Social Project Management: Everything is small again

Leisa Reichelt led a session at Enterprise 2.0 on how the bottom up organization and team building approach of social software might be applied to project management in the enterprise.

Project management software in the company is one of those love/hate things. You can’t work without it. You hate to live with it. The effort required to set up a project and then the tyranny of following the plan are the bane of many people’s existence.

Reichelt points to the ease of connectedness made possible by social media applications such as Facebook and LastFM. Social media has also eased access to information and sharing of that information. There is no requirement for technical knowledge. Virtually no cost.

Reichelt suggests that the new collaboration and sharing capabilities of social software have the potential to replace functions currently embedded exclusively in enterprise project management solutions. Look at 37 Signals’ Getting Real for an early example of the potential for this. A different methodology (build the core quickly, go to market, then build in the rest.) Yes, 37signals is dealing with social software, not enterprise software. But their success does point to the fact that approaches other than the orthodox enterprise project management approach are possible.

What are the hallmarks of the social project management (2.0) approach?

  • Small teams: a developer, a designer and a sweeper.
  • Made up of smart, motivated people.
  • Limited planning. Non-essential documentation and highly detailed specification are dispensed with. Sketching and agreement on fundamentals are the focus.
  • Minimal scope: Less is more. Build less.
  • Multi-skilled teams: Look for people with multi-disciplinary skills.
  • Fast pace: Speed is essential to produce results within a limited budget.
  • Rapid release: Take it out to the community quickly and ask them to participate in alpha and beta testing.
  • Feedback: End user feedback is sought to refine the product.
  • Responsiveness: Speed and close contact with users leads to quick reaction to feedback.
  • Iteration: Constant change.

This approach is similar to the Agile Software Development approach.

Project 1.0 focused on large projects with large budgets and enormous teams.

  • Top down: an extensive hierarchy with information trickling down. But getting the information back up is difficult.
  • Gantt Charts: The bigger, the uglier, the better. Reichelt notes that these are enormously optimistic. How often do they have any resemblance to reality?
  • Many stakeholders: The project manager seeks out all of the stakeholders and the stakeholders put in as many requests as they possibly can. One problem of project management is that too often it seeks to satisfy stakeholders. This is different from satisfying end users.
  • Complex dependencies: Escalating demands leads to complexities which leads to delays.
  • Risk registers: !
  • Horizon & beyond timelines: Planning a project now that will be useful and realistic in 18 months. How often does this really work?
  • Expected failure: This kills team morale. But is it all too common.

Do these projects fail? Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP, Accenture, IBM Global Services. How many of their projects are delivered on time, on budget and to the original specs? Reichelt feels that the large 1.0 “large scale,” top down projects fail spectacularly – all the time.

But, of course, they don’t “officially” fail, because the Gantt Chart has been updated along the way.

Traditional project managment doesn’t match the way we really work. It forecasts a “waterfall” linear progression from data collection through analysis, through plan formulation to implementation. In reality, we work in a much more iterative way, revisiting earlier phases as we progress through experience.

But how does this apply to large scale projects? You can’t build the Space Shuttle using the “Getting Real” stripped down methodology.

Reichelt points to a new generation of project tools such as Basecamp and GoPlan.

But does it scale? Reichelt’s answer is, “Yes, to a point.” She believes that what we should be looking to develop is a composite of the corporate with the virtues of the new more agile, leaner social project management approach.

Reichelt suggested that project managers today can apply some of the practices of social project software management today – listening to teams, breaking projects down into smaller initiatives.

Reichelt acknowledged that her perspective on social project management is rose-coloured. It made a lot of sense to me, but as I looked around the room, I saw a fair amount of skepticism on the part of the enterprise project managers. But I hope that Leisa doesn’t give up. Her vision has potential. And if it is not yet fully attainable, that just creates opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs.