Crowd-solving: Can it be used in project management?
The social media invasion has redefined the borders of value giving birth to new communities, i.e., the communities of value. The transition has ignited a mindset of crowd-involvement for co-creation, building new knowledge frontiers and forming mutually beneficial partnerships. Resultantly, emerging concepts such as crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and crowd-solving are gaining acceptance and application for a variety of business purposes.
In hindsight, no one person or entity / institution embodies all the knowledge. Hence, nobody has monopoly over Knowledge. It is very contextual, and a person or an entity’s knowledge is limited to its level of involvement and interaction with other elements in a particular eco-system. The larger the involvement and interaction with other elements of eco-system, greater will be the access and cache of knowledge (and the ) to use it for value creation.
Therefore, one of the benefits of crowd-involvement for organizational purposes is to tap into knowledge resources available at a wider scale among the communities of value. Crowd-solving help does precisely that. It is an emerging phenomenon which facilitates organizations to leverage upon knowledge embodied in communities of value for solving complex and sticky problems, that otherwise these organizations cannot solve using their dedicated resources.
Crowd-solving is defined as “a form of problem solving that involves the collaboration of many people, communities, groups, or resources. It is a type of crowdsourcing, with focus on complex and intellectively demanding problems requiring considerable effort, and quality/ uniqueness of contribution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsolving).
Project management is more or less a boxed approach (with predefined parameters and standards) that aims to create packaged value through application of a right mix of skills, resources, planning and control. Often in pursuit of creating the desired packaged value, project organizations face complex problems, and if they do not have the required resources to solve those problem, then project outcome can be severely effected.
What this means is that project organizations can also benefit from the current trends of co-creation. To some extent openness is desirable for project organizations where they can allow crowd-involvement at various stages of project work to accomplish specific tasks. Yet, little solution or knowledge exists on how to package it, how to leverage it for project work.
Can the crowd-solving be used in project management? From a practical standpoint, short answer is yes. Crowd-solving seems to be powerful as it will allow seeking adhoc help on a need basis for project work to solve an emerging problem(s) for which project organization either did not plan for or don’t have the right knowledge and skills available at the time of occurrence of problem.
Particularly, crowd-solving can be useful for longer and high-stake projects, as there will be more time and more flexibility. But given that there is no documented best practices or existing knowledge on the subject, we look into the benefits and limitations of using crowd-solving for project work to build some initial thoughts.
Benefits of using Crowd-solving for project work:
Tapping into larger pool of knowledge inventory
One of the obvious benefits of using crowd-solving for project work is to tap into larger pool of knowledge inventory. Problems encountered by a project could be very new with no known solutions. It may require people with special skills or specific subject knowledge. Project organizations do not necessarily have all the skills available all the time, particularly given the time and cost limitations. Finding the solution in such cases may not be easy, which could effect the project delivery. Crowd-solving can provide a potential way out to solve the problem by tapping into large knowledge inventory present in the communities of value.
Solving difficult, unresolved problems
Another reason to use crowd-solving is where project organization may have the resources, but they are not able to diagnose and solve the problem effectively. To avoid waste of efforts and time, crowd-solving can be used to bring the knowledge from outside and fix the problem.
Having capacity beyond boundaries
Crowd-solving provides project organizations capacity beyond their boundaries. Such a situation allows them to take calculated risks and accept to deliver complex or non-traditional projects, which otherwise they may decline. If used wisely, crowd-solving can provide competitive differentiation to the project organization.
Crowd-solving can help save costs on resource hiring and upkeep. Highly skilled project staff can be costly and a drain on project budget. So, if a project organization knows how to use crowd-solving they can balance skills needs with costs keeping in view crowd-solving options.
Solution to Agency problem
Crowd-solving can also help in solving the agency problem. By definition “an agency problem is a inherent in any relationship where one party is expected to act in another’s best interests” (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/agencyproblem.asp)
An agent may not always act in the best interests of a client, due to a variety of reasons. With crowd-solving, project organizations may not need to outsource part of a work to a third party if they fear that the service provider may not act in the best interests of the project. Instead, they can rely on seeking the job done on an on-demand basis.
Limitations of using Crowd-solving for project work:
Intellectual Property (IP) issues
Projects are designed to create new products/services or some form of improvement, hence the final deliverable could be very important for the client business and profits. Seeking knowledge or skills from outside the defined parameters of project organizations and involving people from outside could expose project organizations to IP risks at some point. Unless a framework is established and implemented diligently, crowd-solving could entail potential legal issues.
Another potential areas of problem will be theft of ideas. If project is trying to create a new breakthrough product/service, then using crowd-solving to seek help could expose the idea to theft. It could entail a risk bigger than solving the problem itself.
Projects are contractual obligations. Therefore, when a project is staffed, the people and resource coming onto the project are bound by contact terms and conditions. Involving communities at large could create burden of keeping things within legal boundaries and expose project organization to unknown legal risks as the people involved from community may not be bound by contractual obligations.
If a project is pressed for time (which often is the case), it may not always be possible to involve and manage a crowd-solving endeavor. Rushing it will expose project organization to get into unchartered risks territory, on the other hand taking long time could lead to project failure. So, finding a balance will not be easy to use crowd-solving.
Management of the crowd-solving process
Given the newness of crowd-solving concept, documented knowledge is barely available. Therefore, project organizations will have little understanding of how to manage a crowd-solving process, which will limit the effectiveness of the process even if someone wants to use it.
Conflicts of interests
Using crowd-solving could potentially entail conflicts of interests. People working within the project may have links and networks with people who could be used for crowd-solving. In that scenario, it will be difficult to contain conflicts of interests and pose serious legal risks.
While there are limitations (some of which are explained above) of using crowd-solving for project work, the current trends in social media, big data, and artificial intelligence leave little choice for project management to ignore these technologies and associated new ways of doing things.
Social media is here to stay. Therefore, it seems wise and useful for project management discipline to consider how to use these new technological advancements and associated concepts effectively in a way that the benefits of these trends are realized while keeping the risks at bay.
Professor Jiwat Ram
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