Tag Archives: linkedin

Career Management In The Social Media Era

Boy! I sure did a good day's work today!

Picture: National Archives and Records Administration

If you believe that your current job is your last job — the one that you will retire from — raise your hand.  You can stop reading.

Now that those two people are gone, let’s talk about managing our careers. Because its a whole new discipline these days.

Gone are the days when submitting a resume was sufficient.  Good jobs go to people who are referred in, not to those with no one to vouch for them. Per the ERE recruiter network, between 28% and 40% of all positions in 2012 were given to candidates that were referred in, but only 7% of all candidates were referrals. That 7% had a serious edge on the competition.

Earlier this year, Google announced that they were changing their hiring criteria, giving GPAs and college degrees somewhat lower priority and focusing more on prior accomplishments and the strength of a candidate’s social network.  This is a smart move.  College costs average to $92,000 for a four-year degree. Google is changing their criteria so that they won’t miss out on hiring the perfectly brilliant people who aren’t interested in amassing that level of debt.

So what does that mean for you and me, the people who aren’t likely in the job that we will retire at? My take is that career management is something that you can’t afford to not be doing, no matter how happy you are at your current gig.  And that it involves much more than just identifying what you want to do and who you’d like to work for.  I’m highly satisfied with my current job, and I have no concerns that I’ll be leaving  it anytime soon. But I never stop managing my career and preparing for the next gig. Here are some of the key things I do:

  • Keep my network strong, and make a point to connect with people whose work supports missions that are important to me.
  • Network with the people in my sector (nptech). I regularly attend conferences and events, and I make a point of introducing myself to new people.  I’m active in forums and discussion groups. Like any good geek, this type of social behavior isn’t something that came naturally to me, but I’ve developed it.
  • Speak, write, blog, tweet. I generously share my expertise. I don’t consider it enough for people to know my name; I want them to associate my name with talent and experience at the things I want to do for a living.
  • Mentor and advocate for my network. Help former employees and colleagues in nptech get jobs.  Freely offer advice (like this!). ID resources that will help people with their careers.
  • Connect to the people that I network with, primarily on LinkedIn. This is how I’m going to be able to reach out to the people who can help me with my next gig.
  • Keep my LinkedIn profile/resume current, adding accomplishments as I achieve them.
  • Stay in touch with recruiters even if I’m turning them down. I always ask if I can pass on the opportunity to others, and I sometimes connect with them on LinkedIn, particularly if they specialize in nptech placement.

As I’ve blogged before, I’m picky as hell about the jobs I’ll take. They have to be as good as my current job — CIO at an organization with a killer mission, great data management challenges, and a CEO that I report directly to who gets what technology should be doing for us. The tactics above played a significant part in my actually landing my current (dream) job.

So this is why you need to start securing your next position today, no matter how happily employed and content you are. Job hunting isn’t an activity that you do when you’re between jobs or looking for a change.  It’s the behavior that you engage in every day; the extra-curricular activities that you prioritize, and the community that you engage with.

My Foray Into Personal Fundraising

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2011.

My work planning for, evaluating and deploying technology at nonprofits requires that I have a good understanding of fundraising concepts and practices, and I do.  It’s an area that I’m sufficiently knowledgeable about, but no expert. So my current personal fundraising campaign for Idealware is an amateur effort. It is, happily, a successful one. I did some things right, including, I think, making strategic use of my social networking connections and channels.

I might have done a few things differently, given what I’ve learned.  And much of the success has been instructive.

Setting Up The Campaign

As both a board member and an ardent supporter of Idealware, I give annually and encourage my friends to do the same.  But this year I wanted to step it up, so I suggested that we use Razoo, an online personal fundraising platform, to host campaigns.  It turned out that I was behind the times — fellow board member Steve Bachman had already started a Razoo campaign, and Idealware had registered as a Razoo charity.

I signed up for my Razoo account, and clicked the “Fundraise” link.  Setting up the campaign was pretty akin to setting up a profile on a social network — name, description, graphic upload, etc.  I went for not too fancy with the name and graphic (“The Idealware Research Fund” and the logo, respectively), and set about to write as plain and honest a description/appeal as I could, approaching it as what I would say if I asked you to donate to Idealware and you said “Why?”.

