Project Blogs, Email, and Dual Collaboration Channels
Jim MacLennan, a seriously thoughtful corporate IT manager, recently published Update on Blogs as PM Tools - Tales from the Front Lines. There he made the following statements about the challenges of adopting blogs and wikis in support of project management:
We’ve been using the MS SharePoint template for a couple of different projects (single efforts) and programs (groups of projects in support of a strategic initiative). We’ve also had an IT wiki in place for almost two years now. It’s fascinating to note how different the rate of adoption for these two technologies has been; getting content added to the wiki is sometimes like pulling teeth, but the blogs are taking off in some areas. Even in small teams that sit within 20 feet of each other; postings, comments and responses are plentiful.
After talking with some of these folks, I’ve realized that using a blog and responding to a post is just like eMail - it’s just stored in a database, accessed using the browser, and conveniently linked to the project. The wiki, on the other hand, is Yet Another piece of formal documentation - and who likes to do that?
This is not the first time I’ve heard about the relationship between email and blogging. In my project management blog survey (which MacLennan cites) a reduction in email was mentioned as a benefit of blogging. Even though people are accustomed to using email as a tool in support of collaboration, for certain types of collaboration it’s a real productivity killer, especially when multiple versions of multiple documents are being sent back and forth and commented on individually. A blog can centralize such collaboration related communications and significantly improve efficiency. Automatic searchability of messages, audit trails, and archiving, as suggested by MacLennan, are also benefits.
Still, not everyone is eager to give up emailed attachments. One association blogger I interviewed told me that, while she had been successful in getting project team members to adopt the project blog, a certain VP still wanted to receive and individually mark up and return attached documents. Politically that solution had to be followed, of course, but that meant that the project manager then had two document review channels to maintain, one blog supported, one email-and-attachment supported.
Another interviewee in my survey had a different experience. She was able to refuse one consultant’s demand for emailed attachments and was instead able to require the consultant to come to the project blog to download and review the documents instead of having them individually emailed.
It’s to be expected when moving from one set of processes to another (e.g., from emailed attachments and comments, to centrally accessed documents with threaded discussions) multiple processes will have to be maintained for a certain amount of time. That’s inevitable. An important question is when a total transition can occur.
Coercion in such cases can be counterproductive. For some people moving from a relatively direct communication channel (such as email) to a more open and collaborative approach (such as a project blog) might be a shock. This has to be taken into account, even if it means that potentially duplicative communication and collaboration channels will need to be maintained temporarily.
A larger question is how to efficiently manage processes that, for historic or practical reasons, require collaboration among multiple communities that maintain a mix of potentially incompatible formal and informal communication processes.
In addition to project management, two other situations I have been studying like this are disaster response communications and R&D management. Even though the time scales and community identities involved in these situations are different, they do share some similarities, for example:
- Ability of social media and networking to blur the distinction between formal and informal communications.
- Potential for social media and social networking to accelerate communication across organizational, professional, and/or social boundaries.
- Increased opportunities for the rapid spread of both information as well as misinformation.
- Potential inefficiencies introduced by the proliferation of potentially incompatible dual communication channels.
I don’t have a ready answer to the potential for inefficiency and misinformation that might be introduced by the addition of new “dual” communication channels to an existing set of processes. I do think that it is management’s responsibility to understand the interaction across multiple channels that can occur. We are no longer limited to telephone, email, and personal meetings to communicate and collaborate; the more we know how to evaluate and incorporate newer channels in our management processes, the better off we will be.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald