Implementing social project management

approach and lessons learned


The rapid growth of social media such as blogs, forums, wiki, content communities and social networking, collectively known as social computing and based on the ideological and technological foundation of Web 2.0, has already found adoption in the area of project management. After introducing the basic concepts related to social computing and social project management, this paper presents the CoNOscenza per lo Sviluppo e manutenzione rapida (knowledge for rapid development and maintenance) (CNOS) web 2.0 knowledge centric software project management platform, which has been developed and experimented for a few years by a large Italian IT services company. CNOS was already conceived as a social platform where the central project management role was mediated with the bottom-up team based approach. However there is now evidence that the project community was not sufficiently empowered on the requirements of the new social project management paradigm. One problem which emerged during the experimentation was the difficulty in collecting and organizing knowledge for future use. Based on the lessons learned, this paper also discusses how a proper adherence to the social project management philosophy can improve this and other important aspects of the CNOS platform.


In early 1990's some of us were involved with a very important project aimed at producing a market CASE (Computer Aided Software Engineering) platform for a major European computer manufacturer. The project was quite innovative and complex. Nowadays this would be considered a program rather than a large project. The program team was dispersed amongst several sites in both Southern and Northern Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. At that time commercial Internet was hardly available, at least in Italy, whilst team coordination and communication was very difficult and slow, since it had to rely on telephone calls, faxed papers, travel and expensive courier shipments. Despite its drags and cost, this kind of communication and, socially speaking, its quality,, revealed to be essential for the success of the program. Since then we are now aware that projects are mainly social entities and that the quality of relations and communication inside and outside projects is essential for their performance.

In the next decade not only did internet became both easily available and reliable, but in late 2004 a new idea emerged at the O'Reilly Media Web 2.0 conference (O'Reilly, 2005) under the term “Web 2.0”: “while the first wave of the Web was closely tied to the browser, the second wave extends applications across the web and enables a new generation of services and business opportunities”. Soon the integration of web-centric technologies led to the encroachment of social platforms, such as the current very popular consumer social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and YouTube. Nowadays, if Facebook were a country, with its 800+ million users, as of September 2011, it would have the third largest population in the world; only China and India are bigger.

This second generation web environment managed to impose itself by virtue of new web services and applications available mostly for free and which quickly replaced traditional internet applications. The services include: blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, forums, chats, internet telephony (called Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP), document/media sharing, relationship maps, RSS, podcasts. These new tools appeared to be supplanting other communication and knowledge management systems because of their superior ability to capture tacit knowledge, best practices, and relevant experiences throughout the social network and make them readily available to more users. By means of such social media the web became interactive and new forms of bidirectional real-time communication was possible. Despite the fact that many businesses are concerned about the potential productivity loss and impact on their brand image, and the usage of such platforms during working hours might bring with it, there is evidence that social technologies, when properly used, have substantial benefits for the Enterprise.

“Social Computing” is more than Web 2.0. Forrester's report Social Computing: How Networks Erode Institutional Power, And What To Do AboutIt (Charron, Favier & Li 2006) defines social computing as “A social structure in which technology puts power in communities, not institutions”. Furthermore, the same report, in its executive summary states: “Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists”. In the wake of social computing, new forms of enterprise organizations supported by social technologies, are emerging, which take into account complexity theory and non-linearity, also allowing for more business agility. Such approaches regard online communities as complex adaptive systems, i.e. self-organizing systems that have the capability to learn from their experience. These new management approaches put the majority of power into the hands of communities, essentially taking it away from existing formal social structures and organizations.

As for other business processes, social computing is having influence on project management. Initially, project teams turned to social technology in an attempt to improve collaboration and communication. This lent itself to the so-called “Project Management 2.0”. Project Management 2.0 has been defined in a number of ways, but basically it is web 2.0 technologies enabling project teams to better share information, increase collaboration and empower teams to get things done. The traditional project manager (PM) role, acting as a proxy in all related communications, is weakened because new tools bring collaboration into the planning process, making the team much more productive. In particular, bottom-up planning is used more often and instead of using one Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) upfront, multiple structures might be applied and evolved along the way.

As explained in the next section, there are well-proved arguments that call for such an approach. Social computing has only given the right support to such arguments. Although some tend to use the terms in an equivalent way, as will be explained later, Project Management 2.0 and Social Project Management (SPM) are slightly different concepts, though both approaches are an attempt to apply the social networking paradigm to the context of project ecosystems, also as a continued response to the movement towards distributed, mobile and virtual teams. The following section will present these concepts in more detail. Further this paper will discuss the CNOS Web platform and analyze how to evolve such platform to a proper SPM one.

Social Business, Social Computing and Social Project Management

The term Social Business has been used for “socially minded organizations”, i.e. organizations aiming at producing socially oriented results. However, here it means organizations using social networks to carry-out their own business. A social network can be defined as a collection of individuals linked by specific relationships (friendship, work, common interests). The typical value proposition for social business is on the customer engagement and marketing side of the business and on building trust and effectiveness within the organization, across traditional structural and cultural boundaries, and across task contexts. Traditional organizational practices create defined and hierarchical communication paths. Social Business recognizes that, while these traditional communication and collaboration channels may provide structure, and reduce information and communication overload, they are too slow, filter out important information, and often do not allow the right information to get to the right person. Where appropriate, communications should be extended across intra- and inter-organizational walls, to access needed expertise, gather and share information, and to engage the wider social fabric of thoe organization.

In 2006 Harvard Business School coined a new term: “Enterprise 2.0” (McAfee, 2006), with the intention f transforming the enterprises into real social networking communities. An Enterprise Social Network (ESN), as applied to a business context, is intended for. :

  • Enabling a customer support team to interact more directly with its customers to gain a greater understanding of customer opinions and requirements;
  • Enabling a sales team to work together on a complex business proposal;
  • Establishing a focal point for distributed employees in a global company to come together to discuss ideas and innovations; and
  • Euilding a corporate culture and sense of community within a company.

More recently the term “Enterprise 2.0” is evolving towards “Social Enterprise”, meaning an organization that uses social approaches broadly for both their client-facing social conversations on consumer social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as providing robust social collaboration functionality for their internal business users. The essence of Social Business is sharing: sharing expertise, sharing experiences, and sharing ideas. It is the technology developments of the last few years that have provided platforms to allow this sharing to take place across departmental and geographic boundaries, enabling employees across the whole enterprise to readily share their knowledge and exchange their views with others, even in mobility. In order to investigate the progress of social business technologies, the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM, backed by 20 of the most important technology vendors in the world, surveyed 451 individual members of the AIIM community between July 29, 2011 and August 24, 2011 (AIIM, 2011). They found, amongst other things, that:

  • Only 21% of responding organizations make no use of social business applications, including 6% where its use is specifically discouraged. 24% have ad hoc usage, 38% are moving to an enterprise wide strategy and 18% consider it to be actively used and coordinated across the enterprise - up from 6% in last year's survey;
  • The key driver for social business is sourcing and sharing expertise, followed by the breaking down of departmental and geographic barriers;
  • Corporate culture and a general lack of awareness and leadership are the biggest impediments;
  • Once in use, greater knowledge sharing, faster responses to queries and questions, and fewer multi-copy emails are cited as the three top benefits; and
  • Reluctance of staff to contribute, particularly senior staff, is given as the biggest issue. There is a growing concern about the level of non-business content, and this may be discouraging management-level staff from participating;

Another recent on-line survey by McKinsey Global Institute (Bughin, Hung Byers, & Chui, 2011) clearly shows how social tools and technologies are being used in enterprises. The survey included 4,261 respondents across sectors, geographies, company sizes, tenures, and functional specialties and was carried-out for the fourth year in a row since 2008. Exhibit 1 shows how the surveyed companies are increasing the level of usage of social tools and technologies year after year, with social networking and blogs becoming particularly popular.

