Social Media in the Workplace

This item was filled under [ Working with people ]

Lotus Connections by IBM was just deployed where I work.  It is a social media tool for the workplace.  While it has collaboration features like Wikis, shared files and shared activities, it also has more social features like status updates, blogs, discussions, communities and news feeds like you would find on Facebook or something similar.  While blocking access to Facebook from your desk, they deploy something like this.  It is interesting.

I can see how a tool like this would allow for public, but casual, conversations with co-workers.  This would be like a hallway conversation or group discussion between cubicles I suppose, except on the record.  I am both thrilled and terrified.  Saying something within earshot of co-workers is not the same as publishing online.  You have to choose your words carefully and not just blurt out stuff.  It’s like learning how to use email all over again.

I can see how this could improve communication between people that don’t sit near each other.  By seeing posts and status updates, your co-workers can get to know you better.  People can imagine all sorts of things about someone they don’t know very well or have never seen.  Just posting a picture on your profile can help if your organization is large or spread out geographically.  Trust between people should improve because of this.  That will result in fewer squabbles about things that don’t matter and fewer misunderstandings.  Just learning the vocabulary and jargon of other people about work issues by seeing frequent updates from them will help prevent miscommunication.  Better communication will result in better efficiency because of less wasted effort and energy as well as happier people.

I am also frightened.  Like other media, this could — and probably will — be misused.  It is important to be professional when interacting with your co-workers.  This social media gives you the opportunity to look bad to a lot of people at the same time.  It is sort of like sending broadcast emails all the time.  I have used Facebook for years and have several hundred friends there.  I have seen people post stuff that they shouldn’t because they were mad and wanted to embarrass someone else in front of their friends.  I could see it happening in the workplace too.  I also wonder if information that isn’t ready for publication will be casually posted and get to the wrong people because people are not aware of the span of a social network.  I’m not talking about trade secrets or social security numbers, but rather projected finish dates on projects or the cost of a new piece of equipment.  Just as people had to learn what is appropriate to put in email, they will also have to learn about the new workplace social media.  Some will have to learn the hard way.

There is also the barrier to adoption.  People will hesitate to use it and it is not that easy to mandate.  They will hesitate not just because they don’t like to change, but because they don’t know how it is supposed to be used.  There is not a lot of precedent yet in the workplace world for this type of media.  Being a social tool, it is much less valuable until most people use it.  I predict it will take several years before it becomes fully adopted.  I don’t think it will take off like Facebook did.

Those that can express themselves well in writing will have an advantage over those that do not.  Everyone can participate since everyone can read, but some will have a louder voice on the social media and perhaps more influence in the organization as a result.  This may change the balance of power somewhat in some organizations.

If you were to write blog post for your co-workers to read, what would it be about?  What would be your status update today for them?


The Myths of Innovation

This item was filled under [ Uncategorized ]

There is a new book that came out in paperback today called The Myths of Innovation. It is about the process of innovation and how to overcome barriers to it. The author, Scott Berkun, is a creative person judging from his blog. You can preview it here. I read this and was intrigued enough that I will be getting a copy of it.

What does this have to do with project management? Project managers are often tasked with implementing innovative ideas. It also necessary to be innovative to solve problems encountered in projects. One idea discussed in this book is that innovation is a product of courage more than intelligence. In reflecting on this, I realize that I have been limiting myself by not taking more risks. There are a lot of other neat concepts like this in the book. Order yours by clicking the picture below:

The Myths of Innovation

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When Things do not go as Planned (in MS Project)

This item was filled under [ Project tools ]

“A plan never survives contact with the enemy.”  If you are using Microsoft Project and things do not go as planned, your project has “issues”.  :) You can track these issues as tasks in the project schedule.  This allows you to easily capture the impact on schedule and costs.  This is also useful to explain the reasons for variance from the plan in a way that can be quantified.  It can also be used during the lessons learned session after the project or phase is completed discuss with the team how they could have been avoided or predicted better.  This would then lead to better planning in the future.

An issue is a problem that prevents a task from being done.  It may be related to a risk that was previously identified or it may be completely unexpected.  These come up all the time in projects, especially IT projects.  They are typically tracked in an issues log.  In the issues log the problem is stated and an action item to resolve it is described along with a due date.  The task being affected should be indicated, but often isn’t.  Each action taken to resolve it is logged until the issue is resolved.  The task being affected can then be finished unless there is another issue that prevents it (an all too common occurrence).  This usually results in schedule slippage and perhaps additional cost, which is often not captured in the issues log.

How do you do this in MS Project?  When an issue is identified, a task would be added to the project schedule.  The task description would identify it as an issue with a brief title and perhaps an identifying number from the issue log.  This issue task would then be linked to the task that can be completed using a finish-to-start or a finish-to-finish dependency.  The start date would be the date it was identified.  When is the finish date?  It depends on whether the resolution is known at the time it is identified.  If it is, you can make the finish date be the date it will be resolved.   Here is an example using the Example MS Office Project 2007 template for Security Infrastructure Improvement Plan from Microsoft Office:

MS Project example of Issue as a task 1

The pricing information needed for task 29 is not available because the contact person is not available until next week.  For this example, we are assuming that the contact person is irreplaceable for that week.  You will notice that this change has caused both the issue and the task that it is linked to become critical (red) and will delay the entire project by 3 working days.

Sometimes the resolution is not known right away. There is always a next action however.  In this case create another task as a subtask of the issue.  The start date would be the same as the issue start date, and the finish date is the due date of this action item.  If this action does not resolve the issue, it is marked as complete and the next action is added as a subtask of the issue with a finish-to-start link to the previous action item.  This continues until the issue is resolved.  The advantage of this is that you can show progress toward resolution as completed action items (tasks in MS Project) and capture the impact of each action and the entire issue accurately.  Continuing with the previous example:

MS Project Issue Task exmaple 2

Here task 43, “Solution Implementation” cannot be completed because a software module was discovered on some of the client workstations that is incompatible with the solution being implemented.  Not all client workstations are affected however so the team decided to implement the solution on those while finding a solution for the ones affected.  We have put a finish-to-finish dependency between the issue and the task affected with a lag of 3 days because the team has determined that they can implement the solution on the affected machines about 3 days after a solution to the incompatibility is implemented.  The critical path is not affected yet.

After a week of analyzing the problem, the team has found that an upgrade of the client software to version 1.2.2 will solve the problem.  It will take a week to upgrade these so we add another subtask to the issue for this.

MS Project Issue Task example 3

Now the critical path has been affected and caused a delay of 2 more working days to the project schedule.  This is why the Gantt bar for this task is now red.  It also shows that the solution implementation is 50% complete in spite of the issue, because we continued working on the unaffected workstations.

If progress is reported weekly, this will show that analysis of the problem was completed and what the impact of the problem is to the plan overall.  You can also track labor and perhaps software license costs to the issue to know the cost impact of the problem.  If root cause analysis is done, this information can be used to determine what corrective action is worthwhile.

This is just one example of how tracking issues as tasks in MS Project can help you and those you report to make better decisions.


What Does it Take to be an IT Project Manager?

This item was filled under [ Project roles ]

There has been a lot of debate on about what an Information Technology (IT) Project Manager (PM) is supposed to do.   It is fascinating because there are so many different views on this.  It is up to almost 900 posts at the time of this writing!  There has been around 400 unique contributors to this discussion, so it has really brought everyone out of the woodwork.

What are the duties of an IT Project Manager?  What qualifications are needed?  Can a non-IT PM manage IT projects?  There is a wide variety of responses as you might expect.  Here is the spectrum:

  • IT PM must be the technical expert with some experience on projects
  • IT PM must have been a technical expert once and has been trained as a PM
  • IT PM must be familiar with the technical area, have technical experts on team, and experience as PM
  • IT PM must have some experience in IT,  have technical experts on the team, and experience as PM
  • IT PM should have some experience in IT,  have technical experts on the team, and experience as PM
  • IT PM must be experienced in PM  with technical lead on the team.  Exposure to IT would be helpful.
  • IT PM must be experienced in PM. No other qualifications needed.

I wrote about whether a project manager has to have technical skills a while back, not knowing how widespread this controversy was.  Which one is correct?  It depends on where you work.

Why such a diversity of opinion about this?  Hasn’t the Project Management Institute (PMI) laid to rest what a project manager is supposed to do?  The problem with any standard is that the broader it is, the less specific it becomes.  The PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) is very broad when it describes project management.  The position of project manager has come about in many organizations without PMI’s input.  Project management itself is thousands of years old(e.g. the Great Pyramids).  The rush to get Project Management Professional (PMP) certified seems to have happened mostly in the last decade.  The result is that project management has grown up differently in different industries and organizations.  PMI’s standards are compiled from common practices across these industries.

What do project managers do in your organization that is not described in the PMBOK?  Do they write code?  Do they troubleshoot technical issues?  Do they design a technical solution?  What about people issues?  Do they mediate conflicts between team members?  Do they investigate why a team member isn’t performing well?  Do they do any team building activities?  Please leave a comment here!


Work Breakdown Structures are Useful If Done Right

This item was filled under [ Project tools ]
A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a tool used to describe the scope of a project in terms of deliverables that are broken down into pieces that are small enough to plan and work easily.  These pieces are called work packages.

It is created at the beginning of the project right after the project charter is approved and the team is assembled.  The project team creates this in a team meeting.  It is important that the people that will be actually doing the work are present.

The top level of the chart is the product that the project is to produce.  The next level is a list of all the deliverables listed in the project charter.  These are all nouns, not verbs (e.g. “database” not “convert data”).  These are primary deliverables that will exist after the project is finished, not intermediate deliverables that may not.  These deliverables must describe 100% of the product.  If any of these deliverables are broken down, the components must describe 100% of the deliverable.

As a group activity, the Project Manager (PM) would put the product and deliverables on a whiteboard or other display that the project team could all see at once.  The PM would then start at the first deliverable and ask, “What does this consist of?”  The team’s responses are then recorded.  The PM would then go to the next deliverable and ask the same question.  Some of the deliverable do not need to be broken down because they are small enough.  What is small enough?  When the work required to produce the WBS element is well-understood by the person that will have to produce it and it is clear to everyone when it is complete.  This last part is especially important.  Knowing what “done” looks like is vital to the success of the project.  Glen B. Alleman writes more about this here and here on his blog Herding Cats.

It is important to note that the WBS is not a project schedule.  It does not contain actions or phases.  This is a common mistake that drastically reduces the value of the WBS.  The Project Management Institute’s (PMI) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 4th ed. (PMBOK) gives a bad example of a WBS in section 5.3, figure 5.9.  It is shown below:

Glen also writes about this in his blog.  The problem with this is the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is imposed on the WBS.  The SDLC is a scheduling artifact, not a scope artifact.  Here is an example of a simple WBS for a Blog:
1.  Blog

1.1 Posts

1.1.1 Post Attributes (Author, Date, Content)

1.1.2 Facebook Like button

1.1.3 Tweet This button

1.1.4 Multi-Share (Facebook, Digg, Email, etc.)

1.1.5 Post Edit

1.1.6 Post Publish


1.2.1 Comment Moderation feature

1.2.2 Tracebacks

1.2.3 Author attributes (name, website)

1.2.4 Comment attributes  (Date, Content)

1.2.5 Comment Edit

1.2.6 Comment Publish

1.3 Blogroll

1.4 Header

1.5 Archives

1.5.1 List by month and year

1.5.2 Post List

1.5.3 Select Post

1.6 Pages

1.6.1 About

1.6.2 Home

1.7 Search Blog

1.8 Follow Me button

1.9 Hosting Service

1.10 Domain Name

Once the WBS is developed it can be used to estimate and track costs, identify activities in the project schedule, identify risks, and control scope.

How do you use a WBS in your organization?