IBM Connections as a Project Management Tool, Part 6

If you have been following the series (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5) of articles on using IBM Connections as a Project Management tool, youll be aware that we are working through the Association of Project Managements key components of Project Management. This time were up to:

Monitoring Progress Against Plan

In Part 1 and Part 5 of our tour of Project Management with IBM Connections I have illustrated how you can use Activities to build up a list of tasks to be done in a detailed structure. This is of course the kind of thing that a Project Manager does all the time. Let’s look this time however at some more advanced uses of Activities and a couple of Business Partner solutions which take the capabilities a stage further again.
You should use a community of your own to manage your social collaboration adoption project. Everything you do should be planned, communicated and shared amongst your team in a community. If you are not doing it yourself, you cannot reasonably expect others to adopt the practice to improve their projects.
If your project has obvious phases or major groupings to it then use Sections as a way of mapping them out. Next, create each major task as a To Do at the level immediately below the Section. For each major To Do, create sub To Do’s to describe the tasks involved in the main task. You can repeat this structure, refining each of the tasks successively.


Remember, of course, that each task can be assigned to an individual in the project and can have a due date, etc. Each To Do item can also have Entries and Comments associated with it so that a very detailed documentation environment awaits you if you choose to run your project in an Activity.

When you combine this with the ability to attach documents, drag emails in and generally use the Activity as the hub for your project, I hope you can see why using a social collaboration environment such as IBM Connections can:

  • Reduce the amount of email required to perform a simple task;
  • Provide a single place for most of the information to reside;
  • Avoid the need for multiple versions of project plans to be moved around so that it’s difficult to know who has the latest version;
  • Encourage the sharing of information such as email by getting it out of the individual’s email inboxes and into a central place.

If you are looking for a more conventional view of project planning, such as the traditional Gantt chart and resource planning, you might want to consider Trilog Group’s ProjExec for Connections. This integrates with Connections and provides a comprehensive project planning solution for any Community:

Communities come into play when you have a need to manage large, complex or multiple smaller related projects. It acts like a container into which you can put all your files, Activities, Comments, Events – everything that your project would need in order to provide a central location for coordinating your activities.

Communities also let you manage their security, right down to making it invisible except for those who have access.

Communities also support sub-communities, which are a useful way of performing Program Management, i.e. the management of several related projects at the same time.

Let us now look at a practical example of the use of communities to manage some of the most complex projects we might come across in business – construction projects.

A construction project – building a new home, office block, shopping mall, or whatever, is all about people. In most cases, the people work in many different organizations and are appointed either by the client (the organization who has commissioned the building) or by the contractor (the organization charged with physically building it).

As well as the client and contractor there will likely be the following other companies to a greater or lesser extent: architect; quantity surveyor; mechanical engineer; electrical engineer; planning supervisor; to name but a few.

The contractor, whose job it is to build the thing will appoint sub-contractors who are specialists in their areas: electricians; a/c engineers; structural steelwork; plumbing; ground works, etc.

What I want you to understand from this is that there are many different companies involved. Each company of course has multiple people involved and hence you immediately have a social network formed where people need to meet, understand their position and hear about what they are doing.

The construction industry is typically quite conservative when it comes to working practices. This is partly because it is very litigious (often a company’s only route to making a profit on a project is through litigation). Times have changed, however, and nowadays project extranets are mandated on projects of any size.

Construction is all about instructions. Everyone covers himself or herself with an instruction to do this, or that, and failure to do so, or to act in time is often the basis of litigation. Therefore, in the bad old days, a construction project would produce literally tons of paper. As time moved on this moved to fax and then email. Many hundreds of gigabytes of emails, drawings, documents and other information are produced on a construction project of any size.

Thus the project extranet was born. Instead of bombarding everyone with all this data and giving each company the same headache about receipt and retention of information organizations have sprung up to provide a customized centralized location for information to be stored and notifications sent.

Although these systems achieve their aim by cutting down the IT hurdle involved in managing a construction project, they do not offer the benefits an in-house project team deploying a social intranet experience.

So why would a construction project want to be run in a social manner? A project needs the following:

  • A place to store and manage controlled documents like drawings, specifications and reports;
  • A way of updating others on changes to files and other important information;
  • A project directory so that everyone knows each other’s responsibilities;
  • A management and workflow engine to provide a standard approach to managing changes and which can provide industry standard templates to achieve these changes.
  • A way of managing revisions to documents and being able to backtrack through previous revisions;
  • Security and auditability of all changes in the system.

Using IBM Connections Cloud allows:

  • A great reduction in irrelevant information flooding into user’s mailboxes. Remember that many construction professionals work on several projects at one time and hence can receive several hundred notification emails each day.
  • The necessary management and control structures in Activities to deliver industry standard processes that are subject to audit. Activities can be saved as templates and reused repeatedly.
  • The opportunity to simplify the reporting structure and information update model so that although the same rigor of reporting is in place it is done so less formally.
  • The basic utility functions of file sharing and information dissemination are covered through tools like Files and Wikis.
  • Knowing who to contact and what role they have is covered through Profiles.
  • Fine grained control of project tasks and the progression and completion of those tasks is managed by Activities.
  • Standard Operating Procedures, Policies and other standard documentation is covered and controlled through Wikis.
  • Micro blogging by each participant can be used as a way of updating others on the status of their part of the project whilst at the same time reducing the volume of email. Unlike email the status updates are public and permanent and can act as a journal of activity in court.
  • Blogging can be used as a system of record where each organization can report formally on the work they have done.
  • Centrally storing files and providing a mechanism for revision is a given in any viable project extranet. Any social business solution also provides this functionality. By tagging the files not only can the hierarchy of files and folders, which the industry has defined, be maintained, but also cross-discipline categorization of the files is also possible. Add to this the ability of IBM Connections to provide file synchronization and you have a sophisticated solution where organizations only synchronize the drawings and documents they work on (which reduces their storage issues and data transmission costs), but also provides them with an automated backup of their key project files. An architect can work on a drawing in his synchronization folder knowing that each time he saves it; it synchronizes back to IBM Connections.

Join us next time for the last in the series of using IBM Connections as a Project Management tool, when we will focus on maintaining communications with stakeholders and the project organisation.

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