Get more efficient with apps
Did you get any gadgets for Christmas? And are you still using them now? Gadgets like tablets and smartphones and the apps that go with them can help you work more efficiently.
You might have noticed the increasing trend towards Bring Your Own Device, and your company might already have policies in place about allowing you to access work data like information about your project on your personal devices. This trend shows no sign of stopping and this year we’ll probably see more and more companies adopt security policies that let employees use their own smartphones for work purposes. It helps them keep costs down but it does increase the admin and management and open up risks for sharing confidential data so if you are going to BYOD, make sure you do it within the official guidelines of your company – if in doubt, talk to your IT team about what you need to do to secure your device.
So, enough about policies and security, on to the apps. Well, actually I’m not going to focus on specific apps that will help you manage your projects because what’s available changes all the time. Instead, here are some things to look out for when you select what apps you want on your device for work:
1. Apps that allow access to your project management online tool
Many project management tools that are available as hosted solutions now come with mobile interfaces for Android and iOS that enable you to use them on your tablets and smartphones. This is a good place to start because if you already use an online project management tool the chances are you’ll want to access it on the go.
Check the company’s website to see if they offer a mobile app version of their product and then download it to your device. You’ll probably need to use the same login and password to access the site and then you should be able to see all your project management data from your phone. Some apps have limited functionality or views, so check out what you can see and do before you expect to need to use it while travelling so you aren’t surprised!
2. Apps that integrate with your online project management tool
Another place to look for apps is those that integrate with your online project management software. Again, check the website or blog from the company that provides your software as it is there that you’ll be most likely to find information about what social networks or apps have full integration with their products.
The most useful integrations will be things you already use regularly or could make use of, such as Google Docs or email tools but it could also be useful to look at what you could do differently and how you could update your plan. For example, some tools allow integration with social networks like Twitter and Yammer and these can be used to provide real time status updates for your project – useful if your project team want to update their progress on the go.
3. Apps that help you work
You can also download standalone apps that help you work more productively. Many are free but there are some you’ll have to pay for if you think you’ll get the value from them. My current favourites are Pages (the word processing app for my iPad) and Dragon, which is a voice recognition tool that means I can dictate text and don’t need to use the keyboard to record my thoughts. It only works when I have an internet connection, but I can cope with that.
There are so many tools available to you for tracking time, managing meetings, storing tasks and so on – you’ll have to try a few to see what works for you but try to mirror how you work offline so the change to your working practice isn’t too big and is sustainable. Otherwise you’ll find that the app creates more work for you and really doesn’t boost your productivity.
4. Apps that help you keep in touch with project teams
Finally, look for apps that will help you keep in touch with your project team members. Things like Skype fall into this category, along with other apps that allow you to do instant messaging, set up group chats or collaborate somehow. This normally only work if the other team members have the same apps on their devices, so you’ll need to collectively agree what to use and how to use it, otherwise you won’t get any value from it!
What if team members don’t have a gadget with apps on? Don’t let them feel left out. You’ll have to build other communication channels into your project or take the discussion off your device completely so that you can successfully integrate everyone in the team.
When you search for apps, look for ones that are up to date and with good user reviews. Don’t be afraid to stop using it if it doesn’t work for you or your team. And of course, use your gadgets considerately, following good gadget etiquette when at work!
What are your favourite apps at the moment? Let us know in the comments.
Managing risk with social communications
Social communication tools are about using web-enabled technology to get things done more effectively. You may already have web-based project management tools that enable you to collaborate and communicate with your project stakeholders. This is the way that much of project management technology is going, but it isn’t without risk.
Managing the security risk
The security of project information is probably the largest concern for many executives, especially if you choose to adopt cloud-based technologies that store project data outside the organization and enable it to be accessed from anywhere. Whatever solution you adopt, ensure that it has adequate security and authentication protocols for your needs. You will also want to carry out some awareness training so that users know what is and is not appropriate to share on the forum.
This is particularly relevant if you are sharing information with third parties. You may choose a tool that allows you to successfully ring-fence content that your partners can see, reducing the implications for privacy. Social communication tools with few or no privacy settings can be perfectly adequate, but ensure that you know who is using the tool so that sensitive project data is kept secure.
