While I was spending the last couple of years making the world safe for natural gas, it appeared the project management profession continued to progress in its normal fashion – that is to say, it continued to reinvent itself by slapping new monikers on established concepts and recycling old ideas as new. This post adds nothing new to that or to the online flame wars of ~4 years ago that still smolder online.
This post is written as part of my attempt to capture my thinking vis a vis an upcoming presentation on Yammer and project management. The ideas here are mine, and may not necessarily represent the view of my co-presenter.
As part of my research for this presentation, I began by canvassing the Web to look for articles and discussions around Project Management 2.0, also often referred to as Social Project Management. My first reaction was that there’s a whole lot of passion there, and what I have previously thought to be a relatively safe topic actually was fraught with peril – not unlike presenting on Microsoft’s approach to Earned Value Management to a crowd of self-described EVM zealots. Lesson learned, when it comes to matters of project management, people care. A lot. When it comes to the term “PM 2.0,” there are inherently needles to be threaded.
So what’s the basic tenet of PM 2.0? The basic concept is empowered teams who understand the overall goals of the endeavor and are actively seeking to achieve those goals. They flexibly distribute power within the team, and the leader is whomever is closest to the problem and has the right skills to martial the team’s forces to resolve it. In this world, the PM steps back and provides a buffer between the team and the rest of the organization, which may be run along more traditional command and control patterns. The PM becomes less of a manager, and more of a coach – while making sure the ball doesn’t get dropped when it comes to the formal risk management processes that must be followed to an appropriate level of rigor.
Sound familiar? That’s basically the textbook description of a high performing team from PMBOK school where they teach us all to recite the mantra of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. As I’ve always seen it, that process of team maturity is really one of developing a shared culture and a shared sense of values within the team. With a shared sense of values, the team will have consensus as to what the problems are. With a shared sense of the problems, they can arrive at a consensus as to the solution or solutions that must be put in place. With shared goals, they have the cohesion to work through any disagreements as to what the best solution is to the commonly defined problem.
Put another way, that is an example of a team that shares common values. When that happens, we move from a command and control to a more trust based environment – or the world described in the PM 2.0 discussion. Shared values = unlocked potential.
The thing is, that’s nothing new. That’s been part of team building lore for decades. What’s more fascinating to me is that as I start looking at the literature on learning organizations, books from Peter Senge and the late Chris Argyris, this is all stuff they’ve been writing about for decades – things like how to create a more trusting organization built upon collaboration and a shared sense of values.
So why is this all coming back to the forefront now? (Using “now” in the loosest form possible to indicate maybe the last 5 years or so.) My theory is that as organizations are becoming more and more distributed, they need to seek ways to enable their employees to work better – and that method is to turn them into a high performing team, i.e. a collaborative, value-driven team free from the shackles of the typical command and control processes. Whereas before we could muddle along in an office-based co-located setting….now, to enable everyone to work from home in their jammies– which is required in some circles to retain good workers, we actually need to pay more than lip service to the concept of the motivated worker. We need to practice what we’ve always been preaching about the need for motivated employees (i.e. bring our Theory in Use more in line with our Theory of Action).
At the same time, we have the rise of collaboration software meant to underpin that same dynamic. Basically, that leads to three threads converging:
- Continued interest in building high performing teams and learning organizations.
- Rise of the decentralized, virtual office space.
- Availability of collaboration software to underpin this entire thing.
Throw in a sprinkling of boomer retirement slash Gen X / Gen Y churn, and you have PM 2.0, or “how do we do the same thing, but with better software, and this time we really mean it?”
That’s not to say that software such as Yammer is not valuable….it is. The basic question, and I think the pivot for this upcoming presentation will be….does collaboration software create a collaborative culture? Or does collaboration software really come into its own when a collaborative culture already exists? I definitely tend towards the latter, but recognize that there’s a self-reinforcing element here. The more visibly we collaborate, the more we send a message that it’s ok to collaborate. The more people we train to collaborate, the more impact we have on the organizational culture as a whole.
Hence, the best impact of creating the project team as a self-contained Model II learning organization may lie in the value it returns to the overall organization. That is, of course, assuming that showing team members what could be doesn’t simply foment resentment at the overall enterprise at large for following a different management model.