Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

OK, what IS a "project blog," anyway?

OK, what IS a "project blog," anyway?

By Dennis D. McDonald

I’ve been interviewing technical project managers about their thoughts on the use of blogs as project management tools. Preliminary results are here. One finding is that how you ask the question about blogging and project management makes a big difference in the response. For anyone who has managed surveys for a living that will come as no surprise, and what I’ve found is no exception.

The issue relates partly to what people define as “blogs,” a term which seems not to be universally understood.

For those who are familiar with blogs and have used them on projects (myself included), blogs are easy to use butpowerful publishing tools that enable the project manager to organize and present for easy access a variety of structured and unstructured data sources, often in association with support for various collaboration and file management functions. One can also think of blogs as specialized web sites that can exist separately from the corporate intranet and its associated maintenance and update processes. A frequently-cited advantage of blogs in this regard is that they can help to reduce unproductive email and meeting volume.

Common blog features include discussion threads, tagging, search, RSS feeds, file downloading, and the ability to link to and display just about any type of standard web based interface to a wide variety of systems, data stores, and presentation media.

The most important feature, in my opinion, is ease of use. Blogs can be managed and used by just about anyone who understands rudimentary web access, file management, and document authoring processes.

What I’ve noticed in my interviews is that asking about the features and functions themselves tends to generate more positive recognition than just asking about “blogging.” One interviewee, for example, works for a company that provides a remotely hosted collaboration workspace as a company product. This product is frequently used internally as well. When I asked him about blogging, he said that, no, he had not used blogs as project management tools. Yet when we reviewed the list of features that his own company’s product supports, he immediately reported on the use of such tools as file management, discussion, tagging, and RSS feed management. Could you therefore call his company’s product a blog? I don’t know how to answer that, but I would certainly say that it performs a variety of “blog-like” functions.

Is this just an issue of semantics? Partly. It always helps to be specific when asking people questions in a survey, even one as informal as the one I’m conducting.  

But there is a larger issue here that does relate to the rapid evolution of the tools now available to corporations to assist with in-company and project-based communication. While I’m focusing primarily here on project management applications, the fact is that in the last decade a very sophisticated set of communication tools have become available to the corporate manager for both internal and external communications.

In the past we have referred to some of these tools and techniques as constituting the “web 2.0” revolution and, despite the fuzziness of that concept, the term seems to have stuck. We are already seeing the social and marketing implications of these tools via systems such as Facebook, Myspace, and the many corporate blogs that are currently run for a variety of applications including customer support, customer relations, public relations, market research, and advertising.

Blogs as company-internal tools, however, have not received as much attention, especially when we refer to then as “blogs.” There is certainly no shortage of tools. Microsoft (e.g., Sharepoint) and IBM (e.g., Sametime) both provide a wide range of tools that incorporate blogging and blog-like features among a variety of file management, collaboration, and communication features. Vendors such as Jive Software, ConnectiveX, Blogtronix and others provide suites of collaboration tools and realtime messaging and communication applications that make it easier for people to work together even though separated by time and distance. 

Externally provided and sometimes “free” services such as Facebook and del.icio.us are often applied by corporate staff for business purposes. Google Docs provides basic document and spreadsheet collaboration features that just about anyone who has an internet connection can use. (For a recently published article about project management blogging, see CIO.com’sHow to Use Enterprise Blogs to Streamline Project Management by C.G. Lynch.)

Still, as I have found with just the few interviews I’ve conducted so far, there may be some distance in many organizations between the capabilities these tools provide and the real-world ability to take full advantage of them. Whether you refer to this as “market resistance” or “a clash of cultures”  is not an unimportant distinction. I personally think that adoption strategies need to be tailored to the type of organization that is going to be using the new tools, and this approach should include an assessment of how the organization is managed and how it currently uses the variety of collaboration- and communication-related tools that are available to it. (Disclosure: this is one of the areas I address in my consulting.)

Returning this discussion to project management, it is clear that, just as organizations differ widely in terms of their willingness and ability to change processes and procedures to more collaborative models, the same can be said about project management. There are certain types of projects where the size, complexity, and time dependency call for heavy-duty task- and resource-management tools that are well integrated with corporate management, HR, and time reporting systems. In such cases the communication and publishing functions of the blog would take precedence by making the availability of reports and data from the more structured tools more accessible.

In other types of projects that are more development or innovation oriented, the collaborative and information sharing features of blogs and wikis might be much more important while the formal chart and task dependency management features of more traditional project management tools might take more of a back seat. In such processes where innovation, collaboration, learning, and mentoring take precedence over a set timelines and task dependencies, the core features of the blog might provide major benefits, especially if use of the blog can be tied to a reduction in inefficient email attachments and meetings.

I’ll be addressing more of these issues in the coming weeks. Again, if you would like to share your thoughts with me on this topic, please contact me at ddmcd@ddmcd.com.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald

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Presentation: Blogging and Project Management Survey - Preliminary Findings