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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Social Project Management Bullshit

Level of buzz on using social media in project management and/or software development keeps on high levels for some time already. Social media this and social media that.

Social Media

Don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to say that social media is bad in general. Since I’m a blogger I would be a hypocrite, wouldn’t I? I see a value of social media while I’m trying to build community around this blog, meet new people and get engaged in discussions. That’s why I have Twitter account even though I’m not a big fan of the tool. I don’t treat Facebook account as a place to connect with people I know from professional life – it’s rather LinkedIn which works this way for me. I’m regular reader of a series of blogs and I’m pretty active on a couple of mailing lists, which is a kind of pre-social media.

Now, I know all these tools can work. They can when it comes to promote a blog or a book or to meet new people or even to deal with virtual teams when you happen to work in one. Up to this point they are useful.

Social Media in Project Management

But it doesn’t have to do much with project management. Twitter? Come on. Have you seen the way most people use it? Sharing private stories, which are sure interesting as long as they are from your close friends. Dropping links people find interesting, which is fine unless you realize there’s basically unlimited stream of interesting stories on the Web. Discussions which are followed only by a couple of people engaged in the discussion and for the whole rest that’s just noise.

Blogging? It hasn’t really made me a better professional. It works the other way around. My everyday work has made me a better blogger since it brings me new stories every week and a lot of real-life arguments in different discussions happening around.

Cost of Social Media

All these tools take time to use them. Time taken from the real work you used to do. So yes, you can twit about your cat and weather and share all interesting links on your high school and yes, throw in news or two about the project you currently work on. This is basically a waste of time. You can read all these fascinating stuff which appears in the incoming stream, which also steals much of your time. You can update your status on every social media site you use and start your day with Facebook etc.

The question is: how can you find any time to produce some code or manage some projects? And another one: how exactly does it help you in your work? I mean how many issues you have solved through Twitter or Yammer or something you couldn’t solve faster without using them? You know using the pretty old tool called “conversation” or the no-so-more-modern one called “phone call” or with at least with this Google thing.

Reason (Not) to Use Social Media

I know social media tools you can run a remote presentation or share some information within distributed team but be honest – how often do you really need them?

How often they solve virtual problem which would be non-existent a few years ago when there was no social project management at all?

How often social media tools are used just because they’re cool and trendy and it’s such a fun to use them at work and tell all people around how cool they are and how they help us in our work?

Social Media Bullshit

This is just social media bullshit. It’s trendy so people jump on the bandwagon not thinking much whether it’s useful and productive or quite the opposite. The same happened with agile by the way. When you see agile-by-the-name-only which looks like crap and works like crap and brings handful of arguments for agile-haters it’s most likely implemented by people who thought it was so jazzy to be agile they just couldn’t stand and had to start it.

This is exactly the same pattern you see among a specific type of developers who will dive deep into every new technology they read about just to try it, no matter if it does make any sense or not. When you recall people who wanted to do virtually everything with Ruby on Rails a couple of years ago you get my point.

If you evangelize to use Yammer in your collocated team of 7 you just do basically the same. If the only reason for changing your toolbox is that you want to use trendy social media tools it is plain stupid.

Of course there are situations where you need focus more on improving communication, e.g. virtual or distributed teams, but you also need to measure general impact not only on the team but on whole surroundings. Does switching from MS Word to Google Docs hurts other people outside of the team who happen not to have Google account? How about sharing documents with your customers? And besides that what’s so social about Google Docs?

Future of Social Media in Project Management

Social media are fun. Social media can be useful. Social media can help tremendously in specific situations for any profession, project management and software development included. However they’re very often misused just because they’re fun in the first place.

John Moore does some experiments with social tools, namely Twitter. I do mine. I believe Twitter is way more like blogs than like email. People start using it and then most of them abandon Twitter soon. There are loads of enthusiasts but it’s nowhere close to treat it like email which is already just another basic service we need, like phone calls. After all, usefulness of email is here because everyone uses it. You can’t say the same thing about any of social media yet. And it’s not coming anytime soon.

This is the main reason why social media will be basically used for, well, social reasons. These are social media after all. While projects are about people it isn’t the only thing you should care while running a project. Old-school methods, verbal communication being the most important one, work still exceptionally well in vast majority of cases. Is it really worth to change it?

Now, since I hoped to cause some stir I hope to see your comments too.

in: communication, project management

12 comments… add one

  • Glen B. Alleman October 30, 2009, 2:04 pm

    Pawel,

    Good stuff.
    Project management is about making results appear. These "deliverables" are what the client or customer bought.

    Social Media "may" be a useful communication tool. We live on secure IM on our aerospace and defense projects.

    But social media is NOT project management. Project Management is defining, executing, and measures physical percent complete (progress) to a deliverable outcome.

    You got it right "come on."

  • Todd Williams October 30, 2009, 10:14 pm

    Can Twitter directly support a project? I doubt it. However, to say it or blogging does not support project management, I think is a little too broad.

    Following tweets with content provides education that can make us better managers, PMs and individual contributors. Writing a good blog requires organization of thoughts to cover a wider range of issues than how you might think about an immediate problem on a project.

    Working a lot of remote projects with teams dispersed all over the world, I can see a benefit from creating a light community for the team, away from the pressure of the project. That would provide a direct benefit in a roundabout way.

  • Guy Wakely October 31, 2009, 3:10 am

    I don't completely agree.

    I think you focus too much on Twitter, there are a whole array of Social Media tools available to us, many of which are perfect for Project Management. Having said that, I can still see the value of Twitter within a Project environment, it gives those "people" you talk about, the platform to make their voice heard, if value is to come from their actions then they need to feel valued in the first place! This may vary according to the type of Project you are working on, but in general, to hear what often goes unsaid, is of huge value. I can see many other areas in which Twitter can be a positive thing within a Project environment, Management of Risk and Quality, Planning etc
    It also gives us access to a wealth of information and contacts that we weren't always able to access so readily in the past.

    All you really talk of is Social Networking, not Social Media Tools. The same defiance is exactly what Instant Messaging was met with years ago, and that has now almost taken over from email as a day to day tool for conversing with colleagues, subordinates etc.

    Nobody is saying Social Media is Project Management, not sure where anyone is getting that idea from?

    Just my view, of course….

    Previous Article http://tinyurl.com/mda74n

  • lech October 31, 2009, 3:29 am

    Those "social tools" can support communication, but if it's to be communication within a team, then this communication should be rather closed (Yammer could do, Twitter – uh-uh). But I'd never call it PM software per se. We can benefit from the social media concept itself though. I bet that's the idea on which some modern PM tools were built, eg. Basecamp. Communication.

    Still, this works for remote teams in particular. Normally, there's nothing better than direct contact, especially F2F. But I believe we are aligned here.

    Cheers, Mate! Thanks for the food for thought!

  • Josh October 31, 2009, 1:04 pm

    Thanks for this post Pawel, excellent for stimulating conversation!

    We did our presentation as a group and although the video you reference is just one segment, there was a later segment where Chalyce Nollsch took the "devil's advocate" stand on social media and talked about the misuse and abuse potential.

    Of course the segment Bas, Cornelius and I collaborated on was just about collaboration, so maybe that's "social media" and perhaps not.

    I'll echo Glen's comments that IM has been a great boon on my projects even when co-located, and IM plus other collaboration tools have been life savers when dealing with dispersed teams. They are communication tools though, not project management.

    The Twitter comment is a bit of a straw man. Hal Macomber discussed Yammer as a part of our presentation, and Bas even specifically states that Twitter is no good for use on projects in the intro to that video here.

    I highly recommend you check out Hal's presentation on Yammer. Hal has used this tool in his projects and talks about taking the friction out of communication. In Hal's context it's about communication when someone is out on a job site or located remotely.

    I love co-located teams. No cubes if possible, a shared space like a true team. Phone calls are also my second method next to the optimal, which is face-to-face. I wrote about that a bit here years ago if anyone is interested.

    Josh Nankivel
    pmStudent.com

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 1, 2009, 1:45 am

    Glen,

    I guess I should have mentioned instant messaging. That's the perfect example where new tools helps in our work. Although in this case I believe the term "a new tool" isn't very accurate. I was using ICQ more than 10 years ago (not in project management though), way earlier than whole social media thing appeared.

    Anyway, IM is a great example of a tool which when properly used and i proper situation can tremendously help. There are situations when IM trumps both phone call and email although it definitely doesn't substitute either of them in general.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 1, 2009, 1:57 am

    Todd,

    That's the argument I expected – there are loads of quality content going through blogs and Twitter. It doesn't however mean this content isn't available though other channels.

    Actually if you looked for specific PM content, let's say on risk management, I wouldn't advise you to go look through Twitter or blogosphere in general. I'd probably point one of sites which aggregates information from many sources: gantthead.com, pmtoolbox.com, theicpm.com or pmhut.com.

    On the other hand both blogs and Twitter can bring quality content on new subjects which you wouldn't consciously look for. However level of noise and average quality in both sources is significantly lower than in mentioned above.

    That's why telling Twitter or blogs are enabled us to learn new things is flawed. It was possible and it is possible in more efficient (not necessarily more convenient) ways.

    And yes, every tool which improves communication within distributed or virtual teams is welcomed. Twitter and blogs included. I've tried to stress this one in the post.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 1, 2009, 2:20 am

    Guy,

    I do focus on Twitter on purpose. This is the flagship of social media these days and probably the most overhyped tool at the same time.

    I don't deny you can find ways to make Twitter a useful tool in project management. However it's still marginal. And still I believe in vast majority of cases there are better ways to solve communication issues.

    If I'm going too general I'm ready to discuss every single social media tool in separate thread. E.g. I believe Yammer is a better version of Twitter from a perspective of using it in professional teams.

    The problem is with definition. What is social media tool and what is not? Instant messaging? It's around for too long to qualify if you ask me. Applications sharing content online like Google Docs or Liquid Planner? They're all about collaboration not about being social.

    We can go with Wikipedia definition of social media tools and I'd say the only high-value tool out there in terms of support for project management is wiki. The rest way less universal so you need to face specific situation to show high value of specific tool.

    One more thing – I've never put equals sign between project management and social media and have not implied anyone did it either. All I write about is hype on using social media virtually everywhere, project management and software development included. And yes, you'll find a lot of these if you look for them – several links are in the post.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 1, 2009, 2:25 am

    Lech,

    That's basically what my point was – there are situations when we need help with communication, mainly in distributed teams, and some of social media tools can help. They can be useful in taking the relationships within the team out of work too which I forgot about. Facebook can be surprisingly useful here.

    However most of the time we sit with our team within a range of shout. We don't need Yammers, blogs, FriendFeeds, Facebooks or something. What we need is to talk with each other more openly. Social media tools won't substitute that.

    As you says – it's all about communication.

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 1, 2009, 2:32 am

    Josh,

    I share your and Glen's opinion on IM. It's very useful. We could discuss whether it's social tool but that's not the point.

    I share your point that it becomes different situation when our teams go virtual and we're no longer in one place. Then anything which helps in communication and doesn't require big trade-offs is welcome. Twitter/Yammer included.

    However although I haven't seen any research on subject I believe we still work most of the time in old-school teams which are in the same place in the same time. Then most of advantages or "tools which substitutes real world conversations" are gone but their trade-offs, namely time consumption, are still there. Then the question appears: whether using them is still to improve organization or just trying to be cool and trendy.

  • Josh November 1, 2009, 12:53 pm

    Thanks for the response Pawel. My mantra is this: Use only what adds value, period.

  • Angela West May 28, 2013, 7:44 pm

    The socially project management also understands and values the importance of Social Media and virtual team management and understands the challenges and opportunities culturally and geographically diverse teams face.

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