Social tools and technologies adoption by companies survey McKinsey Global Institute 2011 - (Bughin & al., 2011 p. 3)

Exhibit 1 – Social tools and technologies adoption by companies survey McKinsey Global Institute 2011 - (Bughin & al., 2011 p. 3)

Exhibit 2 below shows the adoption of social technologies across industry. It is very interesting to note how the various social tools are being used across business processes. This is shown in Exhibit 3. The greatest number of respondents declared that their companies use these tools to scan the external environment for new ideas.

Social tools and technologies adoption across industrysurvey McKinsey Global Institute 2011 - (Bughin & al., 2011 p. 3)

Exhibit 2 – Social tools and technologies adoption across industrysurvey McKinsey Global Institute 2011 - (Bughin & al., 2011 p. 3)

Social networking and blogs, in particular, are used most heavily in externally focused processes that gather competitive intelligence and support marketing efforts.

Usage of social tools by business process survey McKinsey Global Institute 2011 - (Bughin & al., 2011 p. 8)

Exhibit 3 – Usage of social tools by business process survey McKinsey Global Institute 2011 - (Bughin & al., 2011 p. 8)

Social Computing

Social computing was defined in the introduction of this paper. It is important to analyze the characteristics of social computing more in depth, since, as explained before, it represents the foundation of Social Business and SPM. The introduction of social software amplifiesthe ways we can create and manage human relationships. The great spread of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has also helped to expand the range of relationships, because there are new ways of relating between individuals. Therefore, there is a big chance that extended theories and techniques will be available in the future for Social Network Analysis (SNA), due to the fact that now the experiments can be conducted more quickly and with a larger number of actors than before. SNA (Wasserman & Faust, 1994) is a process of mapping a group's contacts (whether personal or professional) to identify who knows whom and who works with whom. In enterprises, it provides a clear picture of the ways far flung employees and divisions work together and can help identify key experts in the organization who possess some specific required knowledge. Some enterprises are using SNA to identify how knowledge flows through their organizations, who holds influence, who gives the best advice and how employees share information. Also, SNA can be useful to establish which skills enterprises need to retain and develop and to determine who, among the workforce close to retirement, has the most important knowledge and experience to begin transferring to others.

The generally accepted basic tenets of social computing are:

  1. Innovation is moving from a top-down to bottom-up model;
  2. Value is shifting from ownership to experiences; and
  3. Power is moving from institutions to communities.

Social computing is mainly based on the following characteristics:

  • Awareness: an individual's consciousness of belonging to a social network. Without this consciousness the network doesn't develop. Social computing establishes new ways to create and maintain relationships, hence awareness goes beyond the mere physical proximity by using tools such as chat, video conferencing, streaming information;
  • Relations: the social interaction between individuals. They are the foundation of social networks. Social computing has increased the opportunity to connect individuals by new ways, information and knowledge flow between relations; and there are new ways to deliver this information;
  • Emotions: the feelings deriving from social interactions. In networks based on friendly relations it is important to see how emotional factors will drive the expansion and creation of content. The emotional component of relations can be used to reach better quality and to better focus the team on common objectives;
  • Interaction. Social computing networks are highly interactive. Facebook applications are not only just chat and wall posts, but also interactive games or applications that generate different types of new content including multimedia. Many younger people prefer to stay informed using today's social networks instead of television because of its interactive capabilities;
  • Trust. Social networks and contents are driven by the confidence placed in their contacts. The higher the degree of trust and respect in the network contacts, the greater the perceived confidence on information received from one's contacts rather than from other sources;
  • Information stream. Information streams constantly flow through a “wall”. The stream is the history of the social interactions and many applications use the wall to publish day-by-day life. For examples athletes use it to publish progress of their workouts and compare with others. A project activity stream represents the history of the project and can be updated manually by people or automatically by the tools used;
  • Mush-up. Before the use of social platforms, contents were updated on the Web by a conventional editorial processes. The information flow was then directed into a single direction and the future course of this flow was determined by the will of one or a few users. In Social Computing, content is generated by interaction and by aggregation from anyone. There is no pre-arrangement of content, but these will be generated each time through conversations and post and therefore it is difficult to predict the future content. Projects can use this paradigm to conduct, for example, a product design task.

