Project Management 2.0: It’s not about the tools

Looks like flooding our colleagues with information about new ways of working together is showing effect. More and more of them are asking for help to improve the way they share information and to take down the email and network drive silos we have been building up over the years.

Several projects are trying to deal with this at the institute level (Pete has written about the intranet project), but there are also a few research teams that are trying to find new approaches and tools to best match their needs. One of these teams is on a good way of changing how they work and communicate with one another. This group identified three factors that have been crucial for their success so far: (1) early on in the process the group reached an agreement about the need for change, (2) everyone was asked to be involved in identifying the new way of communicating, and (3) they have a team leader who is committed to this new way and who forces everyone to come along.

In other words, creating the demand for our support put us right in the middle of a number of change processes. What an opportunity, but now what?

For one, I had to learn that it is counterproductive to start talking about tools right away, even though it is easy (and thus very tempting). Focusing on tools gives the impression that there are easy fixes without ever addressing the underlying communication problems of the group. Rather, we have learned to try and encourage conversations with and within these teams to help them find out what they need to change to communicate more effectively with each other by asking how they typically share information, if they feel that they get all the information they need, and what bottlenecks they have encountered when communicating within their team.

With more and more groups not working at the same place at the same time, part of the answer to improve team collaboration and communication will lie in adopting new (web 2.0) tools, but for some groups the answer might simply be to meet regularly.

As you can imagine these are not easy processes to go through, in particular if the team leaders do not fully buy into them, and it is quite a challenge to try and support these processes. We are learning as we are going but would love to hear about others’ experiences. Have you been there and want to share the experience? Any specific advice on how to guide these processes? What are good ways to help teams to identify their communication bottlenecks?

Taking del.icio.us for granted

Thanks to Chris Addison’s teachings and some serious futzing on my own, I’ve been able to learn over the past year and a half about many of the things del.icio.us can do. Namely, it can help you create an online database of your favorite resources, generate collaborative lists, share links with other del.icio.us users, and embed link rolls and tag clouds in your blog or webpage, among other cool tricks.

But the more I think I know about such tricks, the more dismissive I became. “I’ve seen all that before,” I would say to myself.” But all in a single tool?! Well, that’s where the title of the post comes in…

The other week, I was showing a colleague from the CGIAR what del.icio.us could do in a very hands on way. We started by uploading a list of bookmarks from her browser into del.icio.us. This was something I’d done for myself when I first started playing around with del.icio.us, but upon my arrival to Ethiopia and subsequent “misplacing” of my recently bookmarked pages in my work computer I suddenly realized that I needed to update my del.icio.us account more regularly. “I can’t find some of my bookmarked pages,” I explained to her. “I should be updating these bookmarks in del.icio.us more regularly.” (Let’s call this “aha moment number 1″…)

Next, we started playing with some different tags. She’d already done this before and got the basic gist of RSS, but wasn’t aware that each tag in del.icio.us had its own RSS feed. “You can think of tags like folders,” I explained. “Each time you tag a resource, it saves it to a folder by that tag’s name, along with every other tag you assign to that resource. And every page that you can view in del.icio.us- whether it’s by account name, your tags or even a common tag used by others, it has its own RSS feed.” Once again, I was struck by how special this feature was. Not many other services I could think of have this type of tagging, page view and RSS interoperability as part of the standard, free service. (And this was “aha moment number 2″)

Next, we visited her blog at WordPress. I explained that this del.icio.us widget she had in WP could be configured to display all her links from del.icio.us or just those belonging to certain tags. We configured the widget and voilĂ !- her del.icio.us items showed in her blog. Needless to say, we both were highly impressed.

Next, I showed her an webpage whose entire content was driven through del.icio.us. Euforic members bookmark in del.icio.us and they are pulled into the website (note: this is now done using feedburner as an intermediary step). “Amazing,” she said. By clicking through the links, you are taken to their del.icio.us account. And by clicking on the ‘save this’ link to the right of an item’s title, you can easily save it to your own bookmarks- “Amazing!” You can even see their tags for that item, or popular tags from more than 2 million other del.icio.us users and add your own already used tags with just one click.

“If i find someone who has a lot of interesting bookmarks,” I explained, “I can simply add them to my network.”
“What- no friend request?,” my colleague asked.
“Nope. In del.icio.us, these are all public and sharing is the default.” There is a way to hide individual items, if you like though…”

“What else?” I asked myself. “Maybe you’re all excited because you fnd great link and want to share it with a friend. All you do is tag it as as for:yourfriendsname and voilĂ ! it shows up the next time she logs into her account. Moreover, if you and your friends create a unique tag, you could take the feed from that and add it straight into a webpage so that whenever one of you tags a new item, it gets automatically pulled into your website or blog…”

It’s my own damn fault for not remembering how cool and dynamic del.icio.us was. As I mentioned before, Chris Addison helped turn it into the content management system for the Euforic website and Peter Ballantyne uses it to tag all his posts in the IAALD blog (thereby driving up incoming links, overall traffic and even their Google ranking). In many ways, I came to realize that del.icio.us had become the poster child for Web 2.0 functionality (whatever that means). Thanks for reminding me of this, Alexandra.

Any other tips or tricks I forgot to mention?

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