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.

  • Maban Desh

    Well said. You exactly pointed at the realities.

    I suggest you take a look at It does comprehensive project management, time sheets, collaboration (documents, calendar, discussion forums) and workflow. Their workflow component is pretty interesting. it’s an advanced application to track things like issues, bugs, risks, etc. Give it a go!

  • Gantt Charts can be light, elegant and real. If they reflect emergent nature of your work and have been bottom up planned. You are welcome to try it at Let me know your opinion.

  • David

    I think that we are witnessing evolution of project management brought by Web 2.0 technologies. I’m sure that social project management concept has a potential. In fact, it’s getting more supporters. I’ve found a great blog recently, thanks to Raven Young’s post!17376F4C11A91E0E!1046 . The blog is called Project Management 2.0 and makes quite an interesting reading

  • Excellent read. Thats what we were focusing on and built up DeskAway. Its got all those simple features of a basic PM tool (like the ones you mentioned above) plus powerful reporting at a very affordable price to small businesses.

    Enterprise level software was boring and no fun. These new wave of tools brings a consumer-like experience to the small business/enterprise.

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  • The promise of social project management comes from acknowledging that projects (particularly large projects) are a social activity. People doing work with people, for other people, with commitments to yet other people. The more people (i.e. larger projects), the more interpersonal interactions, the more social effects inside of the project.

    Going and browsing Leisa’s original slides is worthwhile. The focus on Gantt Charts as an example of something that just doesn’t work is interesting. It turns out that there is a mathematical reason that Gantt Charts the way they are done today just don’t work.

    This comment is already rather long so I’ve blogged a detailed response on Social Project Management in Large Projects.

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  • Great Post. Although I cringe every time someone says that Gantt charts do not work. As a project manager I find that gantt charts are very important, even if you are using methods other than waterfall. Most of my projects are planned using the Agile Project Management method, and I still use Gantt Charts.

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  • Catherine C

    You definitely hit the the nail on the head with this great piece that highlights the importance of collaboration and emerging social technology. One point to add: Next-generation social software should be capable of seamlessly integrating several business processes into one centralized product environment to enable fluid collaboration across project teams and the organization.

    Great insights,