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Virtual and Project Management Expert: Writer, Speaker, Educator. Author of Managing Without Walls and Fundamentals of Technology Management. President of Garton Consulting Group.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Use of Social Media in Project Management

 The following article is an excerpt from my newly released book, Fundamentals of Technology Project Management, 2nd Edition. The book is available from and other online bookstores.

Technology has been advancing at a rapid pace for many years. What makes the last few years distinctive is the cultural change that has emerged as a result of social media. These cultural changes have affected our personal and our professional lives. As with any major change in the way we live, work, and communicate, these changes have created some excitement and some angst. Some people have embraced social media, and others feel nervous or threatened by yet another new technology and terminology to learn. You may have some team members pushing to adopt social media into the workplace and others expressing concern about its use.

How do you feel? Do you feel that social media can help your projects or that it introduces new distractions and problems that you’d rather not have to deal with? No matter what your opinion, social media is a reality, and its growth is destined to continue. The integration and adoption of social media into our personal and business lives is increasing, and there is no indication that it is going to stop anytime soon. If you are not currently involved with social media, either personally or professionally, and you have no plans to do so, you may find that you quickly get left behind.

As with most things, there are pros and cons to social media. Those pros and cons will be different for each person. What some see as a positive others may see as a negative. From a project management perspective, I believe there are more pros than cons. If you can leverage the positives and minimize the negatives, your projects and teams could benefit greatly from integrating some elements of social media into your daily work lives.

Privacy and Security
Privacy and security are valid concerns and must be taken into account when adopting social media into the workplace. You need processes and guidelines in place to ensure that social media is used responsibly and that care is taken when sharing information inside and outside of your team.

We hear a lot about the dangers of social media, but it is important to remember that risk is a normal part of life. There are dangers involved in many of our daily activities, including driving, walking, running, bicycling, and even eating! We take precautions to protect ourselves during these activities. For example, when bike riding, we can wear bike helmets and brightly colored clothes, install bicycle lights and mirrors, avoid busy roads, use bike lanes, and ride in well-lighted areas. We do the same thing when we perform other activities. We generally conduct them in a safe manner. We follow standard rules, processes, and guidelines that help to minimize risk. We become so familiar with the way we do things that we consider it to be common sense that we do so in a way that does not endanger us. They are just the things we do, consciously or unconsciously, to minimize personal risk on a daily basis. The same common sense should be applied to online activities to reduce the risk of problems.

To Share or Not to Share?
That is the question! Even if you do not currently incorporate social media into your daily project work, your team members may be sharing information through personal social networking that could harm them, or your organization, later. It is important for everyone on your team to understand who can see information they share via social networking and why they need to think before they post. If you don’t understand how to adjust the security and privacy settings on the social networking sites you use, you may be inadvertently sharing too much information, too. It will never be possible to keep everything you post private. If you are having a private conversation with a friend while sitting together in a restaurant, your conversation is not completely private either. If you want to keep what you say private, you need to make sure you share it with just one person where nobody else can see or hear you. The same is true for social networking websites.

Everyone on your team should understand that information shared via social networking may not be limited to personal contacts and may be visible to people outside their direct networks. Even if you set your privacy options to limit who can see information that you post, your contacts can “share” with their networks what you shared with them. This means that anything you post could be shared and re-shared until thousands of people have seen it. Social networking is not designed to keep what you write private. It is designed to share your thoughts with the world. It is very difficult to restrict visibility of your postings to a limited group of people. Even when you think you have done so, the service you use to share your postings may make changes to its privacy settings at any time, making your semi-private messages available to a much wider audience.

It is highly recommended that you set up different social media accounts for professional and personal use. This makes it much easier to keep personal and business communications separate just as you do in the normal course of your life. When you spend time with your family and friends, you are not discussing the same things or choosing your words as carefully as you would if you were out to dinner with your boss and a few of your major clients. When you are enjoying time with your personal friends, your business associates are not listening and watching everything you say and do. You can relax, be yourself, and not be overly concerned with what you say or how you say it. A lot of the things that you talk about and share with your personal friends may not be appropriate to discuss in a professional environment. When using social networking sites, it’s very easy to forget how public it is and to make comments or jokes that may be viewed as inappropriate in a professional environment.

