While the connected project manager can gain many benefits from using social communication and project management tools that enable us to get connected to our team members online, there are also challenges to be overcome with the introduction of any new technology in a project environment. In this article I’ll look at two of the major challenges: the cult of personality and the difficulty of measuring success.

The cult of personality

The cult of personality

In my book Social Media for Project Managers, I talk about the seven C’s of social media: community, collaboration, communication, constraints, connectivity, channels and content. I’d like to add another C to that list now: character. Social communications work because people want to connect to other people. Your blog posts, status updates, discussions and commentary should come from you as an individual, not on behalf of a nameless project team. The most engaging online networks are those that encourage individuals to act and collaborate as individuals, with all the knowledge and skills that they have to share. In other words, if you try to anonymize everything and create generic accounts that don’t link back to an individual project team member, you will lose some of the power of a social network.

It is important to make it as easy and pleasurable as possible for people to interact with each other through a mediated community. If you do not have engagement, you don’t have a community. If your aim is to increase communication and collaboration on projects, then you need members of the social communication network to want to be there, collaborating with their colleagues.

A virtual team in particular needs to feel that a mediated community offers them a shared sense of place, somewhere that the team can work together as individuals and as a productive team. Too much chit chat about the weekend’s television highlights will not define the space as a valued work environment. Too little, and the team loses the sense of community and trust. Trust comes from sharing small confidences, so encourage some water-cooler conversation through your social communication tools: it will build relationships between team members more quickly.

Personality also comes into play when looking to gain buy-in for your social communication initiative. As with any project to introduce new technology, your new tools need to be championed by someone – a PMO Director, a senior project manager or anyone else in the organization who can clearly see the value of introducing a new way of working. In the absence of someone to fulfil this role, you will find your project struggling. And you should consider the introduction and adoption of social communications tools as a project, with all the associated change management that goes alongside changing ways of working.

Without a clear sponsor, your social communications project will struggle. Resistance to change is common in organizations and you may find it difficult to find a volunteer who can act in this role. Executive resistance is one of the challenges of adopting social communications that the connected project manager has to overcome.

Measuring success

Measuring Success

One of the major challenges of adopting a social communication or online project management and collaboration tool is knowing whether or not that decision was successful. How will you know if your system is improving the way in which project team members communicate and collaborate with each other? Most tools have the capacity to track a variety of metrics that you can use to measure success. There are a number of ways of measuring the success of tool deployment including:

  • Subscribers: how many people have subscribed to project alerts?
  • Hit counts: how many visitors are viewing your social communication tool? Where are they from and how often do they come back?
  • Journeys: what are people looking at when they come to the tool?
  • Engagement: how much project chatter is going on? Is the site well-used by the people who need to use it for their day jobs?
  • Efficiency: are collaborative tasks now done in a more timely manner?

Unfortunately it is difficult to track some of these, especially targets around efficiency. If you didn’t have benchmarked numbers before your new tool was implemented, you’ll have nothing to compare your new efficiency levels to. Also be wary about seeing high numbers as a mark of success. The fact that 80% of your company is looking at your project wiki could be a good thing – but if the 20% of employees who are not looking at it are your target stakeholder group then the tool is not meeting its objectives. Define metrics that are meaningful to you and your project before you start so that you have something tangible to show ‘success’.

Another option is to decide not to measure the return on investment or performance against success criteria. Research by Watson Wyatt shows that only 16% of companies have tools in place to measure the effectiveness of their social communication projects.[1] As many project managers do not measure the effectiveness of meetings, conference calls or other traditional project communication and collaboration methods, you could opt to measure benefits and success only anecdotally, instead of through a structured programme of success criteria.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what success looks like for you and how you’ll overcome these challenges, taking into account what matters to your stakeholders and how you intend to use your new tools to manage your projects successfully.

This is an edited excerpt, reprinted by permission of the publishers from ‘Managing Social Communications’ in The Gower Handbook of People in Project Management, edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott (Farnham, Gower, 2013).