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Project Management in the days of cloud computing and social networks

October 20, 2011

Do you remember the good old days where Microsoft Project and the phone where the major tools of project management? Not anymore, much more than the use of email to send project related documents around the use of social networking and cloud computing transforms the art of project management.

There has always been the distinction between a KPI driven or a team based project management approach. I have always wondered why you could not combine both but the answer probably is that excellence in numbers and excellence in people relationships probably is a very rare and very ambitious combination. Social networking behavior and the related tools can help to narrow the gap and heighten the quality of project management.

Communication is the key to any project management approach. Let’s look how communications in a new way have an impact on project management.

Instantaneous availability of information

In the old days you had a system of sending in information to a single instance and then a time delayed sharing of that information to others. So the individual or group sent updated information or a status to the project manager. The project manager consolidated the information and shared it on a broader base. This sharing usually happened at predefined intervals; let it be the daily call or weekly meeting.

The risk with this method of information sharing is that vital information is not available to all project members immediately. So it might cause delays due to dependencies. It meant additional work for the project manager to act as an information hub to say it positively.

Using the social networking approach transforms this. The groups create feeds or stream of information available to other groups and the project management immediately. This enables a closer collaboration between the different parts of a project without the need for the project manager to be the bottleneck. Also it enables updates through mobile devices with less effort. As the stream could be viewed on smartphones either directly through RSS or email notification it reduces the need to actively call out to someone. Especially in situations where a call might be a difficult decision, e.g. the project manager sitting in a customer meeting, the digital communication might prove to be cleverer.

One version of the truth

I have seen many projects struggling with bits of information (status updates, KPIs, specs, timetables, project plans, etc.) that were unsynchronized and created hiccups amongst different groups in a project. It was always a major challenge for project managers to have the latest versions of documents, tables and plans at all the right places. A project is a combination of many moving parts. And keeping these parts synchronized is the biggest challenge. Having one version of the truth at all times really helps it is like a master clock for all to use.

Using a central document repository is the solution. In the past central it has always been a challenge to create the places for sharing. Issues like investment cost to build a new instance, security concerns stopping it to be a platform for project collaboration internally and externally, license cost and depreciation not fitting to the lifetime of the project and many more have stopped the successful use of information sharing on a broad base. This is where cloud computing makes a difference. With the ability to buy instance for a limited amount of time on a per user base with zero ramp up time enable projects to create these single repositories from day one. On top of that these cloud instances do have integration into mobile phones usually integrated and as you use a separated space you can tightly manage security while integrating internal and external users alike. One feature to mention here which is very important in this kind of working is versioning. You should make sure that your platform for this document repository supports versioning and enables you to step back to older versions prior to specific changes. As we are all humans we can make mistakes and in case a mistake happens you need to be able to go back step by step and retrieve the error free status. Without versioning the project manager starts to create copies of older versions of the truth through manual labor. That should not happen as it eats up the benefits at least for the project manager.

There is another huge benefit from this approach to handle information. The customer reporting is improved. Rather than getting updates in regular intervals you do have your teams feeding into the status documents directly and you can keep an updated and current version online for the customer. This could prevent just some calls for the customer on status updates and again enables the project manager to focus on his/her major tasks.

The challenge

As a project manager you are expected to know your tools. And as the things above are major tools you better know them as well as you know Microsoft Project. But are you aware of the possibilities of the Microsoft Project Server? Do you know how to implement it? Can you setup the cloud environment mentioned above?

Some people might be able to do that but let’s face it; you are a project manager and not an IT architect, system administrator, infrastructure consultant, etc. Your key skill set is in other areas than installing servers and setting up environments. So you need to engage the customer and its IT department to create an environment for you.

Project managers acting as freelancers are often thrown into an environment that has been created by someone else or do find the investment plan lacking the positions to create these environments. They are literally forced to work with outdated tools and methods. Take some time to explain to your customer and the end customer the benefits of using current technologies and fight for an environment that works the way you want it.

The advice

It is so easy to lose the connection to people. Much like the distinction between Facebook friends and real friends you might be driven to manage through the tools only. Especially if you have always been an individual leaning more on the KPI side rather than the team based approach you are in risk of hiding, even if not knowingly, behind the tools.  Make an extra effort to go out and talk to people or if managing remote project teams, make an effort to call individuals. Make sure you built a personal connection so that they know they can rely on you and so that you can rely on them. In the very end it is humans involved and we need to ensure that we cater for that. They do have fears, dreams, need for interaction, need for praise and a need to be included. Make sure you cover that side of the story as well while optimizing the project efficiency through the ways mentioned above.


One Comment
  1. Sometimes face-to-face is the only way, but hopefully not too often if you’re working with virtualized teams.

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