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Tony Adams, a Project Leadership Consultant, Speaker and Blogger, approached us to write a guest blog post on the use of social media within project management. His judgement is an interesting one. Tony believes that the increasing use of technology is forcing traditional project management methods to adapt to stay relevant. Read Tony’s opinions in this article. Do you agree, disagree, or have a different opinion? It would be great to hear your ideas in the comments.

I love the idea of blending Social Media into my project management practice.

As a Project Manager, I'm so thrilled to see the Social Media phenomenon evolve beyond happy snaps and dinner photos on Facebook, to create a new, vibrant paradigm that is shaping the way we practice - creating real and exciting opportunities for collaboration, engagement and markets.

This new paradigm is significant for a few reasons - not only does it open up new ways of doing business, but it also challenges us to reassess the way we engage with our teams and customers and importantly, the way we measure our success.

In this post, I want to accept the Social Media paradigm as a permanent shift in mindset and think about what it means to our profession.

  • As Project Managers, should we view the new paradigm as an opportunity or a challenge?
  • What does it mean to our notion of measuring Project success?

Social Media is driving changes to our marketplace

Around the world, Social Media is evolving alongside the rapidly emerging post-digital, Web 2.0, hyper-connected marketplace - faster, more fluid and less forgiving than ever before.

  • Geography is no longer a barrier. We can now identify, participate in, and even create, emerging market opportunities from anywhere in the world.
  • Our customers are more demanding and less forgiving. We know them better and now build individual, brand specific relationships in ways that have never been possible before.
  • Our project functions are increasingly virtual, or outsourced. More and more, we lead virtual teams or outsource entire project management functions, engaging people and vendors across the globe.

But here's the challenge - blending the race to a faster, more dynamic market and the need to understand our customer far more intimately gives rise to a shorter product life cycle and a narrowing of our focus to tightly defined customer niches.

  • No sooner do we launch our product than we need to be thinking about its replacement. Rest assured - if we are not, then we know that our competitors surely are.
  • With so much product choice readily available to our customers, we need to understand precisely who we are targeting so that we reach directly to them.

Social Media taps into this by challenging our organizations to think about three key questions

  1. How do we connect to the right customer, at the right time?
  2. How do we get the right product to market, quicker than ever?
  3. How do we measure the success of our strategy?

So what does this emerging reality mean for the way we measure our project success?

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Social Media is demanding a new Project Management paradigm

Think for a moment about the way that Project Management helps organizations deliver their strategies.

Faced with the ability to connect with our customers instantly and personally, to pull our teams together from around the world and collaborate, our stakeholders are changing their expectations.

Social Media has changed the game.

Sure, the classics always remain in fashion - we still think in terms of delivering to time, cost and quality, BUT our stakeholders are increasingly becoming immersed in the new paradigm which is giving rise to new drivers:

  • How well do we engage?
  • How responsive are we to changing demands and priorities?
  • How well do we manage expectations?
  • How effectively do we create that critical emotional connection?

Our stakeholders expect us to engage differently, to deliver creatively, to lead innovation and to deliver early, tangible benefits. Project Management is being forced to adapt, to remain relevant.

To me, this is a part of a growing realization that Project Managers need to respond by looking beyond the traditional triple constraint (Scope, Cost and Time) and embrace the challenge of benchmarking our delivery success against Stakeholder Engagement and Communication outcomes.

The old paradigm of “Success = Scope/Cost/Schedule” has been made redundant, supplanted by “Success 2.0 = Scope/Cost/Schedule/Engagement”.

Project Management – balancing the old and new

The new paradigm is certainly not cost-free. Emerging stakeholder expectations of “rapid delivery” and “early benefits” need to be tempered with the important, classical hand-brake, “quality deliverable”.

Project Managers have a great opportunity to respond to this new paradigm by balancing the best of the old and the new.

In that sense, Project Management and Social Media share a symbiotic relationship – companies looking to tap into emerging Web 2.0 opportunities need to find a way to embrace both, to balance the improved engagement and agility with the rigor of flexible, foundation practices.

Whilst Social Media brings communication to the fore, this is at the cost of increased risk around getting the job done quickly and cutting corners, all in the name of speed. Project Management is critical to managing this risk – ensuring we get the product to market quickly without trading off the quality of the end deliverable.

This is the real value of Project Management in this new paradigm – the critical balancing of stakeholder expectations around getting to market quickly with the need to maintain a quality end product.

Our approach to measuring Project success needs to take into account this balancing of stakeholder expectations.

A new approach to measuring Project Management success

Stakeholder engagement remains the bedrock for managing expectations and framing project success.

In the same way as there is no prescriptive, “one size fits all” model for stakeholder engagement, so it is for defining our Web 2.0 project success criteria.

But there are things we can do to set the right framework.

Early, personal and collaborative engagement - get the right people on board early, build their confidence, engage them as active partners, give them an emotional stake in the project. Without this early engagement, it becomes much harder to manage expectations from the outset.

The key here is that we need to ensure, from the outset, that our measures for project success include specific benchmarks and criteria for stakeholder engagement and communication.

I am a huge fan of engaging with key stakeholders early and often, working together to set the bar at the right height.

  1. Agree on the key business drivers – the things that matter most and that will drive tangible benefits
  2. Agree on how you will collaborate – the Social Media tools you will use, the approach that you will commit to and the outcomes that you will be measured against
  3. Agree on how you will measure engagement – choose the benchmarks and lock them in

Looking Ahead

As I sit back and watch the tea leaves swirl in my cracked cup, I can see Project Management moving quickly towards a framework that does two important things:

  1. Blends the foundation principles (Scope, Time, Cost) with early, collaborative customer/stakeholder engagement, and
  2. Places a more prominent focus on setting success criteria for stakeholder management and communication

I see encouraging signs that the profession is inching in this direction.

  • PMBOK v5 calls out Stakeholder Management as a new knowledge area
  • Agile/Lean approaches continue to mature as “whole of Business” approaches to driving engagement and benefits, rather than just software delivery
  • PMI’s 2013 “Pulse of the Profession” challenges the industry to focus on faster benefits realisation – implicit in this is balancing better communication with risk management
  • PMI’s “The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications” report calls out the need to treat Communication as a core competency

Pulling it all together

This is a genuinely exciting time to be involved in Project Management – we are lucky enough to be watching real and lasting change take shape amidst a shifting economic and social landscape.

I love that.

I love the emergence of this Social Media paradigm because it encourages us to sit back and reflect on our own organisation and practices and look for ways to tap into these opportunities.

On a personal level, how do you engage with Social Media within your own Project Management practice? Does the paradigm shift affect the way you engage with your team and stakeholders? Do you have a different focus on the way you manage stakeholder expectations?

Have your teams and stakeholders embraced the new paradigm and adapted their expectations and measures for success?

About Tony Adams

Tony AdamsTony Adams is a Project Leadership consultant, writer and speaker, based in Melbourne, Australia. Tony works with people and companies around the world, to bring his two passions to life - using the rich, vibrant power of authentic, personal communication to help Project Managers drive enduring, transformational change and harnessing the energy of Social Media to transform the way we engage with our customers and teams.

Tony is also a Bob Dylan tragic, Charles Dickens devotee, tea lover, washed up track runner, Super Dad and movie extra. Please pull up a chair and join the conversation at

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Simon Buehring is the Founder and Managing Director of Knowledge Train.

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