When you are communicating via social networks, if you do not separate your personal and professional lives, it is like your business associates are watching and listening to everything you say and do. You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to never say or share the wrong thing. You also have to make sure that none of your personal friends say the wrong thing because your business contacts will also be able to see everything that your friends communicate to you.

You may be aware that sharing too much information on sites like Facebook can be dangerous. Don’t assume that your team members are also aware of those dangers. Make sure your team members understand that they should view the security and privacy settings for their accounts, and make sure they understand who can see what they post. Even if they use separate personal and business accounts, there are some things that should never be discussed on social networking sites. For example:
  • Confidential information or complaints about:       
    • Employers 
    • Co-workers 
    • Business associates 
    • Clients 
    • Vendors
  • Confidential information about assigned projects or tasks
Not only could posting such information be grounds for dismissal, in some cases it might be grounds for a criminal prosecution. If you have angry thoughts and you need to vent, speak privately to a friend rather than posting on a social networking site!

Social media has changed the world and our perceptions of the world in a way not seen since the introduction of the World Wide Web back in the mid-1990s. It has changed the way we communicate both personally and professionally. It has changed the way we do business and the way we interact with our friends, co-workers, employees, employers, and customers. Social media is not a technology; it is culture, a culture created, supported and enabled by various technologies and applications that are constantly growing and changing. The true innovation is the cultural change that social media has bought about. People think, act, and communicate in a completely different way. Social media is the way of the future. It will keep maturing, growing, and changing, but it is here to stay. Get onboard or be left behind!
This is an excerpt from, Fundamentals of Technology Project Management, 2nd Edition. More thorough and detailed information about the use of social media in the workplace is included in chapter 15 of the book. 

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Endurance Events Can Teach You about Project Management

Just over a week ago I ran my first marathon. It was an unseasonably hot and humid day and a very challenging course – especially for a first time marathoner like me. It is uncertain if  delirium drove me to crazy thoughts, or if the extreme effort gave me incredible clarity of mind such that I was temporarily transformed into a great philosopher contemplating the similarities between endurance events and project management. Either way, I think I had some pretty good ideas while I was out there so, crazy or not, I am going to share them with the world!

My first musings on management started at about mile 9. I had just finished about 3 miles of uphill climb, the last mile of which was very steep and purported to be the toughest part of the course. It was very tough but it was also one of the most enjoyable parts of the run for me. I think it was the feeling of putting in so much effort, knowing that I had to keep going no matter how tough the challenge, and having faith that all the planning and training would pay off – I was ready for this! Once I crested the hill, I still had a lot of hard work to do but I knew that after that hill, I could handle almost anything. At the top of the hill, I started to think about how much endurance you need to get through a marathon and how it is similar to getting through a tough project. Management endurance is not physical, of course, it is mental. However, in my opinion, only about half of the endurance needed for a marathon is physical – the other half is mental endurance. This is what gives you the will to keep going when your body wants to give up. It keeps you smiling and feeling energized when your body is not feeling quite so happy with you and your energy levels feel depleted. It is this same mental endurance that gets project managers through tough projects and helps them keep themselves and their teams motivated and focused on the end result even when the going gets tough.

Training for a marathon takes a consistent effort. You start with a crazy idea that you want to run a marathon. That evolves into a plan which maps out what you need to do and when. Just as with a project, you have a clearly defined start and finish date. You identify milestones along the way. These can be shorter distance races, speed checkpoints, or they can be psychologically or physically challenging distances, like your first 20+ miler. Your marathon plan will require a budget that includes the expenses to train and participate in the race or races you have chosen. In addition to your budget you will have a procurement plan for the things you need to purchase. These include things like race registration, travel and accommodation, and purchasing the items you need for training and race day. These items will include running shoes, clothing, and nutritional items. These purchases are not haphazard – they need to be budgeted for and purchased at the right time. Part of the plan is to test a few things to see what works best. This is like race prototyping. You may test which shoes work best and you have to make sure you have enough pairs of shoes so you are not left with a worn out pair by race day. You must not wear brand new shoes on race day so you have to work backwards from your finish date to make sure you have time to do some long miles in the shoes you will race in. You test nutrition products and different clothing items. You may also test race strategies or work on running form.