The risk of social communications tools is that they move everything to an online space, whether your company hosts a product or you use a cloud-based provider to store your project data. Ensure that whatever solution you adopt has adequate back up and recovery options in case the worst happens. This is the reason why it is essential to involve your corporate IT department.
Corporate IT teams can also help you establish whether your chosen social communications tool has an audit trail and how you can best access this within the legal boundaries of monitoring an employee’s work. Audit trails are useful for finding out who was the last person to log in, use a document, comment in a discussion, amend the wiki and so on. In a straightforward project environment you shouldn’t need to use the audit trail information but in certain circumstances, such as dealing with a disgruntled employee, it may become necessary to track who has used the tool.
Managing the information overload risk
Social communications do not replace ‘offline’ communications. The connected project manager will still have to prepare written board reports, use emails, produce presentations and everything else he or she did before. Today, social communications rarely replace the need for project managers to communicate through other mechanisms. As a result, it is possible to feel overloaded by the volume of discussion happening in social communication tools. This additional channel requires constant attention, and it can feel like you are losing control.
There are a number of solutions to dealing with this including using aggregation tools (where they exist) to consolidate feeds from multiple channels into one location for you to review at your leisure. However, the easiest way to deal with overload is to ignore it. Switch off the feeds and stop following the discussions. It may feel as if you are losing your grip on the detail of the project but unless you were a particularly command-and-control style project manager you never had this grip anyway. Social communication tools make visible discussions that would have previously happened over email between team members or on the phone. You would not monitor your team members’ phone conversations, so don’t expect to need to monitor everything on the tool. You can train your team to flag important items to you, or implement a categorization system so that you only have to read items tagged with particular words.
Managing personal risk
Managing personal risk is less of an issue at work, and more of a potential problem if you choose to use social communication tools outside the workplace, for example, for career progression and networking. Many social project managers choose to display their personal profiles on professional networking sites, or to extend the personal social networks to work colleagues. This can be a straightforward and positive way of keeping in touch with colleagues, and is now so commonplace that project managers without a presence online can be at a disadvantage when it comes to finding out about job or training opportunities.
However, social project managers need to remember that the internet has a long memory. If you choose to post personal information about yourself online, your employer could see it. That includes holiday photos, comments about your workplace and colleagues and the jokes you choose to share with your network. For the main, professional project managers should have nothing to fear from sharing a bit of their personality with their contacts online. But you need to know where to draw the line, and that line is usually at the point where you wouldn’t mind if your manager saw the information. If you would not share it with your boss, don’t share it online.
This issue is also a concern on corporate social networks where project team members can provide their own profile information. In your profile and in your communications with your team members, make sure that you act professionally and respectfully at all times, as you would with face-to-face communication.
Follow any social media or communications policies in use in your company and where they don’t exist, use your common sense!
This is an edited excerpt, reprinted by permission of the publishers from ‘Managing Social Communications’ in The Gower Handbook of People in Project Management, edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott (Farnham, Gower, 2013).
Living in the clouds
Last time I wrote about the 7 C’s of social media. There is one more C. It’s not strictly a social media guiding principle, but it’s aligned. Have you worked it out from the picture? It’s Cloud.
Cloud computing is the delivery of infrastructure, an operating platform and software delivered over the internet as a service. You can buy storage space, platforms to build your own applications or access to software applications. The latter is often called Software as a Service (SaaS).
Lots of vendors are using this model to deliver software, and you can read some reviews of project management software on my blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. The more upscale the tool – software designed to be used by professional, trained project managers – the more likely it is to have an on-site hosted option. Many of these products also have cloud versions for use by smaller companies or those who don’t want to invest.
Clouds with benefits
That’s the good thing about cloud computing: it means that companies don’t have to invest in data centres or massive server rooms, and they can avoid the cost of having to buy, host and maintain software themselves. If your organisation gets busier, you pay your cloud computing supplier a bit more money and they scale up the solution for you to cope with the demand. If you have fewer projects to run, you can scale it down. It’s very flexible, and system upgrades tend to be implemented immediately. It also has a low capital outlay, which can be a huge selling point if you are trying to convince your management team to invest in a social media tool for your project. You won’t be left tied in to ongoing contracts or with expensive servers sitting idle.
