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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.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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