Social computing focuses on information flow to manage knowledge and, in this sense, uses a number of different paradigms:

  • Tagging. Ability to mark any content or document. This feature can be used to characterize knowledge by the community other than by automatic tools;
  • Social search. Ability to search through the contents of the network nodes. The knowledge significance can be determined by nodes proximity and reputation of nodes;
  • Ratings. Platform's ability to mark content with approval ratings. This feature can be used to select better knowledge in time;
  • Interactive document sharing. Ability to create, store and share documents in collaboration with other project stakeholders.

Knowledge is a basic asset from which an organization can generate value. Thus, Knowledge Management (KM), the process through which such value is generated, is very critical in modern organizations. Most often, KM involves codifying what employees, partners and customers know, and how they interact with each other, with the objective of sharing that information among employees, departments, and even with other companies in an effort to both devise best practices and maintain such knowledge available even when the knowledgeable people are no longer availabledue to resignation or retirement.

It's important to note that while KM is often facilitated by IT, technology alone is not KM. Not all information is valuable knowledge. Therefore, it's up to individual organizations to determine what information qualifies as intellectual and knowledge-based assets.

In general, however, knowledge can be classified as either explicit or tacit. Normally, explicit knowledge consists of anything that can be documented, archived and codified, often with the help of IT. Tacit knowledge, instead, is the non-codified knowledge, the know-how contained in people's heads. The challenge inherent with tacit knowledge is figuring out how to recognize, generate, share, and manage it. While IT, in the form of e-mail, groupware, instant messaging and related technologies, can help facilitate the dissemination of tacit knowledge, identifying tacit knowledge in the first place is a major hurdle for most organizations.

But these are not the only challenges of KM. Its traditional management-centric nature requires dedicated KM staff headed by a chief knowledge officer or other high-profile executive. Also, companies diligently need to be on the lookout for information overload. In the traditional approach. Knowledge creation and storage happens as a point in time. Since knowledge can get stale fast, the content in a KM program should be constantly updated, amended and deleted. What's more, the relevance of knowledge at any given time changes, as do the skills of employees.

Therefore, there is no endpoint to a KM program. Like product development, marketing and R&D, KM is a constantly evolving business practice. Social computing is promising solutions to such problems, changing the way knowledge is created and managed. In social computing KM becomes highly iterative as content becomes a social object, i.e. content is no longer a point in time, but something that is part of a social interaction, such as a discussion. It easily disassembles the pillars of structure as it evolves.

Social Project Management

In the above-quoted McKinsey Global Institute survey (Bughin, et al., 2011), about 55% of respondents declared their company is using social tools to manage projects. This is not at all surprising and indeed SPM is gaining its way due to many reasons. As reported in (Weaver, 2007) :

  • Projects are Temporary Knowledge Organizations (TKO), therefore the primary instrument of project management is the project team;
  • Project teams are complex adaptive systems, responding and adapting to their surroundings (i.e., stakeholders)
  • Detailed project programming attempting to predict the path of a project is not very effective due to the “nonlinearity” effect: small differences may lead to big changes whilst big variations may have minimal effects;
  • The success of a project mostly depends on the interaction among people and the essentially responsive and participative nature of human processes of organizing and relating.

In addition, Projects are Temporary Social Systems where a Temporary Knowledge Organization comes together to work towards a common goal. Such statements are the results of a relatively long-lasting, slow evolution which is having its effects today.

