will social media find a sweet spot in project management?

is social media of any use in project management?

I think that the wave of social media and its tools offer a very real source of potential benefits and advantages for project teams. However, not all tools will be appropriate to a project environment.

For example, some tools have a tendency to sustain disparate conversations and bring little to no advantage for collaboration, as they can sometimes be compared phone conferences during which, due to bad reception, you would get only a sentence or an answer out of 3 or 4.

But this shouldn't keep project managers from using social media to improve their communications and increase collaboration in their "extended" project teams that comprise all stakeholders.

1. truly simple and easy to use

Starting to use Facebook requires less than 4 to 5 minutes to understand the basics. After two or three trials, you’ll want others to know what you’re doing. The same is true for Twitter. The tool does not require extensive training to be used to collaborate with family, colleagues and friends. Couldn’t the software we use to manage and collaborate on projects be largely improved in this respect? Indeed, we have to accept that the vast majority of our project team members are not experts in Project Management and, by the way, do not wish to acquire that expertise. They only want us to tell them clearly and simply what needs to be done and for when, then they prefer that we let them work in peace without requesting them to learn to use complex project management tools.

2. helps address the need for recognition

Social Media applications such as Facebook respond very effectively to the need of many to get some recognition for the work they perform and deliverables they produce. In fact, most of us are proud of what we achieve and appreciate a little sign of recognition. It could be that we succeeded on a particularly difficult challenge or even simply did a good job. Functionalities such as "Like" that most of the social media tools provide are simple and easy ways to fulfill this basic need.

3. promotes open and frequent discussions

The collection of information and status on project tasks is an important part of the team members’ interactions with the rest of the team, the PM and the Project Management processes. Most of the project management tools could improve their way of capturing this information via some of the social media approaches. Indeed, this chasing for information and status updates is time consuming and an energy drain for the PM. While many members of the team will update their status on their friends' network as soon or before they reach home and they may even Tweet them from their smartphone to let them know where they are.

4. improves transparency

The visibility by all contacts of the information posted on social networks is inevitably going to favor our honesty and transparency, especially towards colleagues whom we see every day. Difficult to claim openly to have ended one task which is not, it would be too easy for a well informed colleague to contradict this claim.

I think that these topics are important to all project managers and other managers who work in collaborative environments (and who doesn’t?). PMs have to facilitate and encourage discussions on the tasks at hand, the issues faced and the relations in the work place. Social media is a very powerful mechanism to encourage teams to interact more. This is especially applicable with geographically distributed teams, where discussions via social media tools help with the lack of “coffee machine” discussions. I believe a collaborative environment which makes the best possible use of social media significantly increases the chances of success of projects and, at the same time, the quality of life at work for the team members.

It will however be necessary to begin prudently and keep it simple. Avoid multiplying the number of tools too quickly to manage the risk of information overload and interruptions.

These tools are simple to use and in fact all generation Y people (born after 1985) use already them very naturally. We should therefore encourage their use and allow these new generations to easily join project management processes. We only need to be careful to deploy them gradually and invest in the right tool for the right usage (and for the right reasons).

What’s your experience? What other benefits or issues have you met in using these tools in project management?

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at http://dantotsupm.com/