When Are Social Business Applications Necessary?

Social business seems like it’s everywhere. There are the platforms, like IBM Connections, Jive SBS, and others, and there are the apps, like ProjExec, SugarCRM, etc. It is clear that in order to execute a social business, you need the enabling platform. You cannot start a social business with just a social business application and expect to get the entire organization involved. People need to have a reason to participate in the social platform, and there is simply no single business process that involves everyone in the organization on a day to day basis. As we’ve argued before, for most users, there is little reason to use a social business platform unless real business processes are integrated into it. But once you do integrate those processes, the value of the social platform is multiplied.

But which business processes should be integrated first? Which ones will multiply the value the most? And which ones should be put off until last? We jokingly promote (Trilog Group CEO Alex) Homsi’s Extension of Metcalfe’s Law: “The value of the social business network grows exponentially with the number of people included in the network, and is multiplied by the number of processes that those people perform in the network.” This “law” gives some guidance as to how to build a social business.

Of course, a social business should include as many people in the corporate social network as is feasible. But a social business also needs to incorporate business processes that most benefit from social enablement. The remainder of this post deals with identifying the best candidate processes for social enablement.

Social business applications are most impactful when 1) the process involves novel or unpredictable situations, and 2) when the knowledge and understanding about how to respond to these situations is distributed across multiple people.

The theory of dynamic capabilities proposes that novel or unpredictable situations require businesses to build the skill of adaptation. Adaptation means that a business can 1) receive cues from the environment, 2) understand which cues from the environment are important, 3) understand if the business is in alignment with those cues, and 4) respond to those cues as necessary. This applies equally well to businesses as a whole, or teams working on a particular process.

When situations are routine, there is little information that the environment provides that is relevant to the team’s work. However, when the situation is novel and unexpected, the team must be able to process information more quickly an efficiently. This is where social business applications shine. Social business applications allow for real-time communication and processing of information from the environment.

When a team is collocated in the same room, this communication happens easily. However, when a team is separated by time and distance, a business process-centric activity stream is the next best thing. The activity stream provides the capability to quickly disseminate information about what is going on (environmental cues). More importantly, the distribution of those cues allows many eyes to quickly process the cues, and identify the potentially important ones. So, rather than waiting for a weekly (or even less frequent) status report, the activity stream provides the environmental cues to the team and stakeholders as soon as they are identified. Because novel situations require the identification, communication, and processing, those processes that are uncertain are those that are most likely to benefit from being integrated into the social business platform.

Beyond the delivery of environmental cues to the team, social business applications make use of the social business platform’s capability to publish cues beyond the team. Novel situations generate cues that often require multiple members of the team to generate a response. Often however, that response cannot be identified with only the members of the team. Instead, teams must find new expertise outside of the team boundary. At this, social business platforms excel. The warehouse of information about the expertise of the organization, and the capability to “crowdsource” issues that is contained within social business platforms is amplified by the social business application making use of it to solve real business execution problems.

So, in summary, the business process that is most likely to benefit from being integrated into the social business platform of the organization is the business process that is 1) uncertain, and 2) requires the skills of multiple people to manage the uncertainty.

There are obvious processes for which this pertains, but probably none as much as project management. Projects, by definition, are novel undertakings. Projects, are specifically not business as usual, but are uncertain processes that are meant to generate yet-unrealized business value. For this reason, project management is the obvious choice as an entry point for social business.

ProjExec is the only social project management application that integrates with every IBM Social Collaboration Platform. If your organization deals with uncertainty in its projects, leverage the power of the collaborative platform and implement social project management today.

(This post was written by John Tripp, Social Project Management Evangelist at Trilog Group. Trilog Group is the maker of ProjExec, the social project management solution for the IBM Collaboration Platform environments. ProjExec is available for IBM Connections, IBM SmartCloud, IBM Lotus Quickr, and IBM Websphere Portal.)


Social Business Software and Business Performance

McKinsey has published a report that illustrates the relationship between social technology use and organizational performance, with some interesting results. McKinsey looks at organizations as achieving different levels of social networking: developing, internally networked, externally networked, and fully networked. The names are pretty self explanatory.

McKinsey found significant, positive correlations between the presence of social business technologies and business performance. Specifically, they found significantly better performance in companies that are increasing their level of integration of social technologies into day-to-day work year over year.

Even so, of the 3000+ companies surveyed, more than 2400 are still in what is called the “developing” category, and only 110 have reached the state of “fully networked”. Most likely many companies choose to focus on internal or external networking, rather than both, so the small number isn’t that surprising. What is more troubling is the finding that companies are not maintaining positive trajectories in their social business implementations.

