourcing” to your Enterprise social network

Much has been written about crowdsourcing, the practice of outsourcing tasks to a network of people. Specifically, crowdsourcing is valuable when a problem exists for which the person with the problem may not have the time, knowledge or expertise needed to solve the problem. In the book Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams describe the story of GoldCorp, a struggling Canadian Gold Mining company. In 1999, GoldCorp was a $100 million dollar company, unable to tap into its own reserves. By 2002, GoldCorp was a $9 billion dollar company due to its successful crowdsourcing efforts.

The GoldCorp story is just one example of the power and wisdom of crowds. When we think of crowds, we think about a mass of people, almost all of whom we don’t know, gathered together for a purpose. Although the crowd might share a goal, there is little sense as to the experience of the people in the crowd, the knowledge that they have in their heads, or the manner in which one could identify that information.

In fact, as a company increases in size, the more “crowd-like” it becomes. Because of this, the concept of inside the firewall social business applications has flourished in the past few years. Vendors such as Jive, Microsoft and IBM have become leaders in the enterprise social space. Their tools provide the ability to socially collaborate with anyone in the organization. However, these tools out of the box provide little more than the ability to “assemble” the crowd. Without a dedicated effort to ensure that employees fully complete their profile information, the ability to identify experts is not realized. Without real business processes embedded into the platform, the ability to socially collaborate for business purposes is reduced.

This is where social business applications, such as Social CRM and Social Project Management come into the picture. “Social” application vendors are everywhere these days, and more seem to start popping up every week.  However, without access to the full social network of the organization, these tools are merely team collaboration sites with social tools. What makes an application an enterpise social application is the ability to socially interact with the enterprise – internal, as well as external partners. In short, social business applications require the ability to “crowdsource” to the enterprise social network. Because of this, social business application vendors need to intentionally partner with enterprise social platform vendors to integrate their business process support within the social fabric of the enterprise.

Let’s take Social Project Management for example. Project management is exactly the kind of process that gains value from being made social. This is because of the kind of work that it is. As noted above, the value of crowdsourcing comes from its ability to find new knowledge to solve problems. While operational tasks may deliver value to an organization, projects deliver value specifically because they are creating something new. Because of the “newness” of projects, the need to identify expert knowledge is far more important in these contexts than in others.

For example, Trilog Group has tight integration of its ProjExec social project management platform with all of IBM’s collaboration solutions – IBM Lotus Quickr, IBM Connections, and IBM SmartCloud for Social Business. Because of this integration, when the project team has an issue, it can be easily “outsourced” to the enterprise crowd. Without this kind of integration, the project team must rely on its personal connections to identify help. Alternatively, the project team could search the enterprise social network to find an expert, but only if the expert has included the same search terms into his profile. Instead, by actually performing “crowdsourcing” to the enterprise, the team can access the full expertise of the organization.

Previous Post: Why Peer-to-Project Communication beats out Peer-to-Peer

So, social platform vendors help to assemble the crowd. The crowd can expose their expertise. But the real value of an enterprise social platform comes from the power of social tools like crowdsourcing being applied to real business processes, such as project management. Social interaction helps to solve hard problems, not easy ones. Businesses should first focus on creating a “social space” for their teams to find each other and collaborate. Then, businesses should work to socialize their hard problems – to the entire organization.

Social business applications’ real promise will come when the organization culture reinforces that we are all “the team”, and when the organization provides the tools to actually make that the case.

Enterprise Social + Social Business Applications like ProjExec together will help deliver that goal.

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.

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.