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The Impact Of Social Networking On Project Management

A few years back, while studying for the PMP exam, I committed the formula for calculating communications paths to memory.

[N(N-1)]/2

So, what’s the big deal? Why is it so important? If you’re in the Project Management (or leadership) field, you know all too well how important communications is. I used to call myself a project manager. I now prefer to use the term project leader. What’s the difference? According to Warren Bennis and Dan Goldsmith (1997) there are 12 distinctions between managers and leaders.

  • Managers administer; leaders innovate.
  • Managers ask how and when; leaders ask what and why.
  • Managers focus on systems; leaders focus on people.
  • Managers do things right; leaders do the right things.
  • Managers maintain; leaders develop.
  • Managers rely on control; leaders inspire trust.
  • Managers have short-term perspective; leaders have long-term perspective.
  • Managers accept the status-quo; leaders challenge the status-quo.[*]
  • Managers have an eye on the bottom line; leaders have an eye on the horizon.
  • Managers imitate; leaders originate.
  • Managers emulate the classic good soldier; leaders are their own person.
  • Managers copy; leaders show originality.

In order to both innovate and do the right things, I listen and listen a LOT. (Some people listen; some wait to talk) I’ve watched executives and managers, who knew absolutely nothing about a subject, make uneducated decisions because they were too stubborn or proud to consult a subject matter expert (SME). Good leaders do not operate in a vacuum. They exchange ideas and information with people. Offer free information and it will come back to you tenfold. Listen to knowledgeable people and then make a more educated leadership decision.

Social Media CampaignWhere does social media fit into the grand scheme of things? Old-school managers and executives who believe in the bureaucratic organization and status quo, tend to lean toward command-and-control or top-down management. That group is operating under the assumption people higher in the organizational chart know more. New-school leaders believe in social media. Why? It strips away all of the nonsense and connects people to people. They have real conversations as human beings. They educate and they listen with a freedom to connect at an exponential rate. They are not confined to the notion of an hierarchical organization.

My example is my current engagement, which I have been at for 13 months: Within my direct cross-functional organization chart, I have 28 contacts to interface with. There are no plans to increase the size of this group. [28(28-1)]/2 is 378 communication paths. Not too bad.

TwitterTurn now to option number two, social media like Twitter and Facebook. For arguments sake, I’ll say I have 200 followers on Twitter with a growth rate of 10% a month. (I’m actually have 450+ and counting)  Each Twitter Follower is a communications path.

[200(200-1)]/2 = 19,900 communication paths

After one month it would be projected to increase to 21,945 communication paths

Every Friday, people I follow on Twitter recommend others in the industry who I should consider following (#followfriday). Every week, I learn more about my craft and more importantly I get to form relationships with people all over the world. By bypassing the organizational structure to get my information, inbound communications is at a much higher velocity and is now flowing up through the organization.

Social Media helps you be a project leader.


12 distinctions between managers and leaders by Bennis, Warren and Dan Goldsmith. Learning to Lead. Massachusetts: Persus Book, 1997.
Thank you Laurel Papworth for the use of the Social Media Campaign image

* I recommend reading Fighting Status Quo by Pawel Brodzinski

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of ALM Platforms at LeadingAgile. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon). Novice angel investor.

10 Responses to “The Impact Of Social Networking On Project Management”

  1. January 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Hi there,
    Not too sure about the calculation. Your communications path are really between you to each of your Twitter friends…but it does not really create a link between your twitter friends. So I think the figures are over-stated.
    What do you think?

    • Derek Huether
      January 30, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      Vincent, thank you for the comment and your question. You are correct the number would be over-stated if we looked at the direct communications paths from the perspective we are all on the same project trying to communicate. The formula I used may not be the most appropriate but hear me out. Let’ say you also have 200 followers or more importantly you follow 200 people. If you ReTweet (RT) anything from any one of those people you follow, I will see it. Why? Because I follow you! You just increased my possible resource of information by an additional 200 people. So, though I have one direct communications path to you, you are 1-201 paths to me. I’ll admit, I took some liberties with the formula [N(N-1)]/2 to make a point. Traditional project communication paths are a closed network. It makes it easy to calculate. Social networks turn everything on its ear. They are open so their numbers can be much greater but much harder to calculate.

  2. January 30, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Hi there,
    Not too sure about the calculation. Your communications path are really between you to each of your Twitter friends…but it does not really create a link between your twitter friends. So I think the figures are over-stated.
    What do you think?

    • Derek Huether
      January 30, 2010 at 9:36 am

      Vincent, thank you for the comment and your question. You are correct the number would be over-stated if we looked at the direct communications paths from the perspective we are all on the same project trying to communicate. The formula I used may not be the most appropriate but hear me out. Let’ say you also have 200 followers or more importantly you follow 200 people. If you ReTweet (RT) anything from any one of those people you follow, I will see it. Why? Because I follow you! You just increased my possible resource of information by an additional 200 people. So, though I have one direct communications path to you, you are 1-201 paths to me. I’ll admit, I took some liberties with the formula [N(N-1)]/2 to make a point. Traditional project communication paths are a closed network. It makes it easy to calculate. Social networks turn everything on its ear. They are open so their numbers can be much greater but much harder to calculate.

  3. January 31, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    This is a really interesting view of how to use social media with project management. I agree with you, that leaders should innovate and listen, so it makes sense that they would be involved in more social channels than those actually completing the work. Interesting thoughts here.
    .-= Dana´s last blog ..Feed has moved =-.

  4. January 31, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    This is a really interesting view of how to use social media with project management. I agree with you, that leaders should innovate and listen, so it makes sense that they would be involved in more social channels than those actually completing the work. Interesting thoughts here.
    .-= Dana´s last blog ..Feed has moved =-.

  5. N-menon
    June 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Hi Derek, I need some advice. I’m a MSc student in London, UK and I am in the process of sorting a topic for my research report which is part of my dissertation. Now, one of my career goals is to become a project manager so I made the decision to do a research report regarding project management, but at the same time I had this whole idea of social networking and the whole ‘thing’ of web 2.0 and business in general. Then I got the idea of incorporating both social networking and web 2.0 with project management and do a research report on that. What do you think?

    • Anonymous
      June 19, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      I think you’ll find that business, product, and project management are changing at a pretty rapid pace. I like to say “this isn’t your father’s project management. There is a lot less emphasis on hard skills and a lot more on soft skills. You need to socially engage customers and your employees. If you write something, you could easily identify parallels between the transparency demonstrated in social networking space and in the project or business space.

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