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Why Social Software Makes Sense for Project Management

A project is a human endeavour – a temporary society of people with a common interest and a desire to achieve something.

Project management as a discipline attempts to put some repeatable practices around achieving these things. It is forethought about forethought.

The problem is that we project people often get caught up in the process and the artifacts of those processes that we forget to keep our eye on the end-game – the delivery of something for our organizations.

A lot of project management software (certainly in the past) has tried to put some way of supporting a particular process and then sharing the process artifacts with the team in the belief that if we all just see the process artifacts, the project will work. But the big issue is that this way of working still does not guarantee the right result.


The problem is that I believe our tools often fail in understanding 3 simple principles of human endeavour, especially as they relate to projects:

  1. There is an almost infinite way to achieve something;
  2. Nothing in human endeavour can be totally predictable;
  3. Most often, the big issues that confront most projects are people-related.

To date, we have tried to reign in all of this messy human stuff by following a process – effectively trying to deny the indeterminate nature of most human endeavours – particularly in the creation of something new.

Ironically, it is this indetermination that is our strength.

Through variation and changing influences we humans produce breakthrough results, especially when we need to be creative to overcome issues.

I cannot recall any time when a truly breakthrough change, an “ah-ha” moment, a new product, a creative solution to that seemingly impossible problem, came from having only a disciplined processes. (I’m happy to be proven wrong). There are plenty of examples of competent results being achieved using “the process”, but the new, inventive, brilliant?

I believe that it is simply counter-intuitive to try and achieve a different result using the same process as we did before. It’s certainly hard to achieve something we did last time when the influencing factors change and they nearly always change as time progresses or the environment or people change. It seems that we believe that if we just keep one thing constant – the process – that we will overcome these other variables. The changing environment, changing people and changing influences adds to the indeterminate nature of human endeavours – especially in an ever increasingly complex world.

We humans are essentially adaptive creatures – we take our changing circumstances and influences into account, learn from them (hopefully), and as a consequence, change the way we do things to get the result. However; our processes are often designed to try and ignore this very fundamental nature.

If we work together, draw on each other’s unique perspectives and knowledge we handle indetermination better. The collective mind becomes greater than individual perspectives.

In the process, we move away from thinking of work as a set of transactions or an assembly line of activity that just has to be completed to the process, to thinking and working interactively. When we do this, we achieve something else, something better.
A high level of interaction between team members within a project provides a context for sharing thoughts, ideas, status, issues, events, etc.

This is the secret of social-based software as a tool for projects. Social based software allows for the indetermination of each unique project as a piece of human endeavour to meet the challenges thrown at it by using natural human interaction. This results in a way to achieve our result exploiting the three principles, instead of fighting them.

This process develops a collective consciousness and a shared result with high buy-in. It allows us to handle the unpredictable. It allows us to achieve something in a way that is humanistic, using a variety of approaches.

It does not mean that we have to abandon the good things that our old disciplines provide. It adds a dimension – the dimension that supports the indeterminate nature and the humanness of project endeavours.

Social software in projects is not a panacea to failed projects – but at least it provides an opportunity for success in a way that our favourite project management methods may not – something that supports the indeterminate human aspects of real life projects – people.

And you know – it could just make “work” fun. Because essentially we like to interact, be part of something bigger than ourselves and to be inventive.

Social based software provides us with this opportunity.

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