Communication is always a problem on large projects: making sure everyone on the outside has a similar view of what is going on and that everyone on the project team knows how their role affects the others. You already have meetings with detailed minutes, phone calls with each team member, maybe even a dedicated intranet site, wiki or collaboration tool. What could a blog offer on top of all the communication you are already doing?
Here are 4 ways that you can use a project blog.
1. A blog by your sponsor
A blog can bring your sponsor closer to the project team: on a large project it’s possible that some members don’t even know who the sponsor is. It’s good to wheel out your sponsor when they need to inject a bit of motivation during a difficult patch, but it is rarely practical to invite them to every team meeting. A quick blog post from the sponsor will help the team members feel that someone high up does care about what they are doing, but without the intrusion of an email.
A large legal firm in the Southeast USA used this technique to engage project teams. The project sponsor added content to the blog several times a day. He used the blog to ensure that the team knew that he knew about their big milestones. It also helped build excitement towards significant milestones on the plan when the team knew they would be celebrating their success with events like go-carting.
The blog enabled him to stop sending out so many emails. It gave project team members more control over when they read the information. It also provided a forum for them to comment, ask questions and give their perspectives.
2. A blog to engage people outside of the project team
Another function for a project blog is to communicate to a wider audience than just your immediate team. Allowing other people in the company to read the ‘story’ of your project via a blog can help prepare them for the changes that may come when your project delivers its objectives.
Matt Down, a project manager from London, gives the following example of using a project blog as a communication tool:
For the last six months I have been using one to provide a brief weekly update on progress for the project team and other internal stakeholders. I normally include a relevant photo showing progress or an event that has taken place. I’m using Microsoft SharePoint which is the corporate tool we have for collaboration and have found it easy to use with a little guidance from another user at the beginning but otherwise no training. Using this rather than the weekly email I previously sent has been well received as people can look as and when they need the information and look back at what was said previously without trawling through emails. My only regret is I didn’t use it earlier in the project. I will definitely be looking to use something similar again on my next project.
3. A blog to help team members collaborate
My only regret is I didn’t use a blog earlier in the project.
This is an old-ish example, but still an interesting one, especially if you wish you could save time when documents are doing the round for being reviewed.
In 2006 I interviewed Paul Wormelli, who was then Executive Director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute. The Institute is an industry consortium of companies that provide IT systems and products to the US Department of Justice. He told me how they had launched an enterprise blog in January 2005 using Traction software. The objective was to share information between the different committees.
Prior to setting up the blog, the Institute used to send out copies of reports for review in Word format. One person was nominated to collate the comments. Paul explained that if the document went out for review to 25 different people they would all pick up the same errors. The blog enabled the committee reviewers to communicate in real time. One committee was able to cut the number of phone and in-person meetings it held by half.
4. A blog to help team members communicate across distances
A blog can help the team communicate asynchronously – in other words, not in real time. A project blog offers a 24/7 informal reporting mechanism. Team members can post updates and progress reports to the project blog instead of calling a meeting to summarize progress. This can be especially helpful to those team members who do not have English (or the majority team language) as their first language and who find it difficult to contribute effectively during conference calls. They may be better at expressing themselves in writing.
Kandy Crenshaw has experience of using project blogs with team members in multiple time zones. She says:
I am currently managing 4 projects and have created Microsoft SharePoint project blogs for two of them. Originally, I intended to create a blog for each project but by monitoring the site analytics reports I quickly realized that the only staff members visiting the blogs were the core team members. Our project sponsors and outside stakeholders just weren’t interested in the level of detail provided there. The blogs were not (in my case) effective for sponsor and stakeholder communications. However, they have been an invaluable tool in projects with a large team based in multiple time zones. We have even used them to facilitate decision making between meetings.
As Kandy says, a project blog can help structure and organize project work and assist decision making. The ability to share views collaboratively can also help combat the silo mentality that grows up around projects. A blog is a level playing field, owned by the project and not the IT team, and easy enough to use for everyone to feel they can get involved.
How do you use blogs on your projects?
This is an edited extract from Get Started Using Social Media on Your Projects (3rd Edition). I have recently revised and updated the ebook. The latest edition has over 15 additional pages of good stuff including lots on privacy and security considerations of using social media on your projects.16/05/2012