Selling Social Project Management
Social project management is a non-traditional approach to integrating both team management and project portfolio management. In this approach team members share in the stewardship of the plan and control is less centralized.
I wrote a previous post called The 5 Laws of Social Project Management and now I want to go deeper into selling the idea to your team.
I think social software concepts should be the new normal for high performing teams; it certainly is for our team and I can tell you that we get a lot of work done with a relatively small team and we have a lot of fun doing it.
You should expect to run into people who have had bad experiences with productivity tools in the past. With the right approach, I’ve seen even the most old school project curmudgeons flip to social project management.
First let’s start by mapping the territory. Here are some hazards I’ve found:
- Most people have been hung out to dry by half-baked process change ideas and software productivity tools. You can’t blame people for thinking, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Have patience, selling ideas take time and no one likes being sold, they like to be informed and shown some proof points.
- Most people say they like change, but they mean change built on their ideas not your ideas. Many people don’t trust the project manager who comes bearing gifts, if you catch my drift. If any change is going to happen, the team is going to have to have ownership in it.
- Most people have a great nose for what works and what doesn’t. Not everyone can lead change, but almost everyone can figure out what stinks. You can’t sugar coat nasty tools and processes and expect them to be appreciated. People know MS Project does not work for teams and they know Excel and online task managers fail to scale.
If you are serious about changing things, consider making an investment in learning about the needs of your organization. For the cost of twenty cups of coffee you can invite ten people with different roles within your organization, to tell you everything they can’t stand about getting projects planned and done. Make a list of all the bumps and try to spot the root causes.
If you’re not in a position to do that ground work, here are some of the pain points I uncovered in past organizations:
- Typical team-member perspective: Look, everything rolls downhill, so I need to protect my head. I’m not going to give up control to support a system that will increase pressure, expectations, and create a false narrative about the things I care about: quality, focus, and realistic expectations. Stupid processes that add overhead and suck the joy out of doing a good job? – No thanks. Management needs to make decisions, communicate, and get out of the way.
- Typical mid-level manager perspective: Nobody ever trained me on project management, I’ve been managing for 15 years and I’m expected to just know this stuff and I really don’t get it. All my plans slip and I feel like I’m managing politics and not projects. I know we could be better, but nothing really works better.
- Typical exec perspective: I’m too high level to deal with detailed plans, I need high-level summaries. I need to see the big picture. I need reports and if my team could just give me reports that I could trust then, maybe, we would not have such a mess.
Ouch! I’ve done this exercise with at least a hundred people and the themes are pretty consistent when you get folks to open up. People want better communication, better decision making, and to be able to trust everyone they are working with on every aspect of their projects from schedule dates to who owns what. There is little about this feedback that is not social in nature.
Selling the 1st Law: Collaboration and Projects are Inseparable
Project plans are the tangible representation of a complex web of social commitments. Ninety percent of any plan is a social contract that captures agreements on what needs to be done and what is the cost. The other 10% is the automated computer processing around calculation and number crunching (scheduling, notification, alerts, reports, etc.).
The business case is to show how much information the organization is really juggling and how big projects really are when you take them down to chunks of work that are the size of a day or less of effort. That’s the level where most of the micro decisions in the organization are being made. If your organization is planning work in chunks of a week or two, you’re likely missing all kinds of opportunities to improve collaboration and the optics into the business. Here is a helpful analogy – ever watch a blue ray version of a movie and say “Wow, I was missing a lot of great detail”. Yeah, online planning and collaboration is like that.
Selling the 2nd Law: Every participant must benefit from participating
Come on, did you hire smart people or what? The days of mushroom management are over; information is everywhere and people need it to do a great job. The business case is this; when you try to keep project information opaque, management is only keeping their selves in the dark. Without an official open forum for the team, management is denying their opportunity to participate in the real dialog. The front line team owns the ground truth and they will share generously if there is a trusted way that is fast and efficient. That is why in LP we see 10x the number of comments than tasks. Its way more efficient to use LP comments than email so that’s the key win for team members. The win for management is that they are no longer left on the outside looking in.
Selling the 3rd Law: Transparency must be maximized
Collaboration and commenting draw people in like bees to honey. It’s natural and sweet. But trust goes deeper than that. In my research the word “accountability” comes up a lot. One of the best ways to get accountability is to treat people like adults and not micro-manage them. Getting the most out of social project management means giving people as much editing, viewing, and commenting rights as possible and providing good notification and auditing tools to keep the game honest. New customers will often ask me “do all the editing capabilities for team members cause problems with project control?” I chuckle and point out that a lot of editing is a very good sign and they should hope for that outcome. People are smart and learn to use PM tools quickly and effectively. We’ve had thousands of teams run projects with LP and we have never heard of even one case where somebody caused mischief in a project plan; people have better things to do, like actual project work. Teams want to get things done and snag project wins, that’s pretty universal. Give them good sharing tools and that’s what they’ll do.
Selling the 4th Law: Autonomy must be maximized
Could you sense me building up to this point? Everyone prefers autonomy within the scope of their responsibilities, don’t you? Picking up new skills and training is easy; the trick is developing passion, excitement, and drive in your people. Getting more engagement from your team and organizing their efforts into a coherent beam like a laser is the secret to unlocking productivity gains. To pull it off you will have to have a system that coordinates all the moving parts and keeps trust at a level high. The business case is that a detailed and transparent plan of record with precise priorities and clear ownership will allow people to work more effectively and independently. This will translate into a sense of autonomy and more people caring about the results – everyone wins.
Selling the 5th Law: Estimating and scheduling must be realistic
While much of the collaboration on projects is around requirements and bits of clarification, two things impact trust more than anything else: estimating and scheduling. Estimating is important because it’s a prediction and it’s nearly impossible to not treat a prediction as a promise. More importantly, prediction should deal with uncertainty because uncertainty is certainly real. This is why estimating can be stressful; people just don’t like uncertainty. Managers don’t like uncertainty because they are the ones who have to consider all the variables and negotiate deadlines. Tools have traditionally not offered any help in dealing with the unknowns of project management and this is why so many people are wary of any scheduling process; but it does not have to be that way.
To get people to start trusting schedules, estimation is going to have to become honest. Everyone gets that garbage in means garbage out; it’s no different with scheduling. Scheduling has to be participatory and respect the realities of planning rules such as uncertainty compounding, availability limits, priorities, and continuous tracking updates. Only when this happens will the dates from the scheduling engines calculation become useful instead of wishful thinking. The business case for the organization is that an honest schedule accurately reflects the ground truth by building a bottom up schedule based on high quality estimates and explicit priorities. People may not like what an honest schedule says, but it will create the opportunity to get everyone focused on what it takes to improve it.
To close, next gen tools and the way people use the tools are very different from classic project management. If you want dramatically different results, you need to pitch a different approach.