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Project Management 2.0: We’ve seen this shift before


Cross posted from Cloud Ave.

A brief history of typists

Back before the 1980s there used to be these people called “typists” and they often worked in a “typing pool”. What did they do? Well, when someone had a document that they needed typed they would give the handwritten draft to the typist and she would type it up.

So, where did these typists and typing pools go?

In the early 1980s WordPerfect and WordStar became available for PCs and with the rise of PCs in the 80s suddenly anyone could enter, edit, and format text. Maybe not as quickly as a good typist, but you did have control over the ultimate output. You got exactly what you wanted. Everyone was now their own typist.

Typists and their pools disappeared.

A brief history of calculators

There also used to be these folks called (I kid you not) calculators. What did they do? Well, when someone had a bunch of numbers and formulae that they wanted calculated they’d hand them over to the calculators and they’d “run the numbers”. The calculations were done one at a time, often on hand calculators, and written down on paper “spreadsheets”.

So, where did these calculators go?

In the early 1980s VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 became available for PCs and with the rise of PCs in the 80s suddenly anyone could enter, edit, and recalculate spreadsheets. Unlike typing, this was faster than a good calculator, and you had the control to do “what-if analysis” as well. Everyone was now their own calculator.

Calculators and their paper spreadsheets disappeared.

Are you detecting a pattern here?

What about Project Management?

Obviously the same thing happened with work breakdown structures, Gantt charts, scheduling and all the other project management stuff. But somehow the project manager didn’t go away. Why? And what’s so “2.0” about this?

Project managers didn’t go away because project management is different in a fundamental way from word processing and spreadsheets. The activity of project management is inherently social whereas both typing and calculating can be done by a single person. Project management 1.0 was about using software to calculate a schedule. But a project is much more than a WBS and a schedule, and that “much more” is what project management 2.0 is all about.

It is not about turning everyone into a project manager in the way word processors turned everyone into a typist. It is about taking the functions of communication, organization, estimation, scheduling, and status updating and facilitating them via the software. It is a task that is impossible to do using stand alone software but for which web based SaaS products are the bomb!

This shift to a more bottoms up collaborative method of project management is empowering project managers rather than obsoleting them. With the new breed of collaborative software the project manager is freed from the tyranny of the status update to do other critical tasks; tasks like maintaining executive sponsorship, clearing roadblocks for the project team, maybe even contributing more to the project execution itself.

More than just empowering project managers, the project management 2.0 tools build complete pictures of what is actually going on inside your projects in real time. In a very real sense you are getting the most up-to-date information about your project. The fact that all this information is distributed in real time to your entire project team empowers the team to respond very quickly to changes in the project status or plan.

Beyond status and schedule, collaboration between stake holders, the project manager and project teams is enhanced by the integration of document attachment, commenting, and wiki-like authoring in some of these tools. Project team members are hungry for a single source of truth about the project status and all of the associated collateral.  Ideally this integration should extend down to the individual task level.

As more of this free form collaboration is encouraged in companies, the tools to facilitate and organize it into an easily understood whole will become more important. With the help of the new generation of tools healthy communication and flexibility can improve your project performance.

Author’s Note:

This post was originally written for Cloud Ave, a great source for commentary and analysis on all things relating to Cloud computing and SaaS.  It was written at the behest of Zoli Erdos, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for his excellent advice and feedback and for moderating two excellent panels of which I was honored to be a part.  Thanks Zoli!


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