Butting In to the Conversation: PM Communication Tools

Dennis McDonald and Lee White are conducting an interesting experiment on their blogs, crossposting a conversation about project management and social media. I’ll add my voice, with both input on the topic and observations on the method.

(Topic) The Right Tool for The Job – depends on the Job

The first part of the conversation talks about whether social media could replace classic project management tools, in terms of communicating project status. I agree with Dennis – you can never get rid of gantt charts, project budgets, and stoplight issue lists. It really depends on who the recipient of this information is; most of my project sponsors are busy executives who rose to the top in the era of e-mail and PowerPoints. Communication is uni-directional – you to them. Team members and external consultants, on the other hand, require bi-directional, collaborative tools, and most expect web-based environments accessible in and out of the corporate network, instant messaging for quick status checks, and blogs for general updates.

Truth be told, the most valuable tools in the project manager’s communication kit is typically Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V.

(Topic) The Perfect Tool for The Job in Unlikely – but Opportunity Knocks …

Another one of McDonald’s posts lists features a wish list of features for the perfect collaboration environment. It reads like a feature list for MS SharePoint, and McDonald anticipates the reaction well (I, for one, welcome our new Comment overlord … )

I KNOW that many of these features are already available in off the shelf products. Comments that are thinly disguised sales pitches without a sincere effort to contribute to this discussion will be mercilessly and gleefully deleted.

It must be that time of year – I’ve gotten a number of calls from vendors in the last few weeks, pushing any number of PMO environments that promise to manage my resources and solve all my prioritization woes. In these times of tight IT budgets, capital investment for new software like this rare – the dollars are better spent supporting the business.

However, all is not lost. The collaboration requirements of most PMOs can be delivered quite nicely with a collection of FOSS tools, MS Office automation, and a little ingenuity. Looking for a low risk project to throw at aspiring web 2.0 technicians and Millennials suffering from wanderlust? How about those developers trying to learn what makes effective user interfaces?

Every PMO I’ve ever worked with / built up relied all or in part on locally developed tools; the cobbler’s children can usually hack up something serviceable. And to borrow a phrase from Lee White – most of the skills for project management and collaboration comes from creating the tools, not having the tools.

(Method) Not the Right Tool for the Job

I’m not sure I fully understand the technology that Dennis has used to combine the text from these blogs, as well as everyone’s comments. My first reaction on reviewing the feed was less than positive; like a typical blog feed, it probably puts the most recent entry first – so if you want to follow the conversation, you must jump to the end of the list and page backwards. Of course, once I dove into the content, I got a bit lost. I’m not exactly sure of the order of the items in the feed, but best I can tell, the conversation starts in the middle and then sort of bounces around.

Discussion forum software does better at this task. The start of the conversation appears first; as I move down the page, I can scan the main conversation thread as well as any branches from the comments.

That’s the other challenge with this method of capturing and displaying a conversation. There are a number of interesting comments, but I can’t figure out how to comment on the comment, nor can I figure out how to add another voice to the conversation.

I’ve written about this previously; the best tool for the job depends on the type of collaboration you are trying to initiate …

  1. Use an Announcement to make a statement, inform of an event, where you expect no comments or replies. The flow of information is in one direction only – out from you to the readers of the web page.
  2. Use a Blog to make an observation, deliver a status update – capture a well-formed thought. One or two folks may have question or want to add a follow up, but in general you expect a few comments at most.
  3. Use a Discussion Forum when you are asking a question, making a proposal, or establishing a new standard. Here, we expect a lot of discourse, with threaded conversations and branches and such.
  4. Use a Wiki when you are making a statement / documenting a fact. You should expect refinements, additions, and other edits – but not full-on discussions.

Authors Note: I officially despise ecto at this time. This is the second time that I’ve written this post – spent an hour and a half on it last night, only to have ecto mysteriously delete my work. I’m switching back to w.blogger for now – gave up on it a long time ago, but it appears to have gone through some pretty extensive improvements.

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