I set a modest goal of $750, and announced my intention to match half of that.  I was a little cagey about the matching requirements, saying that I would match up to $375 when I had already pledged that amount to Idealware.  My expectation, going in, was that I could probably raise $375 and my match would bring me to goal.  So I’m happy that, as of this writing, I’ve raised $750 and added my donation to that, well exceeding the goal.

Campaigning

My campaign targets were my social media contacts.  To that end, I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet of all 530 of my LinkedIn connections and pared it down to the 325 or so that met this criteria: they were either familiar with Idealware and supportive of the work or, maybe unfamiliar, but likely would support it.  I didn’t target my staff and co-workers, and I left out some family and non-professional connections that I didn’t imagine would be all that personally motivated by Idealware’s work.  But I left a bunch of them in, too.

I wanted the appeal to clearly come from me, so I didn’t send the appeal through LinkedIn.  I used my personal email. I wanted to avoid spam filters, so the email was plain text, and I sent it in batches of ten people at a time, cutting and pasting from the spreadsheet to Gmail’s “to” field, which was nice enough to automagically format them with commas between each email address.  The mailing process, from LinkedIn download to final click of the “Send” button, took about four hours.

I made it clear up front in my email that the recipients were LinkedIn contacts of mine.  I’m sensitive to spam, even for worthwhile causes, and I wanted everyone to know that this wasn’t a random email, nor was it a list that would be used again.  Next campaign, I’ll start from scratch again.

With the emails sent, I tweeted, Facebooked, and Google+ed the effort.

Follow-up

I got a healthy response to my email blast, raising $500 in a couple of days.  It was great to also get emails from friends who passed on donating to my campaign because they’d already donated directly, or through another campaign. As donations came in, I tweeted and posted thanks to the donors on my Facebook page. The tweets included a link back to the campaign, of course.  A week and a half in, I posted new tweets and statuses and that, too, got a good response.  At $80 to goal, I tweeted how close we were, and longtime Idealware contributor and advisor Michael Stein jumped in and brought us to $750, at which point I added my $375.

Takeaways

I think my key successes were in keeping it human, relatively low-key (no follow-up emails or persistent nagging, but between the public thank yous and a ten day social media reminder, a fairly consistent broadcast); and having the benefit of supporting a cause that’s pretty unimpeachable.

I’m pretty sure that sending more personalized emails and making phone calls would have yielded more funding.  Next time, I might trim the number of people I reach out to personally, but increase the personal nature of the appeal.

25 of my 26 of my donations came from people who were already familiar with Idealware (one was from someone who works here!). I’m sure all 25 of them have been to one or more NTEN conferences. I had little luck convincing people new to the cause to donate.  Some of my fellow board members are focusing on family and other associates, and it’s a harder sell.  I think that’s somewhat understandable.  We all support causes that are important to us, and Idealware is going to appeal to either sympatico types like myself (I was on board with Idealware’s mission before Laura set up shop) and people who have directly benefitted.

For myself, I regularly support Idealware and orgs like them, my own employer (because the earth really does need a good lawyer!), and a collection of causes that have missions that really resonate with me, as well as reputations that hold up.  But it’s a fraction of the orgs that I would contribute to if I had more to afford. Who we pony up the checks for is a very personal matter.  I’m thrilled that a significant percentage of the people that I appealed to heeded the call, and it speaks to the great work that Idealware does. But I fault no one that I appealed to, as I’m certain that the ones who passed up my cause have worthwhile causes of their own.

All that said, if you want to help out Idealware, you can do so via the red button above, or via my campaign at Razoo, which runs through December 31st.

Sleazy Sales Tactics and Social Networks

usedcar
Image courtesy bonkedproducer

This is a public service announcement (aka rant) intended for IT product and service reps. In a nutshell:

If your spam and cold calls haven’t resulted in a business relationship, tracking me down personally on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook won’t work either.

Let’s be clear: it’s not a secret that I have purchasing responsibility for IT at my company, and my business contact info is easy to find (or purchase). Mind you, I don’t hire companies based on their ability to locate that information and email or call me. I hire consultants and purchase products based on the recommendations in my communities. So cold contacting me might be inexpensive and easy for you to do, but all it tells me is that you don’t respect my time or privacy and you can’t sustain your business based on quality and word of mouth. Two strikes against you, whereas, before you cold-contacted me, you had none.

