Program management meets Web 2.0

Not all the new tools fit, but the ones that do can make a difference

In this report

Weighing Web 2.0

By expanding the ways in which people share information and collaborate, Web 2.0 promises to open the workplace to a freer flow of ideas and spur innovation. But despite proponents’ enthusiasm, constant communication and crowd-based creativity don’t fit every situation.

Take the case of program management, a discipline that traditionally relies on orderly processes and focused communications to share time-sensitive information among team members. Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and blogs, can help facilitate those communications, but the new technology is — by its very nature — less controllable than more traditional channels, such as e-mail.

Web 2.0 tools could generate a lot more information for program managers to make sense of while keeping projects and teams on track with frequent status reviews and updates on milestones. The challenge is knowing how to engage with Web 2.0 while steering clear of the social-media weeds.

“Many people are struggling with those issues right now,” said Viq Hussain, senior consultant at SE Solutions, a technology services and consulting company.

Some government program managers have plunged into the Web 2.0 world on their own, while others are being introduced to it as popular project management software vendors such as Métier, Microsoft and others add new capabilities to their core products.

Government managers will need to consider Web 2.0 tools on an individual basis to determine which ones fit their program management processes and the resources they have available.

For example, wikis seem like a logical choice. They are Web sites on which users can easily create pages and change or add content. By serving as a central records repository for a group’s collaborative effort, wikis can replace the old program management practice in which one manager would analyze project-related documents and then send them via e-mail to other team members to review.

Wikis can also allow for transparent collaboration on the development of program plans and related strategies.

NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate has been using wikis to aid program management for some time. Two years ago, it had 130 wikis, though less than a third of them were used regularly. Today it has 350 wikis, and 70 percent of them are used on a daily basis.

“Wikis allow us to conduct rapid business process reviews, and then we quickly map the results of those back into the wikis” so team members can see them, said David Lengyel, the directorate’s risk and knowledge management officer.

But you can’t assume that people will intuitively know how and when to use wikis. You need to take the time to educate them on the tool’s use and value, said Steve Radick, an associate at Booz Allen Hamilton and a leader of the company’s social-media/Government 2.0 practice. He tells a story about people updating wiki pages and then pasting the content into Microsoft Word documents and e-mailing them to team members.

And don’t assume that because people are familiar with a particular Web 2.0 tool, it will be a natural choice for project management. For example, blogs can be useful on large projects when all team members need to receive information at the same time, but there must be a clear reason for their use.

It is also important for agencies to already have some experience with blogs. Lengyel said NASA program managers are not considering adding blogs to their Web 2.0 toolkit because the technology has not become ingrained at the agency.

Another Web 2.0 tool offers similarly interesting though potentially limited uses in project management. Twitter has been wildly popular in social-media circles for the past year, and vendors are already selling secure, in-house versions of such capabilities for use in program management.

Hussain said he believes microblogging will give program managers a powerful new communication tool by allowing rapid exchanges among team members. It will also enable crowdsourcing, an online form of brainstorming in which people can submit ideas on a certain topic.

However, Adam Vasquez, e-marketing director at program management consulting firm Robbins-Gioia, said microblogging is useful only for certain tasks, such as sharing status reports. Furthermore, he added, Web 2.0 technology must be integrated with other program management tools such as executive dashboards, which aggregate performance reports in an easy-to-read display of charts, graphs and summary information.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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