Using social media for Project Management: Now or never? (Part A)
Social Media can be seen as making people’s lives closer virtually and remote physically at the same time. It is therefore driving a disruptive shift in people’s interactions and relationships management. It is fast becoming an everyday component of the lives of both business people and common folks alike. Its widespread and varied use is causing innovations in business processes and human life management.
On the face of it, one might expect that project management – with its defined constraints of time, costs and effort would be among the leaders in adopting a platform (such as social media) that supports faster and timely communication. Perhaps it should be leading the way in adoption and use of social media for work purposes. Yet we hear little about the practices and effectiveness of Social Media for project management. Possibly it has not taken-off as one might have expected.
This raises many questions, such as:
- Is Social Media in some way unsuitable for use in project management?
- Is it perhaps regarded as an informal mode of communication, limiting its practical use in project management?
- Is it regarded as an ‘outsider’ technology, not in tune with the requirements of formal project management?
To help find answers to these and other questions, we attempt here to analyse the potential benefits and drawbacks of use of Social Media for project management in a series of two articles. Part A of this article describes the potential benefits of use of Social media for project management. Part B will cover the drawbacks. To add further clarity, we also draw a matrix showing benefits versus drawbacks in Part B of this article.
Potential benefits of use of Social Media for project management
Social Media can play a significant role in planning, execution and delivery of projects at least in following five areas. We discuss the potential uses of Social Media for each of the areas as below.
1. Communication management
Social media applications such as Twitter, Wechat, Whatsapp and Facebook, to name a few, are today widely accessed by professionals and lay persons alike. Their ease of use and 24×7 availability is infectious, making these apps very popular among most age groups and social strata.
It has often been emphasized that communication is critical to the success of project delivery. A rule of thumb that is widely cited in training material is that a project manager uses 90% of his project time, communicating. A project manager and his or her staff need one or more platforms or multiple media to support such a high level of communication.
Social media apps can facilitate video, audio and text based secure messaging. They can be purposefully used by project staff to share information on project activities and other pertinent information in a timely and succinct manner (e.g, through hashtag updates, project graffiti). By having become popular and widely accepted, they empower project organizations to manage their messaging more effectively.
To help ensure that communication remains within official confines and secure, project social media groups can be moderated by one project staff member who monitors all the messages and information that is shared. It would seem natural that project social media groups can be linked to project management software to maintain transparency and accuracy of information. Such integration should ensure that nothing falls between the cracks. At the very least, it should minimize the chances of propagation of mis-communication.
By setting up a number of project social media groups project organizations would be enabled to effectively manage both their front-door communication (communication with general public, external stakeholders and all levels of project staff about the project matters) and back-door communication (restricted communication involving different specialists). The ease in which project social media groups can be created should therefore leverage on social media features for project communication purposes.
2. Project updates management
Social media with its wide-scale reach and agility of information sharing can play a defining role in management of project updates. Particularly for large projects, updating the right people, at right time and in a right format is not an easy task. Social media can empower project teams to do their updates management in an effective manner.
These updates can be about project progress, exceptions, meeting schedules, team building activities, decision making meetings, innovation meetings and so on so forth.
Project staff designated with the task of sending updates can work with the project social media group moderator to ensure right people receive updates; rather than causing panic by sending the updates to inappropriate people in error.
3. Lessons learned management
One of the areas where Social media could be very useful is the management of lessons learned. Such information that can be captured as part of project work often gets buried in unstructured text folders which offer little interest from anyone to access these bundles of useful information.
Social media could not only empower project organizations to progressively collect this lessons learned information (such as based on retrospection meetings and other experiences of project staff) through active involvement of all project team members, but also can be used to send out lessons learned to the relevant stakeholders in a timely manner. As people are becoming addicted to using their social media loaded portable devices, so the lessons learned information will then be more accessible and used by the people for their next projects and hence could help in reducing risks and enhancing quality of project work.
4. Issues management
Issues management often involve a number of people and quick-fire actions. Hence quickly involving the right people in a timely manner become critical to minimize the negative effects of emerging issues within the project.
Social media is a perfect tool to help in dissemination of information to a contained group of project staff that needs to be involved in a particular issue(s) management. This information dissemination could be for various purposes depending on the level of involvement, such as:
a. Just to keep informed and involved as a matter of seniority and managerial position;
b. People who need to be involved in trouble-shooting the issue;
c. Experts whose advice needs to be sought on how to manage the emerging issue(s);
d. For capturing the lessons learned as a consequence of emerging issues;
e. For updating the project plans and risk management.
5. Knowledge management
The fact that social media apps are actively present and used provides a perfect avenue to enhance knowledge management activities of project teams. Knowledge management is often not done in a structured way, since current practices do not necessarily define knowledge management activities explicitly. Effective knowledge management involving sharing, processing and giving meaning to knowledge in the context of project, all of which can help in enhancing the knowledge bandwidth of project teams.
Social media will allow involvement of everyone in knowledge creation, processing and capture, thus enhancing the use of knowledge for project work. Active management of knowledge has hitherto been somewhat subdued and lackluster. Social media appears to offer what it takes to infuse fresh energy into knowledge management routines in projects.
The project social media groups mentioned earlier can also help in knowledge management. As before, a dedicated staff member could be appointed to ensure that knowledge management is done in a somewhat focused manner. This is especially relevant on large projects where pieces of knowledge falling through the cracks is always a risk.
The above list of potential benefits and the areas in which social media can be used and benefit management of projects is almost certainly not exhaustive, and is more likely just the tip of the iceberg of the benefits that social media could offer to project management.
It would seem to make sense for project management teams to start using social media in a carefully controlled manner, in order to avoid possible side-effects. Certainly, project management can learn a lot from use of Social media for work purposes in countries such as China. Gathering experience from business cases in organizations in countries where social media is used for work purposes will help ease-out any fears and indicate how the benefits can be realised.
By now, social media technologies have become mature enough to be used in a secure and contained manner. Surely the time is ripe to evolve them from everyday usage by the common people into mainstream professional usage.
Special thanks to post-write-up inputs by Roger Tagg.