Indeed, for a long time, the traditional project management approach has been questioned due to the large number of failing projects, i.e. substantially deviating from initial objectives: scope, time, cost and quality. Some research (Koskela & Howell, 2002), (Howell, Macomber, Koskela, & Draper, 2004), using Project Management Institute's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (Project Management Institute, 2008) as a reference for the traditional project management theory, points out that traditional project management is heavily dependent on project plans and their continuous updates (management-as planning); execution is performed by dispatching planned tasks; and project progress is controlled by means of feedback methods like the ones used to control thermostats. This research argues that management-as-planning has a high likelihood of failing because upfront planning is very unpredictable due to three main problems: the impossibility to keep plans effectively updated; the unrealistic separation between management and execution; the dispatching model for the execution of planned tasks which assumes that both the inputs to a task and the resources to execute it are both ready at the time of authorization and in the actual conditions as expected. Moreover, such a model implicitly assumes that the project team be organized as an assembly line where each task relies on the on-time scheduled inputs arising from preceding ones. This would be fine if the executing agents were a kind of automata with deterministic behavior; actually, the unpredictability of human behavior that often is driven by a strong emotional component (jealousy and envy of colleagues, depression and family situations, aspirations and passions, etc..) can have important impacts. The authors even underline the failure of traditional project scheduling and CPM with a naked truth: “all too often, however, only the original plan and scheduling data are ever produced. They continue to cover the office wall long after they are obsolete and bear little resemblance to the current progress of the job”. (Koskela & Howell, 2002, p. 302)

The last characteristic of traditional project management is the monitoring and control model, which derives from the continuous system control theory and is similar to the one used for controlling, e.g., thermostats. Therefore it has been named thermostat model. This kind of model is not at all sufficient, since it lacks learning and improvement, i.e. it does not address finding reasons for deviations, and eliminating those root causes.

The research proposes the following shifts:

  • management-as-planning
  • dispatching model
  • thermostat model
  • img management-as-organizing
  • img commitments model (language/action perspective)
  • img scientific experimentation model

Management-as-organizing, assumes that human activity is inherently a response to the situation in question. Thus, the structured nature of the environment may contribute to purposeful acting. Human agents are sub-units capable of sensing, planning and acting. Communication is non-hierarchical, based on interaction between sub-units. In this approach, management involves design, co-ordination and enabling of otherwise autonomous activities. The leadership model is coaching with a purpose of fostering of an organizational environment conducive to building trust among people for collaboration, learning and innovation.

The commitments model is based on the language/action perspective (Winograd, 1986), which argues that the work in organizations is coordinated through making and keeping commitments in a two-way communication between the controller and the executors. The model assumes that a job will actually be started and completed only if the executor is committed to realize it. The commitment cycle begins with an offer or a request, followed by a promise, performance and declaration of completion. Thus an action is coordinated by the commitments people make rather than by central control acting through commands.

The scientific experimentation model, assumes that each project can be considered as an experiment in which there is a phase of the formulation of hypotheses (requirements), a run of the experiment (construction) and a phase of hypothesis testing (testing). By making explicit hypothesis, the root causes for problems can be found and performance can be improved, just as done in the Toyota Production System (Spear & Bowen, 1999).

Another recent research program (Saynisch, 2010, pp. 21,22,35) contends that “increased complexity in society, economics and technology requires a new and suitable organization and management”. This research program, which was aimed at investigating new requirements for the implementation of project management deriving from such increased complexity, came to similar conclusions to the above. As pointed out by the author, “traditional management understanding – based mainly on mechanical, mono-causal, non-dynamic, linear structure - cannot fulfill these challenges and requirements”. The research found that “a cultural change is needed since there are many deficits in the current way of thinking. There needs to be a culture of trust, welcoming outsiders, embracing new ideas and promoting cooperation”.

The needs for new organizational models based on such cultural change is not new and can be found in the lean management approach inspired to the Toyota Production System (Spear & Bowen, 1999). Already in 1999 Alistair Cockburn (Cockburn,1999), one of the founders of the Agile Alliance, reported similar conclusions, showing, after having reviewed three dozen software projects and methodologies over 20 years, that “the characteristics of people is the dominant first order project driver”. Despite all attempts to support people with “heavy” processes and tools, Cockburn continuously found that: “the people on the project were not interested in learning our system” and “they were successfully able to ignore us, and were still delivering software, anyway”. His conclusions were that:

  • People are communicating beings, doing best face-to-face, in person, with real-time question and answer; People are highly variable, varying from day to day and place to place; and
  • People generally want to be good citizens, are good at looking around, taking initiative, and doing “whatever is needed” to get the project to work;

Finally, these characteristicsrepresent both serious and difficult-to-mitigate risks for up-front planning methods and they call for a “low-precision” planning model which can draw on the strength of people in “looking around and face-to-face communication, while forgiving inconsistency of update”.

