Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tools Don’t Make The (Project) Manager.

It seems that a “twitterview” is creating quite a tempest in a teapot among some members of the project management community who regularly express themselves on the Internet.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it a twitterview is simply an interview, i.e. question, answer, question answer, done via twitter.  The interesting part is that the question and the answer are limited to 140 characters (well not really since a question can be asked or answered in multiple tweets by the same person).  Trying to ask or answer a question in 140 characters can however be quite challenging, it requires that the person tweeting, be it the questioner or the responder, has to be clear and concise.

The twitterview between Geoff Crane (@PapercutPM) who I have mentioned here earlier and Jhaymee Wilson (@TheGreenPM) caused a stir with Glen Alleman which caused him to post an article on his blog Herding Cats.  Glen raised the question of whether twitter is an effective means of communication, and I’m going to jump in and express my opinion. 

Is Twitter a “serious adult communication” tool?

When I initially started using it I didn’t see the value of twitter, it seemed like a broadcast only medium, and for some that is all it will ever be.  Twitter is a tool and whether or not it is effective or not depends on the person using it   As management guru Peter Drucker said communication is what the listener does and twitter may actually be a more effective tool for ensuring communication than other tools such as e-mail or even the phone.  Unlike e-mail twitter lends itself much more to being a real-time conversation mechanism and by the very nature of its 140 character limit it allows (almost demands) interruption of the “talker” by the “listener”.  We’ve all been on conference calls where someone starts down a train of thought and talks, seemingly without taking a breathe, for many minutes before stopping to see if there are any comments or questions.  All of us listening on the phone have been painfully aware that for some time one or more members of the “audience” have been trying to interrupt to ask a question or express a view.  E-mail is the equivalent of the conversation that goes on without interruption, the speaker can ramble on for sentences, paragraphs or pages trying to express themselves with no feedback from their intended audience.   In twitter its very difficult for this to happen.  Twitter by its nature of limiting the speaker to 140 characters forces the speaker to look at the screen occasionally where any responses will show up, and the limitation of 140 characters requires that the user think about the choice of words that they use to express themselves.

One of the problems with using twitter to have a conversation is that it’s like trying to have a conversation in a loud noisy bar.  There are multiple conversations about things that have nothing to do with your subject going on all around you and it can be difficult to separate your discussion from the others.  In order to ignore all the other chatter you have to put on a filter, usually in the form of a unique #hashtag, and you may want to even consider some specialized tools such as Bettween (http://www.bettween.com/) or Tweetchat (http://www.tweetchat.com/)  The limitation with specialized tools like Bettween is that if they thread the conversation based on username rather than hashtag and you can miss that someone else is trying to join the conversation.  Tweetchat solves this problem by following the hashtag rather than the username but if your hashtag isn’t unique or too many people join the conversation it can be hard to follow.

My conclusion is that twitter is just a tool and like most tools it works best when used for the job it was intended for by its designer, in skilled hands it can be effectively and creatively used to do truly amazing things, and in a pinch it can be pressed into service by the unskilled to do things it was never intended for… it just won’t give the best results.  

Project Management (PM) 2.0

Mixed in with the topic of twitter as a serious communications tools was the issue of PM2.0, which the Wikipedia entry on the subject refers to as “social project management”, a concept in which project management moves away from a centralized control approach to a decentralized collaborative environment.  While Web 2.0 tools can play a part in this approach they won’t likely be a driving force in the leap from a traditional (PM1.0) environment to a PM2.0 methodology.  Although there is some overlap between Web 2.0 (collaborative) tools such as twitter and PM2.0 practices these 2 things should not be confused.  The driving force in changing project management will be the success of PM2.0 projects, which will only occur if project teams can adapt a changing management style, not the tools the project managers use.  Having worked in groups where corporate culture mandated trying to trying to adapt away an authoritarian management style to a collaborative style I can tell you that this is a huge change for all involved and I haven’t seen it be particularly effective.  In fact it often leads to a form of paralysis and weakness where decisions take significantly longer and are often based on the “lowest common denominator” solution.  If PM2.0 is to succeed it will require a significant change in standard project management behavior, moving away from High D (dominant) management behavior towards a style requiring High I (influential) behavior in order to move tasks and the overall project forward.

Although I have been, and am currently actively involved as, a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in numerous projects, my work responsibilities don’t call for me to be project manager.  I can (and hope to this year) learn the necessary material to allow me to take and pass the PMP exam.  Even though I am High D passing the exam won’t necessarily make me a project manager, at least not a great one, but it will indicate that I know something about project management.  There are a lot of project managers (with and without PMP certification) out there, the best ones aren’t necessarily certified or authoritarian, but they are leader’s with an great mix if behaviors that include the ability to master High C (conscientious), High D (dominant) and High I (influential) behaviors in order to get the job done and whether a project is run using the PM1.0 or PM2.0 concept these managers will get the job done.

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music note While writing this, I was listening to "Michael Tozzi’s ijazzglobal.com"
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