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Project Management

The Social Project Manager [Interview]

Social Project Management with Peter TaylorThis interview was
first published in 2015.

How do you balance the need to collaborate with the governance
and control that’s required in a project environment?

That’s the question answered by Peter Taylor’s new book, The
Social Project Manager.

Today I’m interviewing Peter, whom you might know as The Lazy
Project Manager.

He’s a bit of a character on the UK project management scene
and a respected author and commentator particularly since, like me,
he also does the job.

I’m delighted to have had the chance to talk to him again, so
here we go.

Peter, we last spoke about your books a while back when
‘Get Fit With The Lazy Project Manager’ came out. Now you’ve
written another book! How do you find the time?

Well I am ‘productively lazy’ as you know! Actually I find
writing a relaxing and inspiring activity, especially when I write
about something I feel passionate about.

Add to that the fact that I spend a lot of time travelling and
being on a plane for hours on end which is a perfect period for
being creative.

Your book is The Social Project Manager. How do you
define social project management?

When teams can enjoy the benefits of both the structure of
formal project management and the rich online features available in
today’s online collaboration environments, the results are very
powerful.

It is a balance between that traditional centralised, top-down,
authoritative model and the decentralised, bottom-up, collaborative
model.

Social project management is based upon the philosophy that, in
order to be successful, most projects need the structure of a
project plan together with suitable governance but with the
value-add of the associated emergent collaboration and coordination
tools and techniques.

And what is a social project manager?

I have found, over and over again, that project managers know
what is expected of them, and they want to do a great job, and they
want to remove the inefficient practices they have to work with
each day.

The common access to open information through collaborative
‘social’ tools allows for faster impediment removal and higher
levels of inter-project activity to remove such inefficient
practices.

Therefore a ‘social project manager’ is someone who both
recognises this and embraces it for the greater good of the
project.

This is Peter's book, The Social Project Manager

This is Peter’s book, The Social Project Manager

Social media tools have been around for a while.
Hasn’t everyone got it by now?

I agree they have been around for a long time but I feel we are
only just now on the cusp of the project management profession
understanding what they can do for them and their projects and for
organisations to realise the investment potential.

We still have a long way to go but those who ‘get it’ will
have a significant advantage over others.

I think we’re moving away from social media as a
‘thing’ in project management and more towards online
collaboration tools. I know it’s only a change of terminology but
I think the distinction is important because it splits out what
many executives might think of as the part of social media that is
a waste of time. What do you think of that?

I agree, this is linked to a maturing of social project tools in
the marketplace.

Note that this is a maturing not a matured marketplace, we are
seeing a lot of niche players and tools out there and a
consolidation underway of perhaps the emergence of a true
enterprise project management social toolset.

There is also perhaps a need for clarity of difference between
the personal ‘social’ world and the ‘business’ social
world. This I would say is a combination of personal discipline of
behaviour linked with guidance from the organisation of use.

I speak of three levels of project social communication:

  • Social within Project (that is all about the project tasks and
    progress and challenges)
  • Social about Project (the interaction of the project with the
    wider stakeholder community)
  • Social around Project (the people to people communication not
    necessarily related to the project as such but about the team
    members)

All three are valuable and all three need to be supported.

Peter Taylor

Peter Taylor sitting with a big pile of the books he has
written.

That’s a great distinction. How can you use social
practices to mitigate the requirements and constraints for
governance? I know that’s one of your hot topics given your
professional interest and research into PMOs and
sponsors.

You are right but I do believe that they can exist ‘hand in
hand’ in most project situations, and even where there is a need
and demand for more traditional and centralised governance/control
they can still be a great ‘value add’ I think.

The most effective PMOs empower their project managers and free
them from rigid constraints; social project tools bring value to
such empowerment.

Regarding sponsorship my issue is about getting project sponsors
prepared to ‘do the job’ – when they are prepared then I am
sure they will adopt any social project communications means, but
where they aren’t then social project tools will make no
difference most likely.

Social project management

Can you give me an example of where social project teams
have worked on a project and being social has helped them
succeed?

The book contains a number of what I call ‘social stories’
and one I particularly like is as follows:

A project was underway inside one organisation and the project
manager was doing their best to act in a ‘social’ manner and
started communicating through various social media channels to a
wide stakeholder community.

They were surprised one day when a senior executive contacted
them with an observation that, and without going in to specifics,
made them aware that there was something happening inside that
organisation that

a) they were unaware of – and in truth they wouldn’t
necessarily be expected to be aware of at their level of seniority
and;

b) impacted significantly part of the project that they were
leading (and here of course you would say that they should have
been made aware of this prior to this point).

The project manager had had no direct contact with this
executive prior to this contact and information exchange, it was
only through the project social communication had this
conscientious executive identified the need to share with the
project manager.

It was therefore only through the reach of social media that an
important consideration was made aware to the project manager who
could have led the project in happy ignorance up until the point
that the project ‘failed’.

Of course you have to challenge why an organisation might work
in this ‘need to know’ manner but you know what? That is
sometimes politics!

Your book contains lots of tips for social project
management. Can you give me one tip for readers to implement on
their projects tomorrow to be a bit more social?

Yes the book covers a few such tips but perhaps one important
one is: Projects need collaboration, a project manager cannot do
‘it’ all themselves and there would be little value in what a
single individual can achieve anyway. Projects are, after all, the
way companies get things done.

The key here is that a project manager is the person responsible
for accomplishing the stated project objectives, we all know that.
Nowhere is it ever stated that a project manager does everything,
of course not.

A project manager does not directly get involved in the
activities that produce the desired end result, but rather oversees
the progress and interaction of the various resources allocated to
that project in such a way that reduces the risk of overall
failure, maximises potential success and thereby delivers the
expected benefits, whilst managing costs and quality.

Peter Taylor quote

You write that there is no simple template to follow.
But is there one first step on the journey that readers should
start thinking about? How do you get started?

I would say that a great place to start is by opening your mind
to what this social project world might offer.

This is, in many ways, the reason I wanted to write this book,
to allow people, project managers, and project team members and so
on, to read what others think about the potential of the evolving
world of the social project manager.

By having this insight as to what might be achieved then I would
hope that all project managers could help shape the social future
of project management.

They could become true Social Project Managers balancing
collaboration with centralised control in a project driven
world.

Thanks, Peter!

About my interviewee:

Peter Taylor is a PMO expert and author of the number 1
bestselling project management book The Lazy Project Manager, along
with many other books on project leadership, PMO development,
project marketing, project challenges and executive
sponsorship.

In the last few years he has delivered over 200 lectures around
the world in over 25 countries and has been described as ‘perhaps
the most entertaining and inspiring speaker in the project
management world today’.

His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is
achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain
success in the battle of the work/life balance.

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The Social Project Manager [Interview]
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