Very remarkable SPM implementations have been accomplished for a very long time with exceptional s, but also economics, software engineering and business strategy ones (Madey Freeh, & Tynaan, 2002). It is possible to distinguish between social networks and collaborative networks. The latter are a variation of the social networks and are based on collaborative relationships, such as for principal project stakeholders.

In the beginning, project teams turned to social computing in an attempt to improve collaboration and communication. The initial Project Management 2.0 approach embraced a philosophical shift away from centralized command and control and focused strongly on the egalitarian collaboration of the team. However, this can be seen as a niche related to small projects with predominant creative and collaborative components (e.g. the organization of marketing initiatives or projects).

Afterwards, and perhaps in consideration of this, Project Management 2.0 has been evolving towards SPM. SPM recognizes the role of project managers, although with an emphasis on organizing and coaching, rather than on planning and directive communication. This does not mean that SPM does not make use of plans and schedules. Actually, these assume a dominant role as they represent the constant guidance of the social network linked to the project. We can assume that all the basic elements of project management can be found in SPM but they are not confined to documents or processes, since these are constantly communicated to the social network and used to orient and organize the team. All in all, the mission of SPM is to identify and use specific methods, tools and practices of social networks that can lead to better project management.

The research programs discussed earlier and the nature itself of SPM, allow to state that SPM is very likely a more natural way to run projects than traditional approaches. By using relationships to share knowledge and collaborate, SPM can expand project management practices to obtain results that with traditional project management would probably be unattainable: in a social network based on trust, knowledge is not hidden but exposed and discussed; it is much easier for a member of the network to have access to relevant knowledge than in a “closed” working environment. One important effect of this is strong recognition, commitment and common objectives, which also makes team building a much easier and a more prompt task, but perhaps the most critical one.

The CNOS Platform

The CNOS platform has been developed by the Italian ICT services company Exprivia as an innovation initiative with the objective of supporting software development projects with an Experience Factory (EF) based on: a) Basili's Quality Improvement Paradigm (QIP) (Basili, Caldera G. & Tombach 1994); b) Web 2.0 technology; and c) step-by-step workflows of applicable project management and software development processes and procedures. All together, the aim was to:

  • Introduce, formalize and continually improve PM processes at all levels of the organization;
  • Support project initiatives and their teams by means of a collaborative and integrated infrastructure aligned to modern technology and standards such as Web 2.0 and open source products; and
  • Organize, manage, integrate and make available a production Knowledge Base (KB), in order to enhance the implementation of projects by means of a proper Experience Factory (EF).

Exhibit 4 shows how the QIP works and argues that such a model extends the Plan, Do, Check, Act(PDCA) model to Plan Do Check Learn Act (PDCLA), explicitly introducing the learning action before each acting action. As shown in Exhibit 5, the CNOS EF infrastructure is made of two major modules: a project organization (PO), where the projects are organized, executed and monitored; and a knowledge organization (KO), where the knowledge is extracted, characterized, packaged and disseminated. Examples of knowledge packages handled by CNOS are: processes (a single reusable process or procedure), documents, statistics (e.g. an estimate of a predefined task), tools.

QIP and Knowledge-enhanced PDCA quality cycle

Exhibit 4. QIP and Knowledge-enhanced PDCA quality cycle

Experience Factory and related functions

Exhibit 5. Experience Factory and related functions

Some of the main issues that had to be faced were: how to organize software production in order to make it more effective and more qualitative; how to allow a high degree of exchange and collaboration at all levels, internal to the project, inter-projects and with the outside world; how to gather, organize and disseminate the knowledge and what kind of knowledge. Exhibit 6 shows both the CNOS system architecture and the macro-workflow of its functional logic, with reference to both the PO and the KO.

