Today, I spoke with Elizabeth Harrin. Elizabeth is the Founder and CEO of The Otobos Group, a business writing practice. She’s also a project and program manager with a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. As a PRINCE2 Practitioner, she understands how important it is to use professional project management approaches. She’s the author of Project Management in the Real World and Social Media for Project Managers, which is out in October, and she writes the award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.
Mohammed: I believe that next-generation project managers are coming, a generation where PMs manage their projects using Twitter, Google Wave (RIP), Wikis, etc. What does a PM need to be in that generation? Is social media knowledge only what he/she needs or there are other skills?
Elizabeth: The main skill required is communication. Social media tools are just another way for project managers to communicate with their team and project stakeholders. If you don’t do a good job of communicating with people now, adding social media tools won’t make you any better at communication or managing projects.
You also need the ability to bring others along with you. Not everyone wants to work in this way. You’ll either need to balance their requirements and accept communicating in different ways to different people so that no stakeholder is left out, or be convincing enough to encourage them to try to adopt the new tools.
Mohammed: How do you think social media tools will reduce budget, time and resources for the projects? What’s the best strategy to include social media in project plans?
Elizabeth: That’s two questions – let me take the first one first.
Social media tools have already been proved to reduce project costs. I spoke to a CEO who said her company saves 90% of the cost of document production by using a wiki. However, the data in this area is not comprehensive, and it will be a while before we can categorically say that there are more than just anecdotal studies showing that social media tools reduce costs. I don’t think they will reduce resources, if by resources you mean people. Keeping a social media tool up to date and ensuring the project team are fully engaged is a job in itself. I don’t necessarily think that social media tools require more people to work, but they do require a concerted effort from everyone and that doesn’t equate to saving heads on a project. As for time, if it is easier to find information then the project manager will save time looking. We spend a terrible amount of time hunting down information. But saving time through social media requires users to categorize their information correctly.
The lowest barrier to entry in my opinion is a project wiki, so if you want to include a social media effort in your projects, try that. They are easy to set up, easy to maintain, and can provide a great resource for handover to live during the closure phase, as well as acting as a lessons learned database.
Mohammed: I recently read in a PM roadshow that “25% of organization fear is lack of buy-in”. How can a project manager establish a solid buy-in with his/her team and with upper management?
Elizabeth: I think many people are scared of what social media tools will do to their ability to control their team or department. The best way to deal with this is to talk to people, and to bust any myths they have about information not being secure, people wasting time online by chatting to their friends and so on. If you can find out what negative beliefs they hold about social media, you can dispel their fears.
This works with management, but for your team you might have to take a different approach. Buy-in is best when it is driven from grassroots support, so recruit a couple of champions and try to drive demand for the social media tool through an organic effort. Telling people to use it is definitely not going to improve buy-in. Ask the technically literate team members to buddy up with those who are not so good with computers. Get the team to share their experiences, and involve them in customizing or branding the social media tool. The more involvement they have, as with any customer of any project, the easier it will be to get them onboard.
My blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, isn’t just for girls. You’ll find the results of my social media survey earlier this year as well as information about my books, my newsletter and much more!