Why social media cannot replace traditional project management methodologies

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    Ever heard of the cliché – “Technology cannot replace people”? I’m sure you have heard that several times too! And am also sure you must have felt the same while dealing with many aspects in your life, for example, while dealing with your bank, or your insurance company. Definitely some of the times you would have felt the acute desire to directly interact with a human and resolve your problem, than go through the myriad of digital instructions, and then reach a customer service officer.

    Technology is just an enabling tool. Though technology has enabled to automate certain mundane processes (and which is actually good), we cannot deny that, many a times, there is a strong need felt for that ‘real human’ interaction; that which simply boosts your confidence as a customer.

    Neither can we deny that technology does make our lives more efficient. But having a new technological breakthrough does not always really replace the old technology or a method; it may supplement the old one or provide an option to the users.

    This fact is better captured in a statement by late Steve Jobs:

    "The over-all point is that new technology will not necessarily replace old technology, but it will date it. By definition. Eventually, it will replace it. But it's like people who had black-and-white TVs when colour came out. They eventually decided whether or not the new technology was worth the investment." – Steve Jobs

    So how does it all fit into the context of Project Management and Social Media?

    The Romans started it all…

    Let us start from the era of Roman Empire. The Romans are believed to have had very proficient project management skills to be able to build some really colossal architectural monuments such as the Colosseum. According to the Wikipedia, the Colosseum is a free standing structure of about 189 meters (615 ft) long, and 156 meters (510 ft) wide, with a base area of 6 acres (24,000 m2). The height of the outer wall is 48 meters (157 ft) and the perimeter is 545 meters (1,788 ft). The central arena is an oval 87 meters (287 ft) long and 55 meters (180 ft) wide, surrounded by a wall 5 meters (15 ft) high, above which rise tiers of seating.

    It would not have been possible to successfully erect such buildings unless the Romans were able to properly do the following:

    1. Lay down the specifications
    2. Allocate and channelize resources
    3. Estimate time and budget
    4. Channelize subject matter experts (SMEs)
    5. Ensure clear communication
    6. Demonstrate leadership, and
    7. Have focus

    Coming back to the modern era, project management in IT was also driven by the need to organize work into pieces called ‘projects’ that had to be carefully planned to achieve certain goals (or deliverables), were temporary in nature constrained by time and budget, and were to be constituted by teams within an organization. There was also a critical need to co-ordinate for disciplined course of action in order to avoid muddle-ups; it was critical to communicate effectively within and across the teams in order to get the desired results. Thus were born project management methodologies to streamline project execution. MyManagementGuide.com crisply defines project management methodology as:

    Project Management Methodology is a strictly defined combination of logically related practices, methods and processes that determine how best to plan, develop, control and deliver a project throughout the continuous implementation process until successful completion and termination. It is a scientifically-proven, systematic and disciplined approach to project design, execution and completion.

    The adaptation…

    Quite naturally different methodologies for project management started evolving based around the nature of projects. For example if the project specifications were liable to change frequently and your customer’s business market was fairly uncertain, it was observed that it was not wise to go for the Waterfall model because this methodology required clear-cut defined specifications upfront. Over the years methodologies such as Agile project management and Extreme project management evolved. These methodologies were developed where functional pieces of a project could be delivered iteratively while accommodating changes during the project lifecycle itself.

    Consequently, if you see, whichever project management methodology develops, it is always based upon the following premises:

    1. Scope definition
    2. Budget Estimation
    3. Planning
    4. Execution
    5. Testing
    6. Delivery

    These could just be regrouped differently to achieve results in different scenarios. For example, Agile methodology emphasises on iterative delivery of every feature. So a project manager has to capture the project requirements, identify risks, and provide a detailed work management plan for every iteration. In other words, every iteration methodology can be seen as a sub-project working in synchronization with the larger project. But there are certain processes and procedures that are time-tested and are necessary to follow even at the subset level in order to bring efficiency.

    "The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency." - Bill Gates

    The detonation…

    And then the mighty culture of social media arrived. It proved its might as the communication channel especially for social communications, and later exploded in the business communications arena too.

    Just like other technological breakthroughs, social media is also a revolutionary tool. It is an enabler for easier collaboration through improved means to communication. Within the discipline of project management, social media therefore plays the part of improving the communication channel that supports information services required in project management.

    How does this happen? It happens with a two-pronged approach:

    1. Social media has transformed consumer behaviour and, most importantly, communication patterns of people. It has resulted in transformation of business communication patterns too. "Developing a Model for Social Media in Project Management Communications", a paper by Herbert Remidez and Nory B. Jones highlights various studies that have shown that strong communication complements many aspects of team performance, such as supporting team-building efforts by maintaining relationships throughout the project, and promoting team member satisfaction and project team productivity. It has also been recognized that there exists a positive relationship between project communication practices and project success. These facts have led to communication skills becoming one of the most desired project management competencies and have increased the demand for information systems that support these complementary relationships. Social media structure finds its fitment here.

    2. Unlike the past, today teams work in a distributed environment. The project managers demand sharing information and thoughts effectively with team members that are separated in time and space. The stakeholders demand the best in class solutions to be delivered bug-free, within the set timelines and budget. To attain this, it is important that the solution providers rope in the best of talents from anywhere in the world. Such work environments demand that communication be continuous and effective. The importance of a communication channel to ensure that it supports team-building efforts and maintains inter-personal relationships throughout the project, becomes even more significant in distributed team culture. The structure of social media communication supports this need of a project’s information services.

    The précis…?

    The précis of this discussion is that social media plays a crucial part in improving the efficiency of a necessary operation – the communication – and enables it to bridge the gaps which would otherwise be difficult to plug. But the logically defined processes that make project management per se efficient will still be required for smooth project deliveries. So, if you are someone who believes in using the social media platforms exclusively to carry out the sophisticated approaches developed in project management methodologies in order to manage projects, then you may be asking for a project failure.

    Social media network structure can be embedded into the project management solutions that support project management methodologies, but social media networks per se cannot replace the project management methodologies. The project management solution providers are heeding to this growing demand, and are eventually deciding to integrate it with their existing project management solution.

    What is your take?

    About the author: Mridula Velagapudi is a freelance content strategist. She has experience in developing content for a vast range of subjects such as Project Management, Cloud Computing, Entrepreneurship and Online Education. Mridula is also a focused online marketing professional with detail-oriented research ability and a flair for creativity. She has a self-published book on Women Entrepreneurship to her credit. Mridula enjoys working with startups and her versatility includes being a passionate sketch-artist too. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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