The effort to complete a marathon does not start when you cross the start line and finish when you cross the finish line. It starts the day you start thinking about running a race and deciding what race you want to train for. It continues through making the final decision, creating your training program (schedule) and continues through every single run, every success, every setback and every adjustment to the plan. Sometimes things happen that require a change to a project. It could be created by business needs, technical issues or staffing problems. Your project’s scope may change, you may need to remove functionality or features or you may need to push out the release date. The same things can happen with marathon training. The first time I was training for a marathon I got pneumonia about half way through the program which put me out of action for 10 weeks. I had to decrease the scope of my training plan and switch to the half marathon race instead as I didn’t have enough time to catch up on missed training before the event. I then had to create a new plan to train for another full marathon. I have worked on technical projects that experienced similar problems and were resolved in a similar way. We decreased the scope of the current project, released the project in phases, or pushed out the end date.

By the time I reached mile 16 of my marathon, just about every part of my body was hurting. With 10 more miles to go I couldn’t risk letting myself think about how much pain my leg muscles were experiencing so there was nothing for it but to keep philosophizing about how what I was doing was like managing a project. While mile 16 and beyond were certainly more painful than most of the projects I have managed, I can recall one or two projects with some rather excruciating moments!

So I had philosophized my way through concept, project proposal, budgeting, scheduling and some of the implementation in my parallel project management/marathon running imaginary world. What was I missing? Oh yes, teamwork, communication, integration, deployment and post-deployment. By now I was convinced that I was definitely onto something and I had 10 more miles to get it all figured out in my head. I started with teamwork. Teamwork comes from training with others. Getting up at 5am on Saturday mornings and doing those long miles together. Sometimes you run together and sometimes you don’t but you always have breakfast together afterwards so you can talk about your run. If it is a challenging day – a bad run day – words of encouragement and camaraderie can go a long way to making you feel much better.

What about communication? This is all the communication you do with running partners or running friends generally. It also includes blogging about long distance running and walking, social media updates and phone calls to family, friends, and mentors about progress. Non-running friends may well get tired of the updates (just like project stakeholders do when we over-communicate with them) so it is a learning experience to curb your enthusiasm and be selective in communications. Not everyone is as excited about the details of every single run! Communication also includes, reading and listening to others, getting advice from the experts or from more experienced athletes. These communications enable you to learn from others’ challenges and successes.

Integration and testing really comes into play when you run shorter distance races to test your race strategies, and during your milestone training runs where you do everything exactly as you would on race day. These are like dress rehearsal runs. You wear exactly what you will wear on race day. You eat the same thing for breakfast; consume the same nutrition and sports drinks that you will on race day. You try to emulate what will happen on race day as closely as possible. The only differences are that you will be running a little bit shorter distance and at a slower pace than you will on the actual day. You are testing that everything will go smoothly but you don’t want to run your race before race day or you will be too worn out to do it! There should be no surprises on race day just like there should be no surprises on product launch day. Nothing that is new and untested is allowed. Every single thing has been tested individually and together – for your marathon and for your product!

Deployment, as with many projects, is a very small part of the plan. For a race – it takes a few hours. For a technology project it often takes a similar amount of time. Preparing for deployment usually takes more time than the actual deployment itself. This includes such things as travelling to the race site; checking into your hotel (if applicable); visiting the race expo to pick up your race packet and laying out your clothes ready for the next day. You try to get a good night’s sleep so you are prepared for anything on race day.

