Project Management Institute

Social climbing

by Karen J. Bannan

Blogs, podcasts and social media sites can be a font of information. But be warned:
Not everything on the web is what it seems.

photos by Steve Keough

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Duncan McIntyre, PMP, Government of Australia's Department of Finance and Administration, Canberra, Australia

Studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP®) exam typically means hours and hours spent poring over books, with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) never far from reach. Ananya Vilaskhamphee, PMP, certainly did plenty of that. But she also turned to two podcasts—pmpprepcast.com and thepmppodcast.com—both to augment her written materials and to provide a much-needed reprieve from the same old study regime.

A veteran connoisseur of audio books, she considers podcasts a natural. “They were one of my main sources of information when studying for my PMP exam and I continue to use them for life-long knowledge updates even today,” says Ms. Vilaskhamphee, a Bangkok, Thailand-based content manager at Celltick Technologies Ltd.

Along with podcasts, Ms. Vilaskhamphee taps into blogs and social media sites. And she's certainly not alone. Web 2.0 tools have rapidly transformed from teenager obsessions to business standards. Project leaders are flocking to sites such as linkedin.com to track down—and keep in touch with—colleagues and potential team members around the globe. And a slew of blogs such as pmthink.com, reformingprojectmanagement.com and betterprojects.blogspot.com, provide an array of unfiltered project management news and opinions for nearly every kind of project manager out there. A truly global phenomenon, the project management blogsphere includes A Girl's Guide to Managing Projects by London, England-based Elizabeth Harrin, and betterprojects.blogspot.com by Melbourne, Australia-based Craig Brown. And Gestion Organizacional de Poyectos by Lima, Peru-based Jose Machicao, PMP, is aimed at Latin American project managers seeking their project management news en español.

Whatever the tool of choice, project managers are forming connected communities—and that may be the biggest difference between web 1.0 and web 2.0.

Like blogs, podcasts can be found on everything from leadership to critical chain management on a bevy of sites.

Whatever the tool of choice, project managers are forming connected communities—and that may be the biggest difference between web 1.0 and web 2.0.

These days, aspiring project managers are trained to tap into them before they even leave university. Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of decision sciences and management information systems at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA, regularly assigns podcasts to his students.

“Students can listen to interviews, and they hear the back and forth of ideas and information. You can get some of that in a magazine article, but you don't read the entire picture,” because it may have been slanted a specific way, he said.

For Canberra, Australia-based Duncan McIntyre, PMP, podcasts provide a way to keep up with the latest trends. He recently took a position as branch manager, parliamentary and corporate support branch at the Government of Australia's Department of Finance and Administration. In his role, he's overseeing project managers—not acting as one himself. Without podcasts, he worries he might fall out of practice and miss emerging project management techniques and advancements.

“You can find extremely good content in a podcast that in the past would have only been found in proprietary, expensive audio tapes,” says Mr. McIntyre, who downloads about two to three hours of programming each week. “Listening to podcasts, you are able to hear different people speaking personally from their own experience, which is very different than reading an academic story or report.”

To Know You Is To Refer You

Mr. McIntyre has also joined the millions swarming onto social networking sites, forming online communities of people who share interests through chat, messaging, e-mail, video and file-sharing. More than 14 million people are signed up for LinkedIn, while Facebook and other social networking sites such as Google's orkut.com, ryze.com and xing.com are making a play for business users, too.

team management 2.0

Project managers don't have any excuses for limiting their blog use to reading about someone else's project adventures or posting a rant about an uncooperative project sponsor.

“You can use a blog as a communication tool to update everyone about your project's progress and discuss the project among each other,” says Alice Zhang YanChun, In-Stat. “You can post news, updates and status reports to a project blog and make it easier for everyone to stay informed.”

A blog will also help team members feel more involved and help overall project communication, she says.

But project leaders should use blogs with caution—their freewheeling nature can lead to information loss or, worst case, project anarchy, says Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture.

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“Those who have authority problems or are working with teams that constantly challenge them may want to avoid blogs since everyone has equal rights on a blog to post and comment,” he says. “I would suggest setting up a blog that doesn't allow anonymous posts so people can't undermine the [project leader].”

Another important point: Because web-based blogs can be found and read by anyone, be careful about posting sensitive materials or making promises you don't know you can keep. A blog, like an e-mail or a written document, leaves a paper trail. A better bet may be designating your blog as private, so you have control over who sees and comments on it. Or, project managers may opt to create a wiki, a collaborative site that can be added to or edited by anyone granted access to it.

“Wikis are a real opportunity for project managers in the future because you really end up with a shared view. This can help accelerate the dissemination of good project management techniques,” says Duncan McIntyre, PMP, Government of Australia. “You can really find a common way to work together.”

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Podcasts were one of my main sources of information when studying for my PMP exam and I continue to use them for life-long knowledge updates even today.

—Ananya Vilaskhamphee, PMP, Celltick Technologies Ltd., Bangkok, Thailand

In the United States alone, more than 68.8 million—or 45 percent—of active web users are signed up on social networking sites, a growth of 47 percent year-over-year, according to New York, New York, USA-based internet research firm Nielsen/NetRatings.

For now at least, there are no social networking sites officially devoted to project management, but impromptu user-generated social networks are popping up all over. Ning and other tech companies allow people to create their own topic-specific social networks—and project managers have responded.

“[Social networking sites] are useful for maintaining contact with people I've met in other forums, people I've met five years ago and want to keep in touch with,” Mr. McIntyre says. “A number of the sites are quite good about locating and getting you in touch with people you haven't heard from for a long time.”

The sites are also good resources for finding new job opportunities or, if you're someone who does a lot of hiring, new project employees or contractors. LinkedIn users, for example, can read recommendations left for potential candidates and search for people by title, industry, keyword or previous work experience.

And then there's the convenience of having instant access to thousands of other project managers at the click of a mouse, says Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, Silverado, California, USA-based host of The Project Management Podcast.

“Social networks are great places to post a question and within minutes get answers from people all over the world,” he says. “You're able to tap into a group of colleagues you'd never have access to otherwise.”

There Has To Be a Catch

For all the wonders of new media, there are some major caveats. The biggie: Just who—or what—is putting all this information out there?

The author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture [Currency, 2007], Andrew Keen is, not surprisingly, a vocal critic of web 2.0 technology. His book has stirred quite a discussion about the economic and social damage such technology can do. The Silicon Valley, California, USA-based entrepreneur contends posting content without a filter can only harm us as a society.

As anyone who has spent time online will tell you, you can't trust everything you read, and sometimes the slickest-looking content is the very content that's riddled with mistakes, misconceptions or outright lies. The trick to avoiding problems, Mr. Keen says, is being selective about what you're reading and listening to.

“You need to read blogs the same way you'd choose a magazine or book. The problem with blogs is that they haven't gone through a filter,” he says. “There are good blogs out there, but not everything you read is going to be as it seems.”

For example, it's not uncommon for people to blog using pen names. Companies may even post a blog that looks like it's written by a subject matter expert but in reality it's just a slick piece of marketing material, Mr. Keen says. “Any intelligent thief or dishonest spin doctor can claim to be someone just to peddle their own pernicious methods,” he says.

The same can be said for podcasts, according to Dr. Van Slyke. “You really need to consider the motivation of the podcast, especially since some of the project management software companies have podcasts, so they are going to be slanting them in a certain way,” he says.

And then there's the complacency factor: People may simply be more likely to seek out and use blogs and social networks that support positions they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about. As a project manager, this can impede your learning curve and simply make your use of web 2.0 moot.

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[Social networking sites] are useful for maintaining contact with people I've met in other forums, people I've met five years ago and want to keep in touch with.

—Duncan McIntyre

You really need to consider the motivation of the podcast, especially since some of the project management software companies have podcasts, so they are going to be slanting them in a certain way.

—Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D., Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

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Keep Your Guard Up

To figure out if a podcast, blog or networking site is the right fit, project managers need to do some digging, says Alice Zhang YanChun, a Singapore-based research analyst at research and consulting firm In-Stat. If you're looking at a blog, read the author's biography and any user comments.

Podcasts are a little more complicated. If you go to a commercial site such as Apple Corp.'s iTunes, you can search by popularity, with the assumption that heavier usage is a fairly good indicator of the more reputable shows.

Project managers must also remember anything posted on a social networking site or blog is public, and it's going to reflect back on the subject of the post and any organization that person is affiliated with. That means your past may come back to haunt you. “If someone doesn't like you they can post something bad about you,” Mr. Keen says.

But even a critic such as Mr. Keen admits web 2.0 technology does have some redeeming value. Social networks can be beneficial for any businessperson looking to make connections or build a global team on the fly, and these sites will only get better going forward, he says.

“Social networks are almost like next-generation gated communities,” Mr. Keen says. “And sites like Facebook are letting third-party software developers build applications that can be used on their sites, so you'll see more and more new tools that will help you manage your work.”

Get ready for web 3.0. PM

 

Karen Bannan is a freelance writer based in Massapequa, New York, USA. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, PC Magazine, eWeek and BusinessWeek.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK | DECEMBER 2007 | WWW.PMI.ORG

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