Behind the scenes at Project Management in the Collaborative Age

For those of you who would prefer to read rather than watch the video, here’s the transcript:

Elizabeth Harrin: I’ve come to Victoria in London and I am looking for the Microsoft offices. I’m going to be chairing a round table discussion there today about project management in the collaborative age, and the things that are making our new ways of working, and the ways that we’re doing project management change, like globalization, virtual teams and things like that.

So I think that would be quite interesting to hear what the practitioners who are coming are saying about how their working life is changing, if indeed it is. And also we’ve got some software suppliers who are coming as well, so it will be interesting to see what they think the future of technology and the tools are. So I’m going to go and find where I’m supposed to be now.

This pointy building here is Microsoft office on Victoria Street. So I’m about to go in and meet the people from Project Magazine who are hosting the round table today.

At the round table:

Richard Gordon (Microsoft): …in a few days to a wider audience. And so it’s not necessarily about finding a common format for things. I guess coming back to the point earlier where there are lot of formats and we’re not necessarily sure whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, blogs, it’s this, that and the other, but allowing people to be able to bring whatever it is that they want to do, however this project is going to be managed whether it’s very rigorously or whether it’s much more open and fluid, to bring people together to share information and ideas.

Fredrik Kellerman (ProjectPlace): So I think very much our approach is that we believe in opening up, allowing people to see the overall progress of the whole project. And actually for their customers to invite their stakeholders, because if the stakeholder is involved in the project and they can see the progress then there are no surprises, then you can handle issues before they turn into massive proportions.

Anne (project manager): There is so much information out there. It’s getting the right bit of information with the right contact which is where I think it needs…

James (project manager): …And that’s where face to face can often help, I mean with the number of problems I’ve seen just in the last couple of months with misunderstood emails or any electronic message without that context is…I’ve been bitten too many times…

Elizabeth Harrin: If we’re seeing that the step change… This all comes back to communicating to stakeholders and yes, okay, that does mean they will have to have difficult conversations with sponsors and senior executives in organizations to try and bring these collaboration ideas to the forefront and maybe we’re not empowered enough to be able to make a decision to go out and buy new tools or design new ways of displaying information. But we can at least be aware that it’s happening and ask the right questions.

Benjamin Sarkka (Improlity): Oh we need to do this and it’s really slow as often this kind of integration projects are really expensive and time consuming, and there are so many IT projects that fail and they have bad reputations. So I think there is still lots of work to be done and meanwhile, there needs to be the right tools to enable project managers to go on. We can’t wait for the perfect tool to arrive.

Editor of Project Magazine: That’s a good point. On the question of the right tools I’m just interested in the views from the project managers around the table: What do you think of the tools that are available at the moment? Do you think they’re up to the job? Do you think they are the right tools? And also from the software providers: Are project managers really maximizing those tools? Do they really understand the capability and the potential that’s at their fingertips?

Matt (project manager): Personally, I know and understand technology and things, but listening to you guys, I’ve realized straight away that there are opportunities there that I don’t even know about in terms of collaborative tools. I’ve worked all my career in traditional engineering type organizations, and email now, that’s the de facto standard for written communication. You get the odd person who might want to go into instant messaging with you but virtually everyone wants to email. And the volume of email you have to deal with, that you’re sending and receiving is just ridiculous, we’re at saturation point now. You need to find better ways to get those messages across.

Paul Major (Program Framework): Yeah! What I’m saying and picking up on the PMO conversation in that context I think is really interesting because PMO’s potentially have the challenge of being perceived as more of an administrative function. I think that is changing.

Two of the organizations I’m working with at the moment we’re designing what does a global or enterprise PMO look like? And it’s actually the antipathy of the admin piece. It’s moving it to something that’s much more value added in strategic space, kind of almost sits as an adjunct to the chief exec’s office and it’s kind of almost that space of the strategic director or the strategy director sat in in the old world way of looking at things. But one of the things that those organizations I see are doing is starting to look at actually what’s the role and career path of the project management professional.


Elizabeth Harrin: I’m back now from the Project round table that was hosted by Project Magazine and Microsoft. And it was really quite an interesting way to spend the morning. We had suppliers there, software vendors from Improlity, Microsoft and Projectplace and we had practitioners, real project managers who are using these tools, and we talked a lot about collaboration and the problems that project managers have. Some quite interesting topics came out. I’ve just got a few notes here to share with you.

One of the guys said that project management bleeds into a number of different tools which I thought was really quite an important point as we’re trying to match up different types of technology. Complexity then increases with everybody wanting to know what’s going on at the same time and again, technology can help with that.

As part of our collaboration challenge is to work out how we deal with the fact that we need to provide different information to different stakeholders at different moments in time, and that gives us a tension between control and collaboration. So we want to be able to share everything or share what we can, but we also need to apply project controls so there’s a requirement for security. There’s a requirement for audit trail. There’s a requirement to not share confidential information with people who shouldn’t see it. So we talked a lot actually about the tension between collaboration and control and where the project manager’s role was in improving transparency while still managing to keep control of what was going on in the organization.

I think we generally concluded that technology is not the answer to some of the problems that we are facing as a discipline. But that it is there to help us deliver to the challenges that we’ve got and are currently facing like globalization, the requirement to be more green, virtual teams, distributed working and the challenge of having five different generations working together in the workplace for the very first time.

So technology is there to help us but talking to the vendors, what we realized was that the tools are so far advanced and very few project managers are actually using the full functionality of the tool, partly because the tools have become very generic. Oh, that’s not really the right word, they’ve become feature rich. Project managers are perhaps picking and choosing what is relevant to their project and their environment. But from a vendor’s perspective, they have to make a tool that suits all projects and all environments and they’re constantly getting feedback from customers as to what they want to see included in those products. So that was quite an interesting point.

The conclusion we came to really is that technology is there to help us be the next generation of project leaders. We just have to get on and actually do it and step up and we are being pushed in the direction of being able to want to embrace this new technology by a number of different forces including the consumerization of technology, of IT and gadgets and so really, we’ve got a way to go before we are these inspiring project leaders full of innovative ideas really driving through change in our organization.

As a whole, I’m sure some people are already doing that now and the role of the PMO in that is to become a strategic center of excellence to support project managers in achieving all of those goals. So really, quite a lot of stuff came out. We talked for 2 hours and that’s just the summary really of some of the key points. But yes, quite an interesting day.