CNOS Architecture and Functional logic

Exhibit 6 – CNOS Architecture and Functional logic

A very strong centralized approach was implemented for a) infrastructure management; b) Project Office support to the projects; and c) Knowledge gathering and organization. We started from our experience, confirmed in (Cockburn, 1999), which showed that, in the traditional approach, a project team tends to avoid precise application of central management and development procedures. We noticed this is particularly true in case the project is behind schedule. Although this might seem very unnatural, sometimes it is just a matter of not having the time to become aware of such procedures. One of the consequences is that often some project documentation is incomplete or missing, which might be a problem for following development steps, project monitoring/control, artifact delivery, quality assurance and future maintenance. Naturally, process improvement also gets affected in a negative way by this. New projects should benefit from previous ones by reusing their packaged parts from a categorized WBS, based on the kind of project/sub-project/work package being developed. After reusing such parts, reuse ratings are collected so that, if necessary, any community member, when needed, can be informed about the level of utility of such packaged parts, as deduced from the ratings of the specific usage cases. Of course, an additional effort is required at project closure, in order to create such knowledge packages after a Knowledge Engineer examines the final project structure, its artifacts and any working notes. More details on the CNOS platform can be found in (Casanova & Bellifemine, 2010).

Evolving towards a proper Social Project Management platform

A gradual introduction of CNOS into production has been very slow and had to overcome strong resistance because of the natural fears for new and nonconsolidated approaches and their uncertain effects on the business, particularly in case of contract projects. However other important factors, such as the people factors mentioned by Cockburn, were relevant. Naturally, you cannot win such resistance without injecting a completely new mentality all over the organization and even its principal external stakeholders. Another serious matter has been that, for various reasons, in the beginning there was hardly any past recorded experience that could be packaged in a serious way and thus reused. In any case, however, a centralized KO poses a heavy burden due to the difficult task of organizing and disseminating the knowledge deriving from each concluded project in the form of knowledge packages.

Ever since the original conception of the CNOS project in 2002, social computing and agile methods have gained a large consensus. We already realized the importance of web 2.0 and social computing when we started the project implementation in 2005. However, also due to little feedback from practical cases and the continuous evolution of such approaches, we were not sure that the full empowerment of the project team, as Project Management 2.0 suggests, was adequate in an organization that should be uniformly governed. We were also afraid that such empowerment might possibly have caused resistance from top management, fearing of losing power and control, although in our case this was unlikely to occur. Nonetheless, many of the state-of-the-art Web 2.0 social collaboration tools were integrated in an attempt to foster project socialization.

Following our lessons learned experimenting CNOS, we are reasonably convinced that Web 2.0 collaboration tools alone are not enough, lacking a real shift to the new social paradigms as exposed before. A proper partial de-centralization of management could be very beneficial to substantially improve both Exprivia's project performance and user acceptance of both the CNOS platform and related project management logic. Our aim is improved/effective communication, collaboration and knowledge exploitation, by both connecting each project to the social network of the organization and true people empowerment. Therefore now we are analysing how the CNOS platform could be aligned to such paradigms.

As already mentioned, CNOS was developed on the base of the following assumptions:

  • Separation between the Project Organization and the Knowledge Organization;
  • Centralized functional management supported with specific technology, such as a state-of-the-art open-source WfMS (Workflow Management System) and automatic documentation production;
  • Strong interaction and knowledge sharing using emerging Web 2.0 technology and a centralized KB.

We have already mentioned that the separation of the logic between PO and KO has not been very efficient and poses a heavy burden because of the difficult task of reviewing all project documentation and artifacts at the end of the project, integrate new knowledge, improve old one in the KB and maintain it continuously. Moreover, it is now very clear to us that the logic of packaged reuse is very expensive in terms of effort and maintenance, and we are also convinced that reusing software packages is not very useful, due to the fast evolution of both technology and product requirements.

