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Thomas asked this question during the PMI Learning, Education and Development Community of Practice presentation I gave recently about Social Media for Project Managers. We were talking about using social media tools at work for communication and collaboration, and – of course – the topic of information overload came up.

Normally I’m asked how to deal with information overload, so it was interesting to get a question about what drives it and what happens as a result of it – it made me think!

Here’s my response.

What drives information overload:

  • An insistence that all communication goes through you
  • Lack of trust in the team
  • The team’s lack of trust in each other, so they include you in all communication
  • A failure to see what is relevant to the task being done
  • Being copied in to things ‘for information only’
  • Not managing your software tool alerts effectively and getting alerts for absolutely everything
  • Not managing interruptions effectively
  • Sleep deprivation

What results from information overload:

  • Stress
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Constant interruptions which dents productivity
  • A feeling that we are really important because people need us all the time (this isn’t good, by the way)
  • A full inbox, but normally full of stuff that isn’t really important
  • A project that slows down due to bottlenecks in communication
  • Difficulty archiving everything and therefore difficulty finding anything
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of trust in the team (yes, it’s a virtuous circle)

What else would you add to these lists? Let us know in the comments below.

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Someone asked me recently how project management has changed over the last decade. It’s a big question! There are a number of things that have jumped out at me, even just comparing my own experiences from when I started managing projects over 10 years ago to the workplace today. Here’s my view on what the main changes have been.

Social media at work

We’ve seen the introduction of social media tools in the workplace. I won’t forget speaking at the APM conference in 2008 where I spoke about how the rest of business worked in comparison to how project managers worked, and why we should be embracing technology and social media tools. I think a lot of the audience were surprised, and I certainly had some interesting conversations with bemused people afterwards.

We’ve moved beyond Friends Reunited-style networking to systems that help us work better professionally, both with external networks and colleagues on the same project, and we wouldn’t have had that use of technology 10 years ago.

Bring Your Own Device

Allied to the use of collaboration and social media-style technology in the workplace, we’ve also seen the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). I’ve had a tablet for a number of years and it has made a difference to how I work. Plus there are literally dozens of apps all proclaiming to help you get things done better/faster/cheaper. It does take a while to find a few you personally like. I think the next step here will be to get some type of portal technology that takes all my favourite apps and social media feeds and puts them together so I don’t have to use multiple systems for project management.

People matter!

There’s more emphasis on people today. And less on following rigid processes. Thankfully. The introduction of a section on stakeholder management in the new PMBOK Guide® is an example of this, although we’ve seen the shift to better models of team and stakeholder engagement develop over the past few years.

It might seem strange to say that people on projects matter more today than they did 10 years ago, but I really think this is the case. There’s a greater emphasis on collaboration, teamwork and project managers having soft skills to complement their ability to schedule tasks and manage risks. And the command and control mentality is all but dead.

A shift to leadership

There’s also more emphasis on leadership. As part of that, there’s a shift towards knowing why you are doing what you are doing on your project. Previously, there was a belief that project managers implemented other people’s strategies and we were responsible for hitting deadlines and keeping track of the money. Today, we’re seeing project managers take on a role where they can challenge senior managers about why projects are being done and advise about premature project closure when required. This is a massive move towards project leadership instead of simply implementing processes.

This will evolve further – if you can lead a project you can lead other areas of business, so the career path for project managers over the next 10 years will hopefully see more of us branching out of projects, programmes and portfolios into managing business units at executive levels.

So that’s what I’ve seen. What other changes have you seen over the past 10 years that have made you realise how project management has moved on? Let us know in the comments below.

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Social Media for Project Managers: Q&A

I gave a presentation on social media for project managers at the PMI Learning, Education and Development Community of Practice at the end of last year. They run a successful online book club and they were discussing my book on the subject, so it was great to be asked to go along and round out some of the ideas.

There were about 350 people on the webinar and we didn’t have the chance to go through all the questions that were raised, so I thought I’d address some of them here. Let’s crack on…

Our company is pretty concerned about using social media due to the security implications. Thoughts on that? (Angela)

This was raised by a number of people and there were several comments along the lines of ‘my company won’t let me use social media tools at work’. This could be because of non-disclosure agreements (mentioned by someone) or other concerns about privacy. However, my view is that if employees are going to use Facebook or Twitter, they’ll do so whether the company lets them or not – these days most people have a smartphone with internet access, so unless you check your phones at the door you can access these tools when you go to get a coffee. It is far better for a company to monitor and control access through policies and education than let employees do and say whatever they want on social media sites.

When it comes to using social media tools for project work, you can address the security concerns and manage appropriately. For example:

  • Using tools that you can host in-house behind your firewall so they are not available to external audiences e.g. Yammer, wikis
  • Using tools that enable you to export your data when you need to or when the project is over.
  • Using tools that do not host data overseas when this is in breach of your local regulations or contracts.

