Project Management and Social Networking

Dr. Karen McGraw, founder and CEO of Cognitive Technologies, recently published a very thoughtful article for project managers in PM World called, “The Social Project Team: Using Social Collaboration & Networking to Enhance Project Success”. In the article, she addressed:

  • Facilitating informal learning through collaboration and social networking. Did you know that 75 percent of corporate learning and training is informal?
  • Making everyone on the team a thought leader by taking advantage of simple, open, and honest collaborative conversations.
  • Improving information access with tools that support of group working environment such as Microsoft SharePoint.

The social networking tickler in her article got me to thinking about how social media services can help build a sense of community and the willingness to collaborate that includes and extends beyond a single project. The operative word here is community. A community is more than a group of people that jointly inhabit a locale or serve a project.

Communities share experiences, know other community members, and work cooperatively to achieve objectives. To stretch a metaphor, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to execute a project and business successfully. Judicious use of social networking can further the goal of building a project community.

Why Facebook
Actually, I am not recommending Facebook, per se.  It is just one of many social networking sites. However, Facebook is the most popular with over 300M users and many people are already familiar with the setup, on-line applications, and site etiquette.

The characteristics of Facebook that deserve consideration in building a project community include the requirement to limit updates to 420 characters—this is not the place for long, time-consuming diatribes. It is easy to share links, photos, screen shots and movies. Moreover, Facebook’s connectivity supports mobile phones, laptops, and desk computers.

Your project can be a group on Facebook. A group is by-invitation-only. Therefore, you can limit access to those stakeholders that need and want to share updates and information. Your group may include people outside your direct purview such as users, consultants, suppliers, and other departments within the organization. All members of a group have the ability to contribute content to the Group’s wall.

Facebook’s visual organization has lots of white space, color cues, and pictures that support rapid scanning of who, what, and why. Group members can quickly check project updates, event information, questions, and comments.

Potential Benefits of a Social Media Project Group

  • Share information outside the established organization hierarchy
  • Give employees a chance to have input on something they might otherwise not have. For example, “Does anyone have an idea for a facility to celebrate the delivery of Phase I?”
  • Provide an opportunity to get to know project members as people—here is a chance to share accomplishments or interests not directly related to project tasks. For example:
    • XYZ Corporation CEO was nominated for a Crunchie
    • Karen’s book made Amazon’s top 25 books on project management
    • Son Johnny’s varsity soccer team won the state title
    • Need help with school science project on hydroponics
  • Take advantage of the informal style to share bits of information that may not make it into formal project or organization communiqués.
  • Improve morale and positively influence retention through the sense of community that results from sharing on a social media site.

Getting Started
Before rushing to implement social media in support of your organizational projects, first take a deep breath and focus a couple of guidelines suggested by William Azaroff in a classic blog article “Key Success Factors for Social Media”:

  • Identify your goals and critical success metrics. What are you really trying to achieve? Can you measure it? How when you know you have succeeded?
  • Create a set of community guidelines. This includes the “do’s and don’ts for participating. Here are a few of mine:
    • Never, ever, post anything on a social media site that you would not say directly to anyone who might read it or be willing to be questioned about on 60 Minutes.
    • Do not use a social media site as a replacement for formal project or organization communication.
    • Be careful about sharing any information that might be proprietary to the organization. Even though the Group has limited access, accidents happen.
    • Do separate fact from opinion.
    • Always follow basic rules of civility.
  • Appoint a moderator and ensure you have good moderation capabilities.  Don’t just set it up and “leave it.” Moderators encourage communication among members, post interesting discussion questions, present a problem that needs to be solved quickly, and help keep the postings calm (no virtual “yelling,” please).

I know that some organizations discourage, limit or even completely ban visiting social media sites during official work hours—abuse can happen. However, I think there is a place for social networking to help create group cohesiveness and a sense community. As Bob Larrivee notes in his LinkedIn blog, “effective use of collaboration [and social media] tools requires a cultural mindset and managerial support that fosters one to be open and share information and knowledge.”  This means that as organizations we must first take the time to understand what project collaboration and community mean to us in terms of how our projects and organizations plan to use it.

Please share your thoughts and experience in using social networks on your projects via comments.

Project Team Member Development

Happy New Year!  I have taken some time off during the transition to 2010 and hope you have been able to take some time with your family and friends also.  I want to continue my discussion on careers and share the 3rd in the series on Career development.

One of the most rewarding aspects of a project manager’s job can be team member development. Helping and watching individuals grow and mature is sometimes our greatest accomplishment.  It can also be trivial and useless if not taken seriously. Which side of the coin you reside on depends on how you do it and the attitude you bring to the process. In my experience, the best PM’s are committed to developing team members because it improves the individual, the team, and the organization.

What is Team Member Development?
Team member development has two parts. The first is helping an individual become a more effective contributor to a project. The second is helping the individual achieve personal career goals while furthering organizational goals.

New project managers often get their first exposure to thinking about team member’s career development when they are involved in personnel reviews – you know that activity that is part of human resource management. The evaluation process includes rating the employee’s skills and performance against an idealized standard. Any skill or behavior considered less than acceptable or only “good” points to areas for team member development.

Helping an employee achieve longer-term goals requires understanding what the employee desires as well as seeing how his potential can be shaped into skills required by the organization. The formal performance review may serve as a catalyst for a project manager to think about the career development of team members. However, it should not be the only time. Team member development must be an ongoing process that effects assignments, training, and feedback.

For example, let us say that there is a project task to evaluate new software testing tools. It may be tempting to give that assignment to the lead testing engineer or a senior developer who the PM knows can do the task quickly and correctly. A no-brainer, huh?

Alternatively, consider the task assignment from the perspective of team member development. In that case, a PM may assign the task to a less senior team member who could achieve the same useful result, perhaps a bit more slowly, while learning skills that would be useful to him and the organization in the future. Make no mistake, in this scenario the PM takes a risk on an untried performer and may need to provide more support or coaching to get the job done than going with a senior staff member. However, that task will still be done and the PM may find that the developing employee took the software evaluation more seriously and tried harder because she viewed the assignment as an opportunity, not just another task.

Why is Team Member Development a PM Task?
Project managers are well positioned to foster the development of team members. They know individual capabilities, work attitudes, and skill gaps through frequent direct contact and observation. They know the skills needed because of their project planning responsibility. In addition, project managers have a broader view than team members of corporate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats possibly because of the vision and planning meetings they are required to attend. Here are a few ways a PM can positively influence team member development:

  1. Make assignments designed to build skills through experience and opportunities to work closely with seasoned professionals.
  2. Ensure that in house or external training is consistent with career goals as well as project requirements
  3. Use one-on-one feedback meetings to help employees make an honest assessment of their skills and improve understanding of the skills needed in current and potential positions
  4. Include career planning in performance reviews and create a career development plan with each individual
  5. Offer development opportunities such as rotating work assignments, cross training, or special projects that have wide corporate interest
  6. Make sure the employee knows about company training and educational assistance programs.
  7. Provide suggestions on courses or seminars that you found useful
  8. Work cooperatively with other project and program managers to recommend individuals for assignments that offer advancement opportunities or learning experience even if that means you will have to fill the project gap

Project managers who do team member development successfully (and enjoy it) are often those who were coached and mentored in their own career by senior managers with a vision of what their future could be. They appreciate the guidance, role modeling, and support they received in their career development and want to be part of helping others achieve.

Hope this gives you some good tips on the role of assisting in team member development.


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