But, in failing to spam me into a relationship, taking it to LinkedIn or the contact form here is taking your pathetic and unprofessional approach to marketing into a whole new realm of sleaziness and creepitude. Cold-contacting me at my business email or on my business phone is annoying and pathetic, but far more appropriate that tracking down my personal, non-business addresses and contacting me at those. It’s called stalking.

I’m looking at you, Server Technologies. The fact that you’ve spammed me in the past does not mean that we have an established business relationship, as your LinkedIn invite falsely indicates.

And local IT Recruiters 58 and Foggy — you take the cake. Within two minutes, out of the blue, you cold-called my work number, emailed me personally via this blog, and sent me a LinkedIn invite. That was so over the top annoying that I not only will never do business with you, I’ll make sure that all of my professional acquaintances are warned away.

Because I seriously question what a company that violates my privacy as a means of introduction would do if I actually relied on them and dealt with them financially. Ethical behavior? Not a safe thing to assume. Professionalism? Already in the toilet.

Social networks offer a great avenue for the type of business promotion that works for me — word of mouth. Sincere recommendations from people who think you’re good at what you do because they’ve used your products or services. You can foster my business by doing well enough with your current customers that they will speak well of you online. You can also demonstrate your expertise by publishing materials and distributing them on Slideshare and other public repositories (including your web site, of course). If you put your energy into establishing your credentials, instead of shoving your uncertified opinion that you’re great into every channel that you can reach me through, you’ll get a shot at my business. But using these networks to harass and annoy potential customers is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

The SysAdmin Trap

Terry Childs is Guilty.

In mid-2008, Terry Childs, the (then) System Administrator for the City of San Francisco, was called into a meeting with the COO (his boss); the CIO of the SF Police Department; a Human Resources representative; and, unbeknownst to Terry, by phone, a few of the engineers he managed. He was ordered to share the system passwords for the network. He made them up. Subsequently challenged with this fact, he refused to reveal the passwords, ending up in a city jail cell.

Close to two years later, Childs has been found guilty of felonious computer tampering and faces up to five years in prison (he’ll likely be let off in two, with his racked time counting toward the total).

Open and shut, right?  The city claims, and the court found it believable, that Childs’ obstinate refusal to provide passwords resulted in over $200,000 lost city revenue.  He lied to his employer.  He held the city ransom.

Childs’ defense has always been that he was protecting the city’s network.  He wasn’t going to share sensitive passwords with people who, in his estimation, wouldn’t respect the sensitivity of those passwords, and would likely share them other employees and contractors.

To my mind, while that’s a valid concern, it doesn’t clear him.  He still works for the person who was asking for the passwords, and he was obligated to provide them.

The real crime here, though, is not that Childs’ hoarded the keys to the system. It’s that the meeting occurred at all, and the reasons that it came to the point of a stand-off are all too criminally common.  Was Childs guilty? Sure! But others shared guilt in bringing it to that point.  Consider:

  • The System Administrator reported to the COO.  No CIO? No VPIT? No IT Director?  This means that there was a gap between the absolute tech and the non-technical businessperson, and that’s a critical layer, particularly for an organization as large as the government of a major U.S. city.
  • There were no policies governing use of system passwords. The fact that Childs was allowed to be the sole keeper of the entire network was a lapse in operations that never should have been allowed.
  • Childs was a city employee for ten years.  If there were concerns about his trustworthiness or reliability, shouldn’t they have been addressed earlier in that decade?

All too often, IT departments are isolated from the organizations they serve.  Part of this is due to the nature of technology work and techies — we speak a language of our own; enjoy working with the tools that many people find obstructive and confusing; and the majority of us are not very good at casual socializing. More of it is due to the fact that most people — including the CEOs and VPs — don’t get technology, and don’t know how to integrate technology tools and purveyors into the organization.

But that lack of comprehension shouldn’t be a license for persecution.  Everyone’s a loser here, most personally Childs, but the city suffered from a situation they created by not investing properly in technology.  And, by investing, I don’t just mean hiring the right amount of staff and equipment — I mean that CEOs, COOs and everyone up the chain has to step out of their comfort zone and either learn more; hire staff and consultants to vet and translate; or, optimally, both.  The CEO doesn’t have to be as knowledgeable as Bill Gates, but they have to have educated oversight on how IT is run that “gets” what IT is about and how the technology practitioners operate.

