Project Management

Managing risk with social communications

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Categories: risk, social media

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).

Posted on: October 16, 2013 10:43 AM | Permalink

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