It's who you know
BY SUZANNE YOUNG
Project managers are expanding their networking repertoire. Moving beyond the usual venues, they're heading online to do their mixing and mingling—exponentially increasing their opportunities to instantly connect with the people, jobs and knowledge that can boost their careers.
“This is really business at the speed of light,” says Tony Nguyen, PMP. He was having a problem with his business website, blogpatrol.com, so he headed to guru.com, which matches requests for project work with freelancers. Not only did his request yield a solution via e-mail, but Mr. Nguyen has since formed a strategic alliance with the solution's author, Bill Scott, CEO of XPivot Corp., San Diego, Calif., USA. It's strictly a cyber connection, though. The two have yet to meet in person.
That brings up another key difference from traditional networking: People aren't even leaving their desks to join these hightech tribes. Online networking dissolves geographical boundaries, putting users in touch with colleagues around the world with the click of a mouse.
“I'm always looking for what's new and I especially like talking with people from other countries to keep up with what's happening,” says Venkat Mangudi, PMP, project manager at Oracle Consulting, Iselin, N.J., USA. He uses online networks to look for emerging IT technologies. “It's a good way to see how many people are out there and how far along you are,” he says.
Networks are so fluid now. It's not like this is my work group, this is my church group, this is my tennis group.
–Tony Nguyen, PMP, Fredericksburg, Va., USR, blogpatrol.com
Project managers have a plethora of choices when it comes to online networking. LinkedIn is one of the largest business-oriented networks, boasting more than 6.5 million members—2.4 million of whom are in Europe and another 800,000 or so in Asia, according to the company.
There's also Ryze, one of the first of the current generation of business networking sites, with more than 400,000 members. Yahoo Groups are another popular online networking method. The communities are formed around content areas, including project management, of course. A recent search for “PMP” on Yahoo Groups uncovered some 585 communities. In addition, some PMI chapters, specific interest groups (SIGs) and colleges have their own electronic networking systems.
Julie Salazar, PMP, senior project manager with Gap Inc., San Francisco, Calif., USA, used a Yahoo Group when preparing for her Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. “It was helpful as part of my study strategy to participate in interactive discussions with others preparing for the exam,” she says.
Most of these outlets focus on building networks through the six-degrees-of-separation concept—you link with two people and they link with two people, and so on.
“Networks are so fluid now,” Mr. Nguyen says. “It's not like this is my work group, this is my church group, this is my tennis group.” For example, he was introduced to LinkedIn through his own company but now uses the site for his day job as a project management consultant on global IT projects at the Peace Corps, Washington, D.C., USA.
The concept is similar to the wildly popular MySpace. But instead of mostly young people exchanging gossip and talking about music, these venues are specifically targeted to the business crowd looking to make professional connections.
After attending the PMI 2006 Global Congress—EMEA in Madrid, Spain, Jerry Ball, PMP, kept in touch with new contacts via online networking. “Knowing people, and knowing about people, is an important element of the value I bring to my clients,” says Mr. Ball, a consulting project manager for Entity Group, a project and program management services consultancy in Wellington, New Zealand.
He also uses online networks to gain market intelligence on possible industry up-and-comers. “I'm especially interested when I see quite a few names associated with a company I've never heard of before,” he says.
Other project managers tap into online communities to track down a specialist or knowledge within a fraction of the time it would take using traditional methods.
“Recently, a former student asked me for a specific book on procurement processes, not my area of expertise,” says Lee Lambert, PMP, a consultant based in Dublin, Ohio, USA. “So I posted to the network and within minutes had three or four outstanding references. It would have taken me hours.”
His online networking lineup includes the Information Systems SIG, Women in Project Management SIG (he says it's a great place for information, even for men), the Diversity SIG, several PMI chapters around Columbus, Ohio, USA, and LinkedIn. “I'm a networking animal,” he says. “I believe success and failure in the world of project management is highly dependent on the strength of your network.”
Marie-Claire Andrews credits her networking skills for helping her land her new job as a business development consultant at Investment New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand. The company is betting she will be able to leverage all those contacts into new business opportunities.