As much as Terry Childs is guilty of a crime, he’s tenfold a victim of one, and it’s a cautionary tale for any of us who work in environments where management is happy to let us build a big, isolated kingdom.

What drove Terry Childs to commit a felony was a crime unto itself.

Feed Fight

LinkedIn has Facebook envy, and Facebook has Twitter envy. Ignoring MySpace (my general recommendation), these are three big social networks that, sadly, seem to be trying to co-opt each others strengths rather than differentiate themselves.  Per Readwriteweb, LinkedIn is jealous of Facebook’s page views, and is looking for ways (like applications) to keep users connected to the web site.  More noticeably, Facebook’s recent failed attempt to buy Twitter was followed up by a redesign that makes Facebook much more like Twitter.  Al of this inter-related activity has created some confusion as to what one should or shouldn’t do where, and a question as to whether this strategy of co-opting your neighbors’ features is a sound strategy.

My take is that each of these networks serve different purposes, and, while I am connected to a lot of the same people on all three, they each have distinct audiences and the communication I do on these networks is targeted to the individual networks.

  • LinkedIn is a business network. This is a place where potential employers and business associates are likely to go to learn about me.  Accordingly, I sparingly use the status update feature there, and never post about what movie I took the kid to or how funny the latest XKCD strip was.
  • Facebook is a casual network where I have some control over who sees my posts; it’s also the place where I find the most old friends and family. So, given that my potential employers and business associates aren’t likely to see my profile unless they have a personal or more collegial relationship already established with me, this is where I’ll give a status review of the Watchman movie or post a picture of the kid.
  • For me, Twitter is the business casual network, where my nptech peers gather to support each other and shmooze.  I am mindful that my tweets paint a public picture, so I keep the ratio of professional to personal tweets high and I don’t say things that I wouldn’t want my wife or boss to see on the web.

The multiple, overlapping networks create some issues in terms of effective messaging.  One is the echo chamber effect – it’s ridiculously easy to automatically feed your tweets to Facebook and LinkedIn.  The other is the lack of ability to do more than broadly address numerous audiences.  I mean, my Facebook friends include co-workers, business associates, childhood friends and Mom; you’re probably in a similar boat.  For some people, this creates the “I really didn’t want Mom to hear about the party I attended last night” issue.  For most of us, it simply means that we don’t want to bore our old friends and family with our professional blogging and insights, any more than we really want our co-workers to see what sort of hippies we were when we were 17.

So I manage some of this by using Tweetdeck as my primary Twitter client, because the latest version lets me, optionally, send a status update to Facebook as well as Twitter, which I do no more than once a day with something that should be meaningful to both audiences.  What I won’t do (as many of my Facebook/Twitter friends do) is publish all of my tweets to Facebook — that’s cruel to both the friends who don’t need to see everything you tweet and the ones who are already seeing what you tweet on Twitter.

At first, I thought the idea of Facebook incorporating Twitter might be a good one.  Facebook has a big advantage over Twitter.  It’s hard to be new to Twitter; the usefulness and appeal are pretty muted until you have a community that you communicate with.  Facebook starts with the community, so it solves that problem.  But, for me, the amount of control I have over the distribution has a lot to do with the messaging, and I like that Twitter is completely public, republishable, and Google-searchable.  I communicate (appropriately) in that medium; and if you aren’t interested in what I want to communicate, I’m really easy to drop or ignore.  But my Mom is probably far less interested in both non-profit management and Technology than my Twitter followers, and I don’t want her to unfriend me on Facebook.  So I’d rather let Facebook be Facebook and let Twitter be Twitter.  Just because an occasional beer hits the spot, as does an occasional glass of wine, that doesn’t mean that I want to mix them together.

Book Report

NTEN‘s first book is available for pre-order, and you can find me in it. “Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders” is a one of a kind book, designed to help the CEOs, COOs and EDs in our industry understand how technology supports their organizations. I wrote chapter 4, “How to Decide: IT Planning and Prioritizing”. You can also order it on Amazon; NTEN members can pick it up for $30 when they register for the annual conference. The book is due out in March.

Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission

About that Google Phone

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in November of 2008.