McKinsey found that, of the companies that had previously reached some level of networking benefits, over half had lost the previously achieved gains and had slid back to the “developing” category.  While many of the statistics that are in the report are similar across categories, one that is extremely different is the level of integration of the social technology into the every day work of the company. In companies that have reached a level of networking value, at least 45% of the companies reported very high levels of integration into the daily work of the company. In developing companies, that number is only 18%.

This highlights and confirms a point we have made in the past. Social networking platform investments are only the first step. What multiplies the value and usefulness of a social platform is the integration of business processes into the social platform – via technologies like ProjExec.

So, while companies may begin to become networked using platforms, continued and consistent integration of the processes of the business into the social platform of the organization is needed to continue the trajectory of social adoption and value generation.

Social project management is an excellent entry point for social business, and ProjExec is that entry point if you’re on the the IBM Social Business platforms – IBM Connections and the IBM SmartCloud.

ProjExec. Projects. Made Social.

Social Project Management – Narrating the project as it happens.

A new term is emerging to describe the paradigm of social business interaction – narration. I really like this term, as it gives a little bit better mental picture of what goes on when using an enterprise social platform, or a social business application like ProjExec.

What happens in a consumer social environment like Facebook is that people “narrate” their lives. So,  in a social business environment, workers can learn to “narrate” their work. In a previous post, we argued that social business applications help to make work “observable”, and more recently we’ve argued that a key benefit of social project management (and other social applications) is to “make the invisible, visible”.

For a moment, think about going through life with one of your senses missing. In these cases, humans’ other senses are heightened, either naturally via adaptation and increased development, or via utilizing additional, external tools (cane, hearing aid, etc.) to provide additional environmental feedback that is not provided due to the loss or reduction of a sense. More specifically, a person who is blind can be assisted by a “narrator” who can give them information about a new or modified environment. This is not to say that the blind person could not find information about the environment herself, but this information is greatly enriched by the presence of the narration.

In the same way, business processes, particularly knowledge workers’ processes are black boxes. From a certain point of view, businesses are “blind” to the current state of many of their processes. Knowledge processes are notoriously difficult to observe – so much so that identifying the current state of a knowledge process is almost impossible. In addition, distribute teams lose significant observability that comes from being collocated. However, social business changes both of these issues – IF the people executing the process “narrate” it as it happens.

In a project execution process, narration typically happens during status reporting meetings, by project managers chasing down people for updates, in daily stand up meetings, etc. In a social project management environment, this can happen via narration by individuals (and by the software itself) on the project activity stream. Instead of the team only having visibility at the point of a status meeting, instead of the business not being able to see the actual work that is happening “right now”, a narrated project provides the business with awareness of the project, in real time, as it happens.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to see several friends and acquaintances that I haven’t seen “in person” for a very long time (think more than 10 years).  Some of these friends were also “Facebook friends” and some were not. While I was very excited to see each one of them, our “reunions” exhibited very different dynamics.  For the friends who were NOT my Facebook friends, we shared stories about what had happened since the last time we’d seen each other, what our current jobs and lives were like, our pets, our kids’ achievements, etc. – basically what has been discussed at class or family reunions since the dawn of reunions. However, when speaking with the friends who are connected to me via Facebook, these conversations and discussions were interrupted repeatedly by “Yeah, I saw that on Facebook.” or “Yeah, I know.” Instead of recapping our lives, we talked about our future plans, and did so in a great deal more depth than in those encounters when we spent a lot of time discussing the past.

In a real sense, reunions are our opportunity to give status reports on our lives to those people who cannot observe it themselves. These status reports become much less necessary when we are providing a regular narration of our lives to our social network.

The same dynamic applies when our project teams narrate the work of a project. We need far fewer status reporting sessions, because everyone is being made aware of things as they happen. We develop a sense of “knowing” amongst the project team, and we can focus more of our time on getting the work done, and less time performing work about work.

So, give Social Project Management a try. Narrate your business processes. Become social every day, so that you can focus on the future, rather than the past.

As always, let us know what you think in the comments.

(This post was written by John Tripp, Social Project Management Evangelist at Trilog Group. Trilog Group is the maker of ProjExec, the social project management solution for the IBM Collaboration Platform environments. ProjExec is available for IBM Connections, IBM SmartCloud, IBM Lotus Quickr, and IBM Websphere Portal.)

Social Task Management and Social Project Management. Friends or Foes?

Social task management is getting a lot of press lately, and a number of vendors are adding the capability to their products. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about the difference between social task management and social project management. Hopefully this short post can help to clarify the differences.

