Saturday, September 01, 2007

Projects are social networks

Project management is natural for the web. That's because it's all about continually creating, maintaining and communicating project information - i.e. "collaboration" - so that the project remains on track. No one's found a better collaboration system than the web.

Project management systems have been web-based for several years now - I've had experience with Planview and several internally developed applications. But they suffer commmon flaws - data is hard to find, hard to update, and too complicated (especially around time management, approvals and project workflow).

What's missing is Web 2.0 - i.e. the use of simple, social web technologies. This will bring less focus on formal workflow, and more focus on straightforward collaboration. What could be easier than a Wiki-based project homepage, or a social network containing the project team?

Below are some ideas for improvement that I haven't seen in any existing project management system.

RequirementWeb Technology
communicate project informationWiki
maintain project planWiki (using SVG / VML for Gantt view, hyperlinks for dependencies)
track status changesWiki versioning
staff notificationsRSS feeds
time managementMicroformat integration with calendar
system integration (e.g. with a financial or CAD tool)RSS mashups or open web APIs

One unexplored opportunity is microformats. A project management system that expressed project plans using microformats would express the who, when and where in a machine-readable format, so all sorts of possibilities open up - linking to mapping software, people's calendars, or a corporate directory, for example.

Another relatively unexplored opportunity for project management software is RSS (or Atom). Staff would subscribe to receive notifications when key pieces of information change (for example, project risks or milestone changes).

And the work breakdown structure (a.k.a. plan) is just a widget that uses microformats to integrate with people's calendars and maps.

Projects are social networks

What I like about these ideas is that they are simple ways to directly support project managers using today's technology.

Enterprise Project Management systems started out as monolithic client-server applications. What they're turning into is social networks, because that's what a project team is!

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