Community Discussion: Use a Blog to Increase Project Team Communication?

Last week at ProDev, I heard that some project teams use blogs for some of their communication. One project team I serve is considering one.

Whatchathink?

Advantages I can see:

  • Add another channel for communication.
  • Adds a source of documentation for the project.
  • This communication can involve lots of team members.
  • Can shorten response time when people find an obstacle.

Disadvantages I can see:

  • Adds work to the project: reading it adds project overhead.
  • Adds work to the project: someone has to administer the blog.
  • Can add more ways for project information to leave the team and reduce competitive advantage.

Another disadvantage someone expressed to me: Most office workers are pretty centered on email today. For those who aren’t yet much centered on blogs, the needed behavior change might be an obstacle. (“Another application I have to remember to open once a day?”)

I’ll appreciate any feedback anyone leaves. As I write this, I’m probably motivated by the effect this community might have on the decision my project team is making. On the other hand, I’ll leave this thread open even after that team makes its decision. Thanks in advance.

Addressing disadvantages I saw above:

  • Perhaps, even if there is more project overhead with project contributors reading the blog, this factor is easy to ignore. Perhaps more time reading the blog means less time reading email, tending toward an equal amount of communication time. Perhaps only a small benefit in communication is more valuable to a project than the cost of this overhead.
  • Perhaps administering the blog can be a minor addition to someone’s time. And again, maybe the blog is more valuable than costly.
  • Perhaps information security comes into my consciousness mostly because of my past military experience. We can put a blog on a server inside the corporate firewall. We can require everyone to enter user name and password to get access.

They Don’t Know What They Want Until You Give Them Something Else

Steve Grandfield is a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska executive. (You might know the company as Nebraska Blue.) I heard him speak to Omaha Agile Development last week. Oh, my! How times have changed! Among other things, he said something very close to the title above, speaking about business customers.

I need to digress. (Sorry!) I want to send well-earned kudos to Steve, his company, and his company’s employees for the open house last week. It was an impressive display of talent, organizational change, and community interest. And as long as I’m throwing out kudos, Client Resources earned them for sponsoring and supporting the event. And Omaha Agile Development earned them for another in their continuing series of interesting and helpful presentations. (Can they possibly manage to do another good one next quarter? Join them to find out!) Well done, all around! And … back to the subject …

In prior days (“yesteryear”, in Garry-speak), the above title statement could well have been introduction to some boo-hoo about how tough it is to serve customers. “We toiling slaves in (fill in the blank with your favorite service organization; Steve talked last week about information technology, IT) have it so rough!”, the diatribe starts. “We’ll build anything our customers want. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once, they’d tell us what they want?! Well … they do … but they usually tell us late in the project when we’re panicked about meeting deadlines. And they tell us we have it all wrong. And they’re usually yelling at the time. Oh! Woe is us.”

Well … of course that boo-hoo-er spoke truth. They accurately described the environment from a partisan IT perspective (you picked up on the embedded “us vs. them” attitude, right?) They reflected IT frustration. Of course, there was similar frustration for the business folks. Many of them longed for the days when IT would be more affordable. (Funny thing, IT costs seem to be coming down faster than lots of people planned for … maybe that helps explain the timing of this subject. But I digress …) Many business folks saw IT as simultaneously skilled and inflexible; they wondered sometimes whether IT was more effort than its value.

Steve Grandfield’s message wasn’t the above; that would have been so … well … yesteryear. (Yes. It was fun expressing it that way!) His point was that none of us must feel trapped in the condition the boo-hoo-er describes. He points to market agility as a viable alternative goal. (Scrum, Lean, and Kanban are examples of advice to achieve agility. There are others.) He suggests the condition described as a prime motivation for changing.

Steve says that because the user cannot tell us what they want, we’ll do well to change our ways. I see him as suggesting pursuit of one of the common values among agile frameworks: get feedback early and often. That is, build a little working code. Then, inform the business user how the demonstration code is similar to the product you think they want (and how it’s different), and ask the business user what they think. Many business users, having described their ideal product, see this demonstration and can suddenly better describe the ideal. (That would be the subject title, right?!) The agile frameworks advocate using that condition to the service provider’s advantage. They argue that service providers would rather hear from business customers early than late that, “That’s good and I’d love it if you could also make it do …” And they argue that the earlier service providers hear that feedback, the more time they have time to adjust. The agile frameworks give service providers a better chance to deliver (really) the product that delights. “Delight” is not just an empty ideal any more.

I don’t recall that executives of yesteryear called for these processes. More and more of the market is adopting these ideas.

Example post from a user

This is an example post from a user. Garry Flemings wrote it with the account on this blog on which I have fewest permissions. When I used the WordPress “Submit for Review” button, WordPress put the post in line for moderation. When I signed into the blog with an account with more permissions, I got a “Publish” button. That button made this post available to the community. Very easy … WordPress has nice capabilities here …

One lesson learned: Use that “Save Draft” button periodically, or … well … ya know …

We learn from experience …

I have strong thanks for my many valued friends!

I’m Garry Flemings. I have a short bio at Garry Flemings bio. And at Garry Flemings on LinkedIn. (blush) Enough about me. Let’s get to information you can use!

We learn from experience. If I can write here about an experience and you can learn from it, we’re both better! If you care to comment about it, we’re both even better! I hope to learn much every day.

I spent Monday with a lot of my friends; the event was ProDev. That’s the annual Professional Development Day for the Heartland Chapter (Omaha) of the Project Management Institute. I wish I had started this blog earlier so I could have encouraged you to attend. (I certainly would have; I’ve attended every year for many years.) Look for it next year at the Chapter web site. Congratulations to those who put together this year’s event!

It was a great day. Dr. Tom Osborne started our day. (Former Nebraska Head Football Coach; former U.S. Representative for Nebraska; Nebraska Athletic Director. It seems he just can’t help but have a high profile in a state where nothing seems to unite us as much as our support of football at University of Nebraska at Lincoln!) I can’t do him justice, so I’ll just say: He’s much more than a winning football coach! He inspires. He demonstrates balance and encourages us to find our own balances.

Some friends at ProDev motivated me to (finally!) start this blog. It’s been one of the those things on the to-do list …; now it’s not. Thanks especially to Mike Bitter of Affordable Social Media, Inc. for pointing the way and making the case for action. (Again: Well done, Mike!)

Thanks for reading this first post. If you’re already among my friends: Thanks again for all your impact on me. If you’re joining that list: Welcome.

I hope the series proves to be worth your periodic return! And I hope a posting here proves worth your comment!