The downside of clouds
However, you don’t own perpetual rights to the software. If your internet link goes down or the vendor is doing routine maintenance, you can’t access your project files. And if you decide to move to another tool later it can be awkward to migrate all your data.
There is also the security question: where is your data actually being stored and who can get at it? If you work on projects in the government or healthcare arena you may be prevented from moving project files to the cloud.
Cloud computing solutions have also been criticised for not being ‘green’, meaning that they are energy hungry server farms with a high carbon footprint. If this is a concern for you and your organisation, research the hosting company fully before committing to doing business with them.
Do you use the cloud for your project management software? I’d be interested to learn more about your experiences, so let me know in the comments.
This post was adapted from my book, Social Media for Project Managers (published by PMI).
The 7 C’s of social media
Do you use a wiki at work? Do you have a LinkedIn profile for connecting with work colleagues? If so, you’re using social media professionally. In this post, I wanted to get back to basics and explain how social media works. Social media tools work because everyone (with a few tiny exceptions) follows these seven guiding principles that form the basis for the structure of the social media space:
Let me elaborate.
When groups of people come together with a common objective, you end up with a sense of community, almost by default, like this community at Gantthead. You get a sense of community because people can interact with each other. The web enables us to do that – through forums, star ratings, collecting badges, leaving comments etc – more than any other form of media.
The internet allows groups of like-minded people to come together, and project managers can tap into this. After all, your project team is like-minded, with a common objective: to deliver your project.
Collaboration is the foundation which all social media tools are built on: the fact that people want to work together. If people don’t share, there isn’t much to see online. Many websites (again, like this one) draw on the collective knowledge of experts who are sharing their skills.
And it no longer matters where you are based. Technology makes it possible to work across time zones, languages (hurrah for Bablefish!), and with people you have never met. Suddenly, working with project team members in other countries seems possible.
Communication and collaboration go hand in hand. If collaboration is the multi-faceted linking between groups of people with common interests, then communication is a more of a one-way version of the same thing.
Your team may be very collaborative, but there will always be times when you need to tell them something, for example sharing the project board report or to update them on a change of company policy.
Communication also needs to be honest and transparent. You’d expect that with any form of communication, but one of the underlying principles of the web is that you don’t share misinformation deliberately.
As much as many managers would like to believe it, online is not a place where it’s a free for all. Just as in the office, online there are expectations for behaviour, such as not TYPING IN CAPITALS (can you hear me?). Don’t say things to people online that you would not feel comfortable saying to their face: instant messaging for work might be good but that style of communication could slip into unprofessionalism easily if you are not constantly aware of your communication style.
Constraints and good practice around how to interact with other people online have been consolidated into what is called netiquette – manners for internet users.
Duh. Social media tools work best when you are connected to others online! Lucky for us we now have smart phones.
A channel is just a word to describe the way information gets delivered. As a project manager, you need to decide what channels – technologies, software tools, platforms, hardware – you are going to use. Different channels work well for different types of content, so if you want to share photos, you’ll choose a different channel to if you want to get people working on the same document at the same time.
If you read websites about social media marketing or personal branding, you’ll hear experts go on and on about content. It’s what you share online. While some of your project information may not be the most interesting in the world, it is still useful to your audience. But if your project team stops finding the project blog or the wiki useful, then they will stop visiting the site.
Be helpful with what you share and remember that it isn’t for your benefit – it’s for someone else. It’s a fine balance between being engaging and creating an environment where people feel they can share a part of themselves beyond a thumbnail photo and turning your online project space into a flurry of irrelevant messages that the team tune out.
So that is the 7 C’s of social media. Next time I’ll be writing about one final C. Can you guess what it is?
This post was adapted from my book, Social Media for Project Managers (published by PMI). Buy it on Amazon here.
This year I am once again running the Social Media in a Project Environment survey. This time last year lots of you completed the survey and the results (which you can access on my blog; scroll down to Social Media Survey Results 2010) provided a snapshot of how social media tools were being used by project managers and in project environments.
This year I have tweaked the survey slightly to give us clearer results, but it should allow for a comparison between 2010 and 2011. As before, there are 9 questions which take less than 5 minutes to complete. The last question gives you the option to enter your email address to receive a copy of the results when they are available.
The survey closes at the end of February, so you still have a short time to complete it.