Web2.0 and project management
what's the connection?
Project managers may be wondering about Web2.0, and reasonably so. What is ‘Web2.0,’ how will it affect them in their work, and what can they do to prepare for the changes that are coming? These are all valid concerns for today's project managers.
Although there is disagreement over the exact meaning of the phrase ‘Web2.0,’ one thing is clear: in the broadest sense, it refers to “the future of the internet.” This future will have a direct impact on you and your career, just as early internet technologies have radically changed today's world.
The future hurtling towards us is one defined by accelerating change. In this way, our future is no different from our past. In the last ten years, things changed faster than in the previous ten, just as in the last hundred years things changed faster than in the previous hundred. This acceleration started slowly, about 10,000 years ago, and is now rocketing towards us – in many cases, past us – faster and faster. The only way to deal with this “future shock” (Toffler, 1970) is to get out in front of it and be a change agent instead of a laggard.
Project management is greatly affected by Web2.0. The new opportunities that it offers pique the interest of both developers and managers, and it produces new challenges through the availability of new tools and issues of control. Recognizing these challenges and knowing how to deal with them is the first step towards a holistic Web2.0 and project management plan for your company.
What is Web2.0?
As I’ve said, ‘Web2.0’ describes ‘the future of the internet,’ but can we be more specific? Simply put, Web2.0 is about four things:
- It is community-based. Web2.0 technologies encourage viewers and readers to become writers, editors, contributors and critics. We are the news. We make the news. We write the dictionaries. We rate the books and movies.
- It has a richer user interface. Gone are the days of clicking on 'submit’ and waiting three minutes for a page to refresh.
- It is componentized and pluggable. You can build new customized active portals out of segments of live applications and make information available to you in dashboards the way you want it.
- It is about services, not software. You don’t need to install anything; all you usually need is a browser.
Not all of these criteria have to apply for something to be called Web2.0; in fact, some Web2.0 applications came along pretty early in Internet history. Web2.0 is more of a “feel” than a hard definition, but these are the basic ideas behind it. Many examples are already out there, and some of them are pretty exciting. Let's take a look at some Web2.0 examples, and talk about how the underlying concepts pose project management challenges.
Examples of Web2.0
Amazon.com's ratings system is my favorite example of community-based technology. It has been around for a while, but consider the value that it adds to Amazon as a company and the amount they had to invest to make it happen, it is truly remarkable. All of the content is generated by readers who write recommendations and comments about books. Amazon then takes it a step further by having users vote on the reviews themselves, which generates a ‘usefulness’ ranking. Readers put thousands of hours into developing these documents. Amazon had only to create the technology that encourages it, and a system for censorship of reviews that either direct people to competitor websites or contain racist or sexually offensive comments. The censors are Amazon employees whose job is not easily automatable. Still, most of the work is done by the users who create the content. The result is that Amazon is often the best place to get recommendations on what books you'll like - better than a brick and mortar store can ever be. Surely that makes their site 'stickier’ and generates significant revenue. There's a new company here in Austin called Bazaarvoice (www.Bazaarvoice.com) that enables you to put this kind of capability into your Internet store without hiring the censors yourself.
Wikipedia is a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It contains, as of this writing, 1,852,784 articles in English. Wikipedia is often a better source of information than encyclopedias written by professional authors. There have been problems, without a doubt - people have introduced unpaid commercials into the content, arguments have erupted over certain political comments, etc. And yet, these things generally tend to work themselves out over time, and in spite of them, Wikipedia has become an extraordinary research and information tool, instantly available to anyone on earth in just about any common language.
Digg.com, a news site with a technical bent, ranks news stories based on votes from readers. You will find interesting news items here much more easily than you would on CNN.com, for example, where paid professional editors make the decisions.
YouTube.com is similar to Digg, but for videos. They created a very easy way for videos in many different formats to be uploaded and played on a website without special software. This, in turn, unleashed the creativity of thousands of people. You don’t even have to go to YouTube.com to view the content; it can be presented on any webpage, which expands its usefulness. Google recently bought YouTube for $1.65 billion.
The purchase price of YouTube demonstrates the tangible business value that online communities can create. Extraordinary value is worth pursuing, but be aware of the management challenges inherent in building community-driven value. As a manager of a community-creating or community-driven project, you should clearly understand whether you are accountable for the actions of the community, and if so, to what degree. You should also assess how the success of your project will be measured; in other words, what exactly is the value the community is expected to create? Does your project plan assess whether or not the community you create is the community you need? Are there clearly defined value metrics? Ensure alignment of value expectations among the project stakeholders. If some want only “eyeballs,” while others expect a YouTube-level buyout, your project is in serious trouble.
Speaking of stakeholders, beware the “external” and “extra-external” stakeholder phenomenon. If your project creates a community framework – a “community space,” so to speak – then you will have a set of framework stakeholders. The framework stakeholders care about things such as the technology choices (AJAX? Portal?), feature set (Forums? Blogs? Ads?), and perhaps even look and feel. They may be internal stakeholders, from your project's perspective. There may also be a set of external stakeholders that care about things such as page-placement of contributed content, content timing or freshness, or web-searchability/visibility. Often, these external stakeholders provide the content (and value!) for your project; their concerns should be a forethought, not an afterthought.
Enough stakeholders for you? Hold on – here come the “extra-external” stakeholders. For example, the balance of community power may shift in directions that displease a strategic partner or large customer. How much of the resulting fallout will rain down on you? Be prepared.
As an example of a well-constructed informational community, see www.saaspace.com, a Software-as-a-Service community portal enabled by IBM technology and project management.
For example, instead of searching and waiting for results to come back, Journyx Timesheet [Exhibit 1] allows you to search on screen, leading to a much quicker user experience. Underneath the covers there are calls being made to a server; it just doesn’t cause a page refresh.
Exhibit 1: Journyx Timesheet Screenshot
As a project manager, you should understand that users have much higher expectations in today's Web2.0 world. Did you inherit a Web1.0-based project? Extra diligence is advised during requirements gathering – your users may expect a 2.0-level experience in the user interface. Not managing a Web2.0 project? Be aware that your project team may expect Web2.0-level tools, and be prepared.
Mashups are a way of combining features from multiple applications to create new functionality. For example, Zillow.com does this with real estate pricing data, digital satellite maps and airplane photos. You can zoom in on a house and see aerial views from four different angles while simultaneously seeing resale data from surrounding homes.
Google, as usual, is in the forefront of much of the Web2.0 technologies, and mashups are a prime example. The iGoogle homepage allows for easy integration of components from other web applications in a secure way. Here's a screenshot [Exhibit 2] of our Journyx Timesheet example, integrated with iGoogle, allowing users to track their time directly and quickly from their iGoogle homepage:
Exhibit 2: Screenshot of Journyx Timesheet integrated with iGoogle
Another kind of mashup adds the functionality of an application directly into the browser itself, rather than the page displayed by the browser. Firefox is the best browser to date for this sort of mashup, with thousands of extensions freely available. To illustrate, here's a screenshot of Journyx Timesheet [Exhibit 3] integrated into the Firefox toolbar so you don’t have to leave your current browser window in order to track employee time on projects:
Exhibit 3: Screenshot of Journyx Timesheet integrated with Mozilla Firefox
Mashups are often used to enhance productivity tools because they combine formerly separate data sets or tools into one convenient interface. The ease of creating and using mashups gives project managers many more options for increasing team productivity and satisfaction. This is particularly true for the tools that your team members use daily, like time tracking or customer relationship management (CRM), for example. Let's face it - it can be difficult to get project team members to use tools like these. Anything that makes them quicker and easier to use makes your management job a little easier.
Nothing touches people in your company quite like employee time tracking software. Whether you are tracking consultant billing, vacation time or project actuals, employee timesheets have benefited greatly from leaving behind the old client/server days and moving into the internet. Journyx has been providing this technology both installed and as a service since 1999. Its Web2.0 interfaces - WSDL, SOAP, and XML - make it a natural with mashups for everything from Google Desktop to SAP to QuickBooks, and all of these options are in production today.
Salesforce.com is a CRM application company that's doing an excellent job of enabling Web2.0 and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture, which I will discuss further on page 6) to move forward. Despite being expensive ($1500 per-person annually) and somewhat complex, Salesforce's AppExchange service allows various vendors to plug in and present portions of their applications within the Salesforce environment. This mashup gives you one place with one login and password to view all the data you have about a customer (potentially).
Service, not Software
Most Web2.0 companies are providing their technologies as a service, not as a locally-installed or downloaded product. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies offer applications by subscription rather than selling them to you outright. Upfront costs are lower, and maintenance is included. Getting huge community involvement and enabling plug and play and mashups is much harder without the SaaS model. Certainly there are counter examples, such as peer-to-peer filesharing programs that do not necessarily rely on any central server at all, but these are rare.
As a project manager, you may find it better to purchase project tools and applications by subscription. Not only is the lower initial cost attractive, but you also skip having to ask IT to install, upgrade and support your applications. Many managers find the combination quite compelling.
Project Management Practice in a Web2.0 World
Web2.0 will affect project management practices within the enterprise. There are several ways in which it is already doing so. It's changing IT culture, enabling business solutions that were impossible before, and giving project managers new tools and new challenges. Let's start with programmer/IT culture.
Programmer Culture: From the Bottom Up
Software developers want to work on new things. They want to write new code with the latest coolest technologies; therefore they love Ruby, and they hate Cobol. Web2.0 applications are exciting and new, and this is having a powerful effect on programmer culture. Software developer mindshare is valuable real estate and Microsoft has done the best job to date of gaining access to it. But Open Source and Web2.0 ideas have the advantage of being owned by no one, and this lends an additional cache that is attractive to programmers. Web2.0 ideas are often running on XML, SOAP and WSDL protocols. These have been around for a long time, but they are “white hot” today thanks to Google Maps, Flickr and Digg. Cultures are slow to change and hard to change. When they do, important things happen. So Web2.0 is making programmers within the enterprise say, “I want to be doing that here. I want to get me some of that!”
If you manage programmers on your project team, you may very well feel this pressure today. Should your project suffer the misfortune of being tied to “old-school,” pre-Web2.0 technologies, expect team member attrition to increase as Web2.0 becomes even more prevalent. Different pressures beset you on a Web2.0 project. While your programmer team members may be more enthusiastic about the technology, be aware that some features are still inconsistent across different browsers. You may need to provide or ensure good programmer education on these issues. Or, you may need to initially restrict the user's browser list.
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a methodology within the enterprise for exposing relevant reusable pieces of legacy applications to an environment where mashups become easy and composite applications can be built. Programmers also love SOA. IBM is pushing this message hard right now, and the timing is great because they are able to ride the Web2.0 mashup envy wave and give programmers a fun way to do it.
SOA is a very new way of building applications. As a project manager, you should know a couple of things about SOA. First, there are SOA frameworks available from vendors like IBM and Oracle. Plugging into these frameworks could save coding time. However, they can negatively impact scope, schedule and budget if the framework changes. You will need to make an informed choice of vendors. Second, your need to ensure programmer skill levels is very much increased - SOA is new and complex, whichever framework is used. Note that using a vendor-supplied framework isn’t strictly necessary. SOA is really an approach, not a product. Again, programmer skill is key to the success of your project.
Business Culture: From the Top Down
Web2.0 affects more than just programmers. Business leaders want the ability to react faster, outsource more intelligently, virtualize business processes, and distribute certain segments of those processes around the globe to the groups inside or outside the company who can perform them most effectively. SOA is seen as a potential way of doing this. It promises to help by allowing you to quickly and easily mix and match components from different legacy applications - ostensibly, even if you’re not a programmer - thereby encapsulating new business processes and even new business models in software. This allows you to automatically charge for things you’ve never charged for and provide services that you never could before. SOA is Web2.0 writ large - within the enterprise - and it is the enabling technology platform to virtualize business processes for much more intelligent globalized outsourcing.
Why do businesses have such a powerful drive to accelerate change? What's the big rush? The answer is all around us. The world hardly changed for 10,000 years until the invention of the printing press and it's been accelerating -slowly at first, but then faster and faster - until now we’re at a point where products don’t last 50 years in the market place… you’re doing great if they last five. Soon five months will be all you'll get. As the world rapidly globalizes in more and more dimensions with 7 billion people on the internet watching your every move, you don’t have time to take your time. You have to innovate, right now, or your company will be toast. Every CEO knows this to be true whether they’ve figured out what to do about it or not.
SOA promises to help accelerate the change within your enterprise. I don’t have to tell you what that means to project managers. Fasten your seat belts.