The short answer to addressing security concerns is that if you can’t address them adequately, don’t use social media tools. You can manage a project perfectly well without instant messaging or a wiki; people have been doing that for years. So for all I’m an advocate of social collaboration tools, don’t use them when it doesn’t make any sense or puts you in breach of agreements or policies.

How do you define Organisational Instant Messaging? (Daniel)

Tools like Skype, Microsoft Office Communicator, Spark, Cisco Jabber and Lync are all examples of organisational video conferencing. Some of these are available free, some as part of other software. My recommendation is that you try out a couple (of free ones) and see what sort of features you use regularly. Then if you want to invest in a paid-for solution you know what you are looking for.

Younger employees are more comfortable with social media tools. (Iain)

Actually, I don’t agree. I don’t think technical literacy (which is what I call the ability to use these tools, and any other bits of tech) is defined by age. There’s a growing group of ‘silver surfers’ who are just as adept at using them as some young people. And I know people younger than me who have chosen not to be on Facebook or to use social media products for various reasons so don’t have a clue how to do it.

Having said that, I can’t cite any research at the moment that backs up my anecdotal opinion. What I would say is that don’t let the age of your team members lead you to make unfair assumptions about their ability to adopt new ways of working or manage with new tools.

How do you manage the information overload? (Various people asked this)

This came up as we were talking about instant messaging and making sure that you can cope with the archive trail that it produces by being able to manage that sort of information and file it somehow.

Too many communication tools can result in more interruptions and therefore more distractions, so you need to think about how to manage the various streams of information that social media tools open up to you in order to avoid information overload. Generally, I would say that you should trust your team enough to not need to monitor all the communication or to push all the communication through yourself, or you will drown in the data and slow the project down.

When it comes to instant messaging, you can store the output from chats. Your IM tool may have settings that sends the chat to you as an email after the session ends, so check if this is turned on and use it if it is available. These can then become project documents and can be stored and archived in the same way as meeting minutes.

Henrik also raised a good point: since e-mail (almost) can’t be avoided, multiple ways of communicating by also using other social media tools may result in multiple paths i.e. dilution and confusion in the project. Kumar pointed out that email can also do that, especially if you take people off the circulation list (or add them on halfway through the discussion).

It isn’t always easy to get the balance right but it’s good practice to ensure that your messages are always consistent. Sometimes people do need to hear the same thing several times before they believe it so using several channels to repeat the same (consistent) message is appropriate. Of course, if you say different things through different channels, expect total confusion!

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Signpost of TimeOooh, it’s dangerous to make predictions for the future, but I thought I’d give it a go. Project management seems to be changing quite a lot at the moment, and it certainly feels like over the last couple of years we have (finally) taken some leaps forward in thinking and, as a profession, deciding where we should be headed. So, time to lay my neck on the line and tell you where I think project management is going.

Creativity takes teams back to the office

There’s been a lot of talk about flexibility, work/life balance and all that. And we’ve made great advances in managing virtual teams. I work from home some of the time, and from hotel rooms at other times, or on the train. My workspace isn’t just my office desk.

Having said that, there is something to be said for hanging out with your colleagues. You can get more creative and solve problems more quickly. I just don’t think the technology is there to enable the sort of creativity that you get with the whole project team in a room together.

There will always be a need to work apart, especially as we draw on expertise wherever it is based in the world, but I think there will be a drive towards getting people back together as much as possible.

More Agile

This is, apparently, where the conversation is at. Waterfall is dead, long live Agile. Actually, I don’t think it is that extreme. There are thousands of companies who haven’t adopted Agile but plenty more that have opted for an agile-light approach, with just enough process and just enough release management to get changes and features into projects without being able to say that they are truly Agile with a capital A.

I think we’ll see more of this hybrid agile taking off as companies need to move more quickly and get products to market even faster. And ‘proper’ Agile will also grow in adoption.

Metric-driven project management

This year it’s been all about reframing stakeholders as customers. Next year (while that customer focus will continue) it’s all about metrics. KPIs and dashboards aren’t new tools but at the ‘professional’ end of project management (in comparison to the ‘accidental’ end), we’ll be managing by metrics more and more.

Leadership and beyond

Career paths at the top will take you out of project management.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion in the past about how project managers need to be project leaders as well. As a discussion topic this is now evolving further thanks to the work that PMI is doing on trying to get a project focus in the boardroom and in discussions on project strategy. I think we’ll see more talk about how project leaders can evolve into project executives and sit at the boardroom table. There will also be further discussions about career paths at the top and how they will take you out of project management as a discipline. After all, the skills you need to be a good project leader or project executive are the same skills you would need to manage any functional or operational team. Project management isn’t a dead end any longer, and is certainly not something that narrows your business career.