“The strength of my networks nationally and internationally was a focus in the interview,” she says. “I expect it will be very important as I get going in my new role.”
The New Girls' Club
Women have devised their own answer to the “old boys' club,” connecting with female colleagues via online networking groups specifically geared to their interests. The groups certainly offer the usual advice on topics such as negotiating an offer for the perfect project management job, but they also discuss scheduling deadlines around a pregnancy and how to handle a sexist boss.
When they see “women” in an organization's title, women “expect mentoring, sharing and professional support,” says Rose Mary Tyler, president of PMI's Women in Project Management Specific Interest Group (WiPMSIG). With 2,700 members, it ranks as PMI's fifth-largest SIG.
Women view their careers more broadly than men, and the groups offer a place to get help with “just about anything,” says Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of WorldWIT. Designed for women in business and technology, the group has 50,000 members around the world, including its latest chapter in Nepal.
Discussion topics are about 40 percent professional and 60 percent personal, she says. “When I monitored listservs for several years, men were conducting straight-up transactions,” Ms. Ryan says. “There was never this kind of discussion.”
The danger is that women can become isolated from the mainstream, leading to missed opportunities. Women-focused organizations tend to reinforce the “us-versus-them perceptions so prevalent in business,” Ms. Tyler says.
Just how high that risk is depends on how women use the groups, she says. Most members of the WiPMSIG use the group as a complement to other SIGs or project management groups with a more technical focus.
And there are some men among the ranks. WorldWIT membership is about five percent men, Ms. Ryan says.
Ms. Tyler can't pinpoint how many men have joined the SIG beyond the dozen or so she has recruited, but she says there are networking advantages for men, too. “They can learn how better to work with us and share their expertise and insight,” she says.
A self-described active networker, she belongs to the PMI Wellington Chapter and has been building a network on LinkedIn for about eight months.
One network is often not enough. Frédéric Casagrande, scheduled to take his PMP certification in August, straddles countries and cultures—and so do his online networking tools. Until recently, he was the customer service manager for Interoute, one of Europe's largest voice and data networks based in Geneva, Switzerland. At the same time, he was running brainware.fr, his information systems management consulting business, out of Strasbourg, France.
The strength of my networks nationally and internationally was a focus in the interview.
–Marie-Claire Andrew, Investment New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
Although he scoped out 43 online business networking platforms, Mr. Casagrande whittled the ones he uses down to three. Along with LinkedIn— where his network spans 69 locations— he uses Viaduc, which is concentrated on French speakers, and Open BC, which is focused on Germany, Austria and Switzerland. By using the different venues, he can reach across cultures and countries depending on his business needs. He may have to shift that online lineup again, though, when he begins his new position at Interoute as senior manager in Prague, Czech Republic.
Online networks can be a potent force for independent consultants and smaller businesses. Johan Conix says the new networks help replace resources available to him when he was vice president for executive programs in southwest Europe at Gartner Group.
It seems to be working: Three out of four recent assignments came through an online network, Mr. Conix says. Working out of Belgium, he is now associate partner at S4K Research, a consulting and research firm.
Networks such as LinkedIn and Ryze “help me keep my [chief information officer] contacts current,” Mr. Conix says. He uses one network to ask questions and check ideas, another to locate prospects and get background information, and still another to stay in touch and keep his personal network up to date.
All this connectivity can come at a price, however. Many project managers remain concerned about the lack of privacy. Indeed, some companies develop their own online networks within strategic partners that sign nondisclosure agreements.
Mr. Mangudi says he links only to people he already has a relationship with. “If I don't know them, I don't accept the invitations,” he says. He reads more than he posts, but follows up with individuals on topics of interest.
Always wary of being a marketing target, Mr. Lambert says he is still cautious about whom he links with, but he chalks up some of that to a cultural trait. “I think the U.S. is more suspicious than some other countries,” he says. “In India and the Middle East, for example, there's a tighter social network and people are more trusting of each other.”
There may something of a generation gap as well. As the MySpace generation enters the workforce, online networking just might become as essential a business skill as using an Excel spreadsheet.
<< www.pmi.org << SEPTEMBER 2006