The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of Peter Taylor.
Published here September 2017

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked
The Interesting Part | Downside | Summary

The Downside (for Practitioners, That Is)

The impact of social communication

As Peter Taylor observes:[19]

"Social collaboration in the work place is changing at a frantic pace. And the definition of social communication is changing right along with it. Workers of the past viewed collaboration and social project management as the increase of collaboration with team members, which results in more frequent meetings, more ad hoc conversations in the hallway, and an influx in email to read in the inbox, all of which means that everyone needs updating on everything."

But has that changed significantly, or even is it changing? If not, reportedly, workers are spending 25-35 hours a week just preparing information and engaging in collaboration with others — an incredible amount of time to be engaged in communicating and being "social". Obviously, this refocusing of effort leaves less time to do actual useful work. As a result, the more dedicated workers find that they have to take work home to get their work done.[20]

Our own experience in such working environments is that much work is taken home for a rather different reason. Knowledge workers frequently require the peace and quiet necessary for periods of uninterrupted thought. Such periods are essential for solving the complicated or difficult technical challenges encountered in the development of the intended product.

When you follow the intended benefits of social communication software, an inevitable requirement is that there must be a repository for the information that is gathered. This introduces its own set of problems, such as what sorts of information will be discarded, what will be saved, in what format, under what headings, and so on. But then another obvious challenge will arise. Who will be responsible for organizing the information in the project depository, so that it is relevant to the needs of would-be users, easily found there, and sufficient to be self explanatory?

The real problem — an ever-changing environment

Such minutiae aside, Peter Taylor suggests that the real problem lies in an ever-changing environment, such as "rapid changes in technology, global expansions and heightened competition not only for market share, but also for (competent) employees." In our view, such issues are beyond the purview of the project manager and really fall into the lap of more senior management. Peter goes on to observe that: "Our new social world has jumped into the idea of solid collaboration without truly understanding how to do it effectively."[21]

That is true, indeed! Interestingly, the problem gets worse as you move up the ladder from project, to program management, to project portfolio management especially. Here, given resource restrictions, you need almost exclusively to get agreement amongst other senior managers on a definitive plan to move forward on specific projects for the ensuing production periods. But social media not withstanding, these "other senior managers" are often difficult to "pin down" for a variety of reasons. These reasons include: lack of time; lack of priority; lack of interest; and, worst of all, seeing a lack of relevance to their own area of responsibility.

Again, Peter points out: "Today's world faces low tool adoption rates while project portfolio management software struggles to find the right features for social collaboration in the context of work."[22] Under the circumstances, this should come as no surprise.[23] If you don't know where you are going, you'll never get there!

Time is inflexible but assignable

One last thought in this section. It's all about time, and time is inflexible — it just keeps on going. However, what you do with that time falls into any number of categories. These include personal care and refreshment, personal housekeeping (at work), formal progress identification and reporting, to say nothing of this social interaction we've been discussing. That's before we even get to the necessary research and idea generating as the prerequisite to actually producing some output of value.

Little wonder that those who are really dedicated to their work are somewhat disparaging about the concepts of socializing project management, when you are trying to keep within tight schedules and budgets. Unlike "business as usual" activity that is all about competitive advantage and profitability,[24] project management requires looser constraints. This is to offset the inherent uncertainty — and requirements for the improved quality derived from "socializing" the work effort described above.

If senior management wants to "socialize" team interactions, for the improved quality and relevance to the stakeholders' requirements that can be gained, then those extra times and costs must be factored into the schedules and budgets for the work.

The Interesting Part  The Interesting Part

19. Ibid, p11
20. Ibid, summarized extracts from pp14-15
21. Ibid, p15
22. Ibid, p17
23. As an aside and personal observation, this review is being written in the era of Donald Trump as US president. Trump has been using social media (Twitter) to great effect to the chagrin of established media hosts. As a result, Trump has been able to keep well-established media hosts, especially those of opposite political persuasion, one step behind. This is because putting together a public broadcast takes time, while social media is instantaneous. For the media as we know it today, "the writing of obsolescence is clearly on the wall." But for future projects, it should become a godsend.
24. Well, at least that is true of the wealth-creating private sector.
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