So SOA is Web2.0 within the enterprise (or at least the mashup piece of it), and once again, the holy grail of code reusability is raised. It may deliver on this promise to some extent, but in the process it will bring many new challenges for project managers of IT projects. There will be new requirements that your organization isn’t used to fulfilling, such as the need for rollouts of collaborative technologies, and IT customers within the enterprise will start to expect better integration between applications.
Composite applications created by stitching together exposed portions of legacy applications provide testing challenges, documentation issues, ownership issues, and reliability and throughput management issues. The component applications may be stitched together from pieces of applications owned by many divisions in your company. How do you test all of that? In addition, the project manager creating the component application may require a much more cross-departmental team than on previous IT projects. In many companies, the teams have been globalized for a long time, but the ownership of the underlying IT technologies has not. Now it will be more likely for the underlying IT structure to be cross-functionally and/or globally owned.
Tools for project management are rapidly becoming more flexible, cheaper and quicker to implement.
Not that long ago, client-server applications were the preferred way to solve business problems. Keeping all those client applications at the proper version on thousands of machines in a far-flung enterprise was a challenge later addressed by systems management software companies like Tivoli (now owned by IBM). Web applications do not have this enormous disadvantage since browsers are pervasive - even your cell phone probably has one now. Hence, companies like Microsoft eventually webified products that were originally client-server oriented (like Microsoft Project Server 2007). Such tools, however, usually retain the roots of their client-server nature. For example, Microsoft Project Server 2007 does a poor job of handling complex billing rates, vacation time and auditability in time tracking, while more modern project accounting applications that were born on the Web naturally do a much better job of it. Because the Web gives a wider audience to the application, the application has to be more flexible to accommodate that audience.
Blogs and Wikis are now widely used for project communication. Instead of circulating status on a project by email, adopting a standard practice where the project team keeps a blog confers several benefits. Auditability is easy since the history of posts is preserved, and this makes for easier post mortems. Project newsletters may lose subscribers but page views might increase as new users subscribe via RSS feeds. Forrester found that 89% of 119 companies it surveyed were using one key component of Web2.0 technology: blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS, social networking or content tagging (Knowledge@W.P. Carey, 2007). Smart companies are already taking action. This is much enhanced by the fact that many of these tools are free, leading to wider adoption. All successful technology eventually becomes invisible. Web2.0 technologies are not taken for granted yet like electricity, email or web browsers, but they’re moving in that direction.
IT Directors are worried about losing control. Department heads are signing up for things like Journyx Timesheet and Salesforce.com accounts without prior approval from either purchasing or the IT department because no machines are required and the monthly fees are low enough to “fly under the radar” of purchasing. Are IT directors really losing control, and if so, when does it become a valid concern?
Yes, IT managers are losing control, but if they’re smart about it, they’re not losing control of the things that are core competencies of the business. They’re losing control of things that they don’t really want to be controlling anyway.
Systems like SAP or Oracle that span the whole enterprise probably shouldn’t be on someone else's servers, but departmental software probably should. Departments change. They get reorganized. IT shops can waste a lot of effort maintaining systems that never really got used much in the first place if they’re not careful. IT is usually a cost center. Perhaps departmental solutions should be in the department budget instead of the CIO's budget anyway. Perhaps that directly benefits your projects.
In addition, fears about security problems stemming from your data being on another server are unfounded. There are security problems within the enterprise too. Your telephone and bank records are in some other place and you don’t seem to be worried about that. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers just need to be held to the same standards as telephone companies and banks are for data protection. And frankly, they’re doing a pretty good job of it. I haven’t heard of many people stealing data out of Salesforce.com.
The world is changing. The change is accelerating. Web2.0 concepts are an important part of that change and they are already beginning to affect the world of project managers, as well as those who work for them. Project accounting born of time tracking actuals is an excellent way to understand the effectiveness of your organization's response to the changes. It's a world we’re all going to be living in, so let's get ready.
No author (May 9, 2007.) The Internet grows up: What Web 2.0 means to business. Knowledge @ W.P. Carey. Retrieved on June 21, 2007, from http://knowledge.wpcarey.asu.edu/index.cfm?fa=viewarticle&id=1414.
Toffler, A. (1970) Future Shock. New York: Random House.
© 2007, Curt Finch
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, Georgia 7