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Time to Boost Project Team Productivity? Try Sharing, the “S” in Social Networking
By Kent Allen

Why is social networking the Next Big Thing? It’s about the sharing. In a world where email, search engines, and information-overload overwhelms our ability to organize data and focus on getting things done, we need a better way to manage our time and to-dos.

Sharing is easier said than done. Some people simply never learn to share. Bureaucratic corporate organizations often obstruct information sharing by design. Other times, the communication systems we rely on today get between us and our desire to get things done.

Sharing among virtual teams: Do we have the tools we need?

Virtual teams are often the best way, at times the only way, to get important work done. Project managers are in high demand because we need teams that can quickly form, inform, and perform — and then transform to tackle another task.

Rarely have the virtual teams I’ve managed had much of an appetite