Sustainability

Sustainability has been on agenda for a while but it’s now linked to profitability. Businesses have previously been able to pick and choose green projects because they helped improve their local reputation or because they satisfied some audit requirement. But now, with budgets being even more squeezed, sustainability supports profitability.

For project managers, this means more projects with a green focus and more weight being given to sustainability on other types of projects too – look out for green project metrics and business cases with green benefits.

OK, so that’s what I think is going to be important. How about you? What trends have you seen and where do you think project management is going? Let us know in the comments below.

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Join the Virtual Working Summit!

Is your project team scattered all over the place, and most of your meetings done on the phone?  Many project managers lead a virtual team and getting the best out of people and their time can be a challenge when you are not based in the same office.

You can learn how to do work better with a virtual team by joining The Virtual Working Summit, which runs from 28 June through to 9 July 2010.

I’m one of several experts taking part in the first ever Virtual Working Summit. It consists of short, practical interviews over ten days this summer and is hosted by Dr Penny Pullan from Making Projects Work. You can join wherever you are, by phone or web. For more details, see the Summit website.

The Summit will cover:

  • Building Trust Remotely
  • Navigating Across Cross-Cultural Tripwires
  • Tools for Successful Virtual Working
  • Communication on global projects
  • Sustainability and Virtual Working
  • Negotiating Internationally
  • Social Media and Virtual Teams (this one is my presentation)
  • Conference Calls Made Easy

And there will be other topics as well.

The Summit is free, and the first of its kind.  It will give you access to leading thinkers and practical tips to make you even more effective at working virtually – which has to be useful for project and program managers looking to be more efficient.

If you can’t make it to any or all of the presentations, Penny is recording the proceedings and they’ll be available to buy on CD, so you can listen to what you missed at your leisure.

If you are able to attend, why not register now? I look forward to ‘seeing’ you there!

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Event: Social Media for Project Managers

I’ll be presenting to the APM’s Women in Project Management SIG on 10 June, and you are invited.

We’ll be talking about how project managers can use social media.  I’ll be presenting this:

There’s a revolution happening in project management: social media tools are finding their way from branding and marketing to the hub of companies and project teams that are making new things happen. The old project management methodologies are being challenged by the fact that those working on projects are using social media tools to communicate and collaborate, and the ways in which we work with colleagues and virtual teams have changed forever. Not everyone agrees with that, though, and convincing management that you want to adopt social media tools for productivity gains can be difficult.

This session will look at the theory and practice of using social media tools to get things done in business. Is it hype or do these tools actually work? And how do you get started with a project-based social media initiative in your own company?

It doesn’t matter where you are, this is a virtual event (and it’s free) so you can come along if you want to.  Find out more and book for the event here.

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How to communicate in virtual teams: Hungarian PMs speak

I was in Budapest last Thursday for a fleeting visit – I spoke at the PMI Hungary Chapter’s Art of Projects conference for International Project Management Day (see some photos from the event here). I gave a presentation on social media use in virtual teams and also ran a workshop on virtual meetings. My fellow… Continue Reading->

PMI Hungary’s Art of Projects Conference: the view from Budapest

Starting with the big image and going clockwise: The MOM Cultural Centre which hosted the conference Chapter Chair introducing the day The amazing round room View from the balcony over Budapest Traditional Hungarian snacks: apple and cherry strudels Endre, Project Manager of the Year, receiving his prize One of the tomobola winners collecting a copy… Continue Reading->

Giveaway: Supercommunicator

Earlier this year I reviewed Supercommunicator: Explaining The Complicated So Anyone Can Understand by Frank J. Pietrucha. Now I have a copy to give away. Use the contact form to get in touch with the phrase "I'm a supercommunicator" by Wednesday 12 November 2014 and I will enter you into the draw. Normal giveaway rules… Continue Reading->

Book review: Trust in Virtual Teams

Trust matters because it helps build a resilient project team. It helps get things done. Trusted team members not only do only what is asked, but what the project needs them to do, because they know that the project manager will trust their decisions and actions.  Trust is a shortcut to better working relationships and… Continue Reading->

The Mr Tumble Approach to Project Management (The Parent Project Month 20)

I said we’d never resort to television while Jack is still under 2, it’s not good for his development, language learning, he’s too young, blah blah blah. But we’ve soon found out that the gap between the end of his nap around 4pm and tea at 5.30pm is awful. So hello, Mr Tumble. You are… Continue Reading->

Better stakeholder engagement: Interview with Oana Krogh-Nielsen

Oana Krogh-Nielsen, Head of PMO for the National Electrification Program at Banedanmark, is speaking at Nordic Project Zone next week and I was lucky enough to catch up with her to ask about the amazing projects she is working on. Here’s what she had to say. Hello Oana! Let’s get started: can you explain your… Continue Reading->