In the process of building our online project management software I got to thinking about what online has to do with project management. The fact that LiquidPlanner is multi-user and web-based creates a whole new set of interactions that go way beyond what desktop project management software does and has to cope with. For starters it acknowledges that project management is a social activity.

SM PeterbiltIt comes as a surprise to some folks that I say project management is a social activity. They typically think of it as something done with software to generate schedules, or with change management tools, or with budgeting tools; they think of it as something technical. Tools like Microsoft Project and its online clones were born from standalone desktop software and so they’re firmly rooted in single-user behavior. In fact, they only place a thin veneer of multi-user functionality on top of the Gantt chart and guesstimate paradigm. In effect they deny that project management is a social activity.

But project management is about people making commitments to other people to work with still other people to get something done or built for perhaps some other people. Project management is about people. If that’s not social then I don’t know what is!

Still the tool set that most people work with does little to get folks to work together in a productive little mini-society. When you have one project manager controlling the scheduling tool and workers being held accountable to wild ass guesses that were made by someone who “used to do this job 15 years ago” and who “really knew how to get things done back when things were hard” you are not going to get one big happy family. The tools strongly affect the culture of the project team.

Being an online tool for project management unlocks and brings to the surface much more of the social interaction that you see inside of projects. There are people out there that just don’t “get” why you build something like this as a web-based application. They are absolutely correct in thinking that maybe you don’t need your single user text editor as a webapp. But then the thinking stops there.

It is like saying, “I don’t understand why Facebook is on the web, it should be stand alone desktop software so it performs better.”

Sure, the data transfer and the user interface would perform faster. But perform better? Perform whatbetter? Perform social activities better? Gimme a break!

These folks think that we’re just reinventing the MS Project wheel on the web.

But we’re not. We’re building social software to enable healthy projects.

That means LiquidPlanner needs to be on the web (not just passing data over the internet). LiquidPlanner needs zero installation barriers so anyone can use it to actively participate in project management. LiquidPlanner needs this for the same reason that any social application needs it; because it is the lowest barrier way to get good social interaction.

All of which comes from simply acknowledging that we’re building social project management.

Social Project Management was last modified: April 10th, 2008 by Bruce Henry