A different logic, capitalizing on social networking information and social technology, therefore removing the PO-KO separation, can be beneficial in overcoming a good deal of knowledge management complexity. As Cockburn points out (Cockburn,1999, p.6), through an effective social networking and communication, much knowledge can be obtained by other colleagues, subject matter experts or relevant examples provided by them. We also know that a lot of important and up-to-date knowledge is retrievable from external internet sites. The remaining knowledge can be produced, retrieved and maintained, in the form of information (activity) stream, directly by the team, using the social collaboration paradigm, while executing tasks on the project wall, a shared project activity stream that gives a voice to everyone in the project community, from team member to PM to partner or stakeholder. This way the KO, though still present, can become much easier to organize and govern.

Following the previous arguments, we have decided to keep the KO organization, but make it very simple. In practice, we have decided to organize the KB by project type. Each project type is associated to a high level documented schema containing a high-level WBS which details typical main deliverables to 1 level of detail. A rough duration and effort estimation is made on the base of template suggestions and available experience.

Thus, a high-level schedule is defined taking into account the project milestones. As new projects are activated, this high-level WBS becomes the root from which the project knowledge is built. A team is assembled based on high-level plan definitions. All remaining planning, such as further decomposition, and execution is left to the team, with possible PM assistance, as the project evolves through the project wall. This happens in an iterative and incremental way, trying to respect the basic milestone schedule. Since progress info is automatically gathered, project progress review does not require specific meetings, unless the PM decides to do so, for example, in case of particular risks or important issues which the team is not able to address autonomously. Project progress documentation can be automatically generated and progress metrics can be automatically gathered for future estimations. For effective and socially rated retrievals, knowledge browsing and searching also requires special searches which take into account the searcher's social network in addition to the content characterization. These are known as social searches. For example, the search gives a higher weight to people closer to the searcher in the network from a social point of view.

Our practical experience with CNOS has shown that, although its architecture is substantially right even for our SPM platform, the way we have used the platform is not very much aligned to the new project management requirements as expressed earlier. Therefore, all the macro logic shown in Exhibit 6 above can be confirmed, even for a true SPM context. A difference with the previous CNOS version is that workflow definitions do not support each specific development step, as required by a waterfall or object oriented methodology, but rather are limited to activating the team on the high-level WBS and gathering check-points in order to follow the progress. This can be accomplished by substituting procedures with checklists that implement finite state machines guiding the team while performing the tasks to accomplish goals; and supporting team decisions with mind mapping approaches. In practice, the major improvements for the CNOS platform are all concerning procedural and organizational issues, which might require the integration of some minor new social collaboration tools. In the end, the PM task will be more concentrated on leadership, coaching, team building and support of the implementation phases, with project monitoring and control being straightforward and up-to-date. Progress meetings will be limited to exceptions due to the arising of special risks or to the case of inability of the team to take or support decisions.

Finally, Exhibit 7 summarizes the general strategy that will be used for future CNOS main features and related tools.

CNOS Social Project Management feature strategy and tools

Exhibit 7 – CNOS Social Project Management feature strategy and tools


This is a very exiting point in time when we have moved from a closed world to a global world to a connected world, where the continuously evolving web technology is simplifying and fostering social interactions on a global scale. Work organization is being deeply impacted and is now ready for more people empowerment and socialization. Project management too, is relying on social computing to solve its low performance problems. This paper has tried to show how the CNOS Platform, implemented by Exprivia and based on Basili's QIP model and web 2.0 collaboration, can be evolved to support true SPM, in an attempt to make CNOS help the Exprivia project organization to perform better.

We completely agree on the many studies showing that traditional project management contains pitfalls and that leveraging on people and social paradigms is very beneficial in order to overcome the almost everlasting problem of projects ending up with some kind of failure or serious inefficiency. The analysis shows that, overall, the CNOS platform does not require many architectural changes. The main impact is on procedural and organizational changes in both the Project Organization and the Knowledge Organization. Therefore the whole platform flexibility and openness can be preserved. We are very confident that such changes, in addition to improving project performance in general, will have the effect to solve two very serious problems: the organizational resistance to accepting the platform and the difficult task of packaging and maintaining the development knowledge.


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© 2012, Pietro Casanova & Francesco Bellifemine
Originally published as a part of 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Marseille, France



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