After my highfalutin post on mobile operating systems, I thought I’d step back and post a quick review of my T-Mobile G1, the first phone running Google’s Android Mobile OS.  Mind you, I’m not posting this from my phone, but I could… 🙂

Hardware Specs for the G1

In order to discuss this phone, it’s important to separate the phone from the operating system.  Android is open source, based on the Linux kernel with a JAVA software development approach.   The G1 is an HTC mobile phone with Android installed on it.  Android is designed to run on everything from the simplest flip phone to a mini-computer, so how well it works will often depend on the hardware platform choices.

That said, HTC made many good choices and a few flat-out poor choices.  Since it’s impossible to not compare this phone to the iPhone, then it’s obvious that they could have provided a bigger screen or included a standard audio jack (the G1 comes with a mini-USB headset; otherwise, you need an adapter).  The iPhone, of course, is thinner, but that design choice was facilitated by the lack of a hardware keyboard.  No G1 owner is going to complain that it’s modest increase in heft is due to the availability of a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.  That’s one of the clear advantages over Apple’s ubiquitous competition.  Apple makes it’s virtual keyboard somewhat acceptable by offering auto-suggest and auto-correct as you type, features that Android currently lacks, but should have by early 2009 (per the Android roadmap).  But I find – as do many of my friends – that a physical keyboard is a less error-prone device than the virtual one, particularly without a stylus.  I have some nits about the Android keyboard — the right side is slightly impeded by the stub of the phone, making it hard to type and “o” without also typing “p”, but it’s overall a very functional and responsive keyboard, and I do sometimes blog from my phone, so it was a critical consideration for me.

The hardware has some other limitations as well. It sports a 2MP camera; 3 or 4 would have been preferable.  And they made an interesting choice on the memory, including 2GB on board, with expansion available on MicroSD cards up to 8GB.  This has led to what seem like some of the major potential issues with the phone and OS, discussed below.

Overall, the design is deceptively unsexy.  While the G1 isn’t as sporty as the iPhone, it is highly functional.  It’s easy to hold; the curved “chin” actually supports talking on the phone in a way that my flat Treos and Wing never did; the Keyboard slides easily and quickly, making it’s use less awkward when you need it in a hurry, and the decision to include a Blackberry-style trackball, which some have criticized as extraneous, was actually sharp – I find it useful to navigate text fields when editing, and as an alternate to finger-scrolling.  My favorite Solitaire game uses a trackball press to deal more cards.  It’s actually handy and intuitive. Unlike other smartphones, I took immediately to the functionality of the buttons; they’re well-designed. Also nice – one handed operation on this phone for basic tasks like making calls, checking email and voicemail is really easy.

A Versatile Desktop

Unlike the iPhone and Windows Mobile, a big emphasis has been put on customization.  You can put shortcuts to just about anything on the desktop, and you can create folders there to better organize them.  I keep shortcuts to the dialer, calendar and my twitter client there, along with shortcuts to the people I call most, and folders for apps, games and settings.  You can also set up keyboard shortcuts to applications.  This, again, makes the phone a pleasure to use – the things I want access to are always a few taps away, at most.

It’s a Google Phone

The Android OS is young, but elegant.  The primary thing to know, though, is that this is a Google phone.  If you use GMail and Google Calendar as your primary email and calendaring applications, you’ll love the push email and no-nonsense synchronization.  The pull down menu for notifications, with visual cues in the bar, is awesome; the GMail client is so good that I often use it to label messages because that function is simpler than it is in the web client.  But if your primary groupware is Exchange/Outlook, then you might want to stop reading here.  As of this writing, there are a few applications that – under the right circumstances – can sync your Exchange and GMail contacts.  There’s no application that syncs with Outlook on your desktop.  If you run on Windows, Google has a calendar sync.  But your options for non-Google email are either POP or IMAP in the G1’s “other” email application, which is pretty lame, or some scheme that forwards all of your Exchange mail to GMail (my choice, discussed here).  Google search is well-integrated, too, with a widget on the phone’s desktop, a dedicated search key on the keyboard, and a “when in doubt, search” default that pretty much starts a Google search whenever you start typing something in an app that doesn’t expect input.  For example, in the browser, you just type to go to a web site, no need for a URL bar; from the desktop, typing will search contacts for a match to call, but if one isn’t found, it will switch to a Google search. And that browser is excellent, much like the iPhone’s, but lacking the multi-touch gestures.  All the same, it;s a pseudo-tabbed browser that renders all but Flash-based web sites as well as the desktop, and puts Palm, Microsoft and RIM’s browser’s to shame.