In short, social task management provides users to define a “to do list on steroids”, share/assign the list with others, and some provide the ability to define an ad hoc “workflow” to the tasks. Jive SBS (Tasks) and IBM Connections (Activities) have permutations of this feature, and each have attempted to argue that the future of “project management” is in social task management. In contrast, social project management is the leveraging of the social network of an organization to deliver rigorous project more effectively and efficiently. (See here, and this series)

Here’s the first “problem”. Social task management is just that. Task management. Project management has never been about task management. Tasks are usually far more granular than the items that would appear as activities and deliverables on a work breakdown structure. Tasks are usually self-defined, and often responsive to very small changes in the environment. Tasks, due to their “ad-hoc”  nature do not lend themselves to planning and reporting.

The second “problem” with the embedding of “social” task management into every silo software solution is that the social component becomes restricted to those who have access to the software, and who participate in the work process into which it is embedded (see this post as to the importance of embedding social business processes into a larger social platform).

So, in reality social task management is usually just “process-related” task management, and has little (if any) resemblance to “social” business, and no resemblance to project management.

However, social project management and social task management serve complementary purposes, and can be used together when task management is enabled at the social platform level (rather than in siloed applications). Let’s look at how this might work. In a social project management application, the work is broken down into the smallest pieces that make sense when looking at the project. However, there are a myriad of “tasks” that are related to most of these project work breakdown items. Who hasn’t had a project manager assign a task, and then gone and created a “to do” list of tasks that are needed to complete the “project task”. Of course that “to do” list is almost never truly accomplished by your solitary work. Others are asked to assist, find information, look over what you’ve done, etc. In a sense, your “to do” list becomes a “micro-project” that you manage, embedded into a larger, enterprise project.

In this sense, the “activity” feature of IBM Connections is most like the idea of a “micro” project. It allows multiple people to collaborate on a task list, allows for information to be shared, and, let’s you collaborate ad hoc to get small sets of work done. The ProjExec social project management software from Trilog Group (http://www.triloggroup.com) allows users to directly create IBM Connections activities from their project-level tasks – enabling this concept of micro projects linked to enterprise-level projects. Together the two systems are very powerful. The project can be managed at the correct level, without requiring the smallest (and immaterial) tasks to be tracked in the plan, and each project user can create their own micro projects in Activities, collaborate on that work, and track the minutia there.

Social Project Management and Social Task Management are very different things. Use them in the right place for the right “tasks”.

This post was written by John Tripp, Social Project Management Evangelist at Trilog Group.

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

This is the fifth in a series of five posts

Let’s summarize what we’ve asked so far. In our first post, we asked, “How does your tool allow me to leverage the expertise of my entire organization?” , and noted that the first question begins to illuminate whether what is being sold is “social software” at all. Next we asked “Does your software support real project management?”, and discussed the lack of support for the project management role and practice within many online and social task management systems. We then turned to needs of the team, and asked “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 that post we argued that social project management systems need all of the online collaboration tools that the web can provide, but also need the ability to structure that collaboration around project task completion and status reporting – in order to minimize work about work. In the fourth post, we asked “Does your software support what management – outside the team – needs?”, and emphasized the need for the social network of the project – management included – to be given access to the project data in real time, and to participate in the project fully.

In this post we ask a question that is related to many of the previous posts, namely “Does your software support our enterprise social strategy?”. If you haven’t yet developed an enterprise social strategy, you most likely will in the next year or two. An enterprise social strategy is a key step in ensuring that investments in are leveraged and exploited as fully as possible. Remember that (as we’ve stated before) Metcalfe’s law posits that the value of a network increases non-linearly to the increase of the nodes (think people in our case) connected to the network. This holds for a “single-purpose” network. However, for a multi-purpose network, of which a social network is an instance, the potential value of the network is also multiplied by the number of “uses” for which the network is employed. In the context of the business value of enterprise social, these “uses” equate to business processes that are integrated with the social network.

For this reason every company who makes a material investment in social software needs to be sure that those investments are compatible. So, in a fashion,  Question 5 closes the loop with Question 1. In the first post we asked if the software was capable of leveraging connections to a greater social network. This post gets to the core idea of whether the software leverages connections with the “right” enterprise social network. As of this posting, we are aware of three project management systems that integrate with larger social networking systems. Goshido and Wrike integrate with the Jive SBS system, and ProjExec integrates with IBM Connections, IBM Lotus Quickr, and IBM SmartCloud. (We will not use this post to compare and contrast those systems directly. Also, if you know of more systems that integrate with enterprise social platforms, comment below, and we’ll add them to the list.) So, if you are an IBM Social Collaboration software shop, ProjExec gives you unique opportunities to leverage your enterprise social investment, and if you’re a Jive SBS customer, Goshido and Wrike do the same for you.

Hopefully, this series has given you something to think about when conceptualizing social project management, and social software in general. We hope that it is valuable to you. As always, we’d love your comments below.

This series of articles was written by John Tripp, Social Project Management Evangelist at Trilog Group (www.triloggroup.com)

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.

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.