Post-deployment tasks are as important in marathon running as in technical projects. After the race there is a checklist of things you must do. You need to get your photo taken, receive your medal, replenish some fluids and eat, eat and eat some more! You need to check to make sure everything is still working and that you don’t need medical attention. It is advisable to move more slowly, do some light stretching, and maybe take a nap. After you are rested and sure that everything is OK, it is time to celebrate but you might be too tired to celebrate too heartily so planning another celebration in a week or two when you feel more rested and calm is a good idea! Recovery time is an important part of post-deployment for racing. Your body is worn out and needs time to rest and recuperate. Just as you will keep an eye on your product after deployment and possibly fix a few bugs – you have to do the same with your post-marathon body for a week or two. Then it is time to choose another project (or race) and start the process all over again!

Just because managing projects is hard it doesn’t mean it cannot be fun and hugely rewarding. Just like marathons, if it were easy then everyone would be doing it. It takes endurance, attitude and oodles of enthusiasm to complete projects and marathons without going completely insane. When you cross that finish line, you know for sure that it has all been worth it and that the journey was as important as the destination.

Endurance events and project management have a lot in common. I vote that project managers should get a medal for every project they finish in the allotted time. It is an endurance event after all, and it is only fair!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Politics On The Virtual Team

Politics are a way of life in most organizations regardless of the size or type of company.  Just because a team is virtual and its members do not interact face-to-face on a regular basis does not mean that you will avoid company politics.  Company culture is a major contributor to company politics and the type of culture will define the type of politics.  The more rigid the hierarchy the more overt political maneuvering will be present. A culture that encourages open and honest discussion and feedback without fear of retribution is going to have less visible politics than one that does not. It is important to understand that just because the politics are not immediately obvious, does not mean they do not exist.  Covert politics can be as detrimental to a company or team as overt politics and that which is more difficult to quantify is more difficult to manage and control. On a virtual team you are more likely to encounter covert, manipulative politics than the more obvious type.  This is because generally virtual teams have a less rigid hierarchy and less top-down management. 

Everyone has a personal agenda, whether it be positive or negative. Virtual team members are no exception. Some people's agenda's are to get ahead, at any cost. Others are  focused on doing a great job and getting personal recognition or rewards. Some people just want to do their work everyday, go home, relax, and not get involved in any conflict or confrontation.  Politics derive from these personal agendas.  It is not just highly ambitious people who contribute to company politics. Anyone is capable of creating or exacerbating politics. Politics are about getting what you want and influencing others to want the same things so that you have a better chance of getting what you want. 
The biggest problem for the virtual manager is that it is not easy to see what is going on “behind the scenes.” Just because your team is virtual, and your team members do not interact face-to-face on a daily basis does not mean that politics will not be a part of daily work life. It might take longer for the alliances to form, and for the impact of those alliances to become apparent but they will form and they will shape the face of politics on your team.

If the spirit of your team is one of everyone looking to get noticed for their individual contributions, over time team members will start to feel insecure and self-conscious about their work. Your team members will feel like they are in competition with each other. When the driving force on a team is the competitiveness among team members, people can get amazingly creative. Unfortunately, this creativity is not usually channeled into doing great work; it is channeled into getting noticed. This can result in little business benefit from the creative ideas and feelings of unhappiness and anger among team members.

Some people are more apt to politicking than others. Some personality types thrive on gossip and rumors. They cannot wait to tell anyone who will listen information about others regardless of its authenticity. We all know at least one person who fits this category. It could be a coworker, family member, friend, or neighbor. This is the person you go to if you want to know anything about anyone. If that person doesn’t know, you can rest assured that nobody else does, either! These people give you lots of information that you really shouldn’t know about people and it is easy to find yourself having fun and enjoying hearing all the gossip about others. However, these people are fueling the flames of discontent, exacerbating negative situations, and increasing the political unrest within their environment. Remember, they are probably talking about you when you are not there! If this person works on your team, you are going to have a lot of virtual politics distributed via your virtual private network.