Multimedia

Multimedia support also pales in comparison to the iPhone, which is no surprise.  there’s a functional media player, and an app that, like iTunes, connects to the Amazon music store.  there’s no support for flash, and the only installed media player is the Youtube app, but you can download other media players. You can store music and movies on an SD card (a 1GB card comes with the phone, but, if you plan to use it for music, you’ll want to purchase a 4, 6 or 8 GB card). All applications are downloaded to the internal drive, which means that there’s a limit on how many apps you can install – most of the 2GB is in use by the OS.  I’m hoping that OS fixes and updates — which are delivered over the air – will address this, as it’s a potentially serious limitation.

Maps and Apps

Another compelling thing Maps and GPS functionality.  While it doesn’t
do voice directions, the mapping features are powerful and extensible.
Street View features a compass, so you can see where you are going as
you walk, and there are already a number of apps doing great
integration with maps and multimedia, as you’d expect from a Google phone.

Since Android is so new, and the G1 is the only phone that we’ll see in 2008, it will be a while before the third party market for applications grows up to something competitive with Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Apple.  While I have almost everything I need to do the things I do on a phone (and I’m a power user), those apps are pretty rudimentary in their functionality, and there isn’t a big variety to choose from.  I have no worries that the market won’t grow – it’s already growing quickly.  But another consideration is that Android is still for early adopters who are dying for the Google integration, or, like me, want an iPhone-class web browser, but require a keyboard.

Application Recommendations

I get all of my applications from the market, accessible via the phone.  A lot of third-party markets are popping up, but they are either offering things that are on the Android Market or selling items (the Android Market only offers free software – this will change in January).  I have yet to see something for sale that looked worth paying for, versus the range of freely available apps.

Apps I’m using include Twitli, a Twitter client.  TwiDroid seems to have better marketing, but Twitli seems faster and stabler, as of this writing, and presents tweets in a larger font, which my old eyes appreciate.

Anycut – this is a must have OS enhancer that broadens the number of things that you can make shortcuts to, including phone contacts, text messages, settings screens and more.  Essential, as having contacts right on the screen is the fastest speed dial feature ever.

Compare Everywhere is an app that reads bar codes and then finds matching product prices online.  How handy is that?  But I think the ability to scan barcodes from the phone, with no add-on attachments, is pretty powerful, and something that the nonprofit industry could make use of (campaign tracking, asset management, inventory).

Connectbot is an SSH client – I once reset a web server in order to get an online donation form working on Christmas Eve from 3000 miles away.  Essential for a geek like me.  🙂

OI or AK Notepad – simple notepad apps.  Ridiculously, there isn’t one included with Andriod.

Password Safe – encrypted lockbox.  Splashdata has one, too, but Password Safe is more flexible, as of this writing.

WPtoGo is a handy WordPress Blog publishing app, for those brave enough to post from a phone without spellcheck (I’ll only post to my personal blog with this – I have higher standards for Idealware readers!)

And the Solitaire game up on the Market is very nice.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m loving this phone and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else on the market – even an iPhone, because I live and die by that keyboard.  If it sounds good to you, I’m assuming that you use GMail; you actually write on your smartphone, or would if it had a good keyboard; and that you don’t mind being a bit on the bleeding edge.  Otherwise, keep your eye on Android – this is the first of what will be many smartphones, and it’s all brand new.  For the first iteration, it’s already, at worst, the second best smartphone on the market.  It can only get better.

From Zero to Sixty: What type of Project Management tool is appropriate?

Here’s another recent Idealware entry (from 9/25/2008). Note that the Idealware post has a healthy comment stream.

It seems like every month or two, I happen across a forum thread about project management tools. What works? Can you do it with a wiki? Are they necessary at all? Often, there are a slew of recommendations (Basecamp, Central Desktop, MS Project) accompanied by some heartfelt recommendations to stay away from all of them. All of these recommendations are correct, and incorrect.

Project software naysayers make a very apt point: Tools won’t plan a project for you. If you think that buying and setting up the tool is all that you need to do to successfully complete a complex project, you’re probably doomed to fail. So what are the things that will truly facilitate a project-oriented approach, regardless of tools?

  • Healthy Communication. The team on the project has to be comfortably and consistently engaged in project status and decisions
  • Accountability. Team members need to know what their roles are, what deliverables they’re accountable for and when, and deliver them.
  • Clarity, Oversight and Buy-In. Executives, Boards, Backers all have to be completely behind the project and the implementation team.

With that in place, Project Management tools can facilitate and streamline things, and the proper tools will be the ones that best address the complexity of the project, the make-up of the team, and the culture of the team and organization.

Traditional Project Management applications, exemplified by MS Project, tie your project schedule and resources together, applying resource percentages to timeline tasks. So, if your CEO is involved in promoting the plan and acting as a high level sponsor, then she will
be assigned, perhaps, as five percent of the project’s total resources, and her five percent will be sub-allocated to the tasks that she is assigned to. They track dependencies, and allow you to shift a whole schedule based on the delay of one piece of the plan. If task 37 is
“order widget” and that order is delayed, then all actions that depend on deployment of the widget can be rescheduled with a drag and drop action. This is all very powerful, but there is a significant cost to defiing the plan, initially inputting it, and then maintaining the information. There’s a simple rule of thumb to apply: If your project requires this level of tracking, then it requires a full-time Project Manager to track it. If your budget doesn’t support that, as is often the case, then you shouldn’t even try to use a tool this complex. It will only waste your time.

Without a dedicated Project Manager, the goal is to find tools that will enhance communication; keep team members aware of deadlines and milestones; report clearly on project status; and provide graphical and summary reporting to stakeholders. If your team is spread out geographically, or comprised of people both inside and outside of your organization, such as consultants and vendors, all the better if the tool is web-based. Centralized plan, calendar, and contacts are a given. Online forums can be useful if your culture supports it. Most people aren’t big on online discussions outside of email, so you shouldn’t put up a forum if it won’t be used by all members. The key is to provide a big schedule that drills down to task lists, and maintain a constant record of task status and potential impacts on the overall plan. Gantt Charts allow you to note key dependencies – actions that must be completed before other actions can begin — and provide a visual reporting tool that is clear and readable for your constituents, from the project sponsors to the public. Basecamp, Central Desktop, and a slue of web-based options provide these components.

If this is still overkill – the project isn’t that complex, or the team is too small and constricted to learn and manage the tools, then scale down even further. Make good use of the task list and calendar functions that your email system provides, and put up a wiki to facilitate project-related communication.

What makes this topic so popular is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all answer, and the quick answer (“Use Project”) can be deadly for all but the most complex projects. Understand your goals, understand your team, and choose tools that support them.

Losing Facebook

Where do you live? Where do you hang out? Does your social life revolve around a particular location? Presumably, your social life is only as geographically restricted as your travel budget allows. You can meet your friends at a coffee shop, mall, park or home. You don’t always meet them at the same place; and you don’t go to that place to call them.. So why should your online social life be any different?

This week, Google announced that their internet portal page, iGoogle, would be incorporating widgets, or, as they call them, Gadgets that perform the type of social networking functions that online social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace provide. This comes at a time when Twitter, the group chat/micro-blogging tool has been rising up the social staircase and getting a lot of new users and attention. Twitter, unlike the more established social networks, is more commonly accessed through third-party, desktop applications than the twitter.com web site.

I like this trend. My primary social networking site isn’t Facebook or LinkedIn — it’s GMail. Twitter is the first thing to challenge that. Because, for me, it’s not about the brand – it’s about communication. So Facebook has it’s ouvre, it’s demographic market, and, like everyone else, it’s mission to learn everything there is to learn about my network’s shopping preferences, and the slow website and constant “spam your friends” requirements of their tools really puts me off. LinkedIn has a cleaner, more professional aesthetic that I find a lot less annoying, but my favorite new feature of theirs is the ability to subscribe to the feed of my network updates in my RSS reader (something Facebook doesn’t provide). So I’m rooting for the destruction of the social networking brands, and the ultimate incorporation of powerful social tools into my my desktop, RSS Reader and email.

At that point, I’ll be able to take advantage of the powerful interpersonal tools that the web enables. I’ll still travel to my friends and associates web sites; and I’ll still visit the Ning and Drupal communities that matter to me. I won’t need a middle man like Facebook or MySpace. That will be a happy day!