To build and maintain a non-politically motivated team, you should avoid competing against your team members. It doesn’t matter if you have an idea that is better than someone else’s. As the manager, it is not your job to always have the right solution. It is your job to grow and develop your team members, to help them come up with the best ideas. Give them clues to keep them on the right track, rather than correcting or pointing out where they went wrong.  Let your team members take credit for great ideas, even if you helped to develop them.  Celebrate team successes publicly and applaud individual result privately.  This will help to avoid "superstar" behavior and the feelings of inequality among your team members.  One team member's strength should strengthen the entire team.  If you cultivate this on your team, your team members will not feel threatened by each other, they will be motivated to support each other and help each other grow and develop.

You can build even stronger teamwork by enabling and encouraging high quality communication between your team members and each other, as well as between your team members and you. Good quality teamwork leaves very little room for politics to squeeze their way in. Managing without politics will enable you to successfully manage without walls!

Follow Colleen on twitter: @colleengarton

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Project Management - A Necessity Not A Nice-To-Have

Project management is one of the most sought after skillsets in businesses worldwide today. These skills are required at all levels of an organization from new graduates in their first job, to executive managers who have been in the business for decades.  Lack of this valuable skillset at the top can have a detrimental affect on the efficiencies and profitability of the company.  High level managers who don’t understand the importance of following consistent and effective processes to meet business goals are failing to meet their management responsibilities. It is not necessary for every manager in an organization to possess senior project management skills, but every one of them should have a basic understanding of project management, and be willing to defer to, or at the very least, consider, senior project managers’ recommendations regarding approval, continued funding, and cancelling of projects.

One of the biggest failures in an organization is allowing its senior managers to make business decisions based purely on "gut feel". They start and stop projects on a whim with no real business reason for doing so. Gut feel decisions are not bad if they can be backed up with good quality market data. Visionaries are often inspired to pursue ideas based on gut feel but the next step after coming up with the idea is to gather and analyze business data, not to start the project!

I have seen first-hand the devastating problems that can occur when business decisions are made based purely on the opinions of employees. Whether the employee is an expert in their field, or an executive manager, an opinion is not a good foundation for an investment in a new project. I have seen projects started with no real plan for what the project needs to accomplish to be successful. Projects with no plan and no set budget where engineers are writing code with no specification created first, defining what it is they should be building. I have witnessed situations where months after a project was started, it was discovered that another department or division within the organization was developing an almost identical product. The worst scenario was where one team member spent a year working on a specification for a project that was kept top secret by his manager, and it turned out that his “product” was very similar to one that had been sunsetted (retired) two years earlier as it had been unsuccessful!  All these situations wasted a lot of money and time. The ensuing problems would have been completely avoidable with good project approval and management processes.

Many traditionally successful companies are starting to fall behind their start-up competitors because the newcomers in the market space are using good quality market data to make decisions. They base funding decisions on analytical data and not on the opinion of the CEO’s 15 year old grandson!  These organizations are making good decisions the first time and more projects are succeeding. They are able to market and sell their products because they know the market segment they are targeting and they tailor their offerings appropriately.  Development teams are building solutions with just the right amount of features without a lot of redundant functionality. This keeps the development costs low and the company is able to price the product more competitively.

Meanwhile, the traditional market leaders are developing feature heavy, expensive white elephants that their prospective customers cannot afford to buy. Why pay for 20 expensive features when all you really need is 2 of them?  Over time these feature heavy products remain expensive to maintain,  the company has to sell them cheaper and cheaper to compete. To try to recoup their investment they decide to add more features to increase the value of the offering so they can charge a higher price. The problem is that if those feature sets are not based on market needs and value to the customer, the organization ends up with an even more expensive white elephant to maintain. 

Good quality project and product management with flexible and effective processes and procedures is what separates the winners from the losers in today's fast moving business environment.  Highly skilled project managers are in high demand and those skills will remain valuable from the day you start work as a junior project manager right up until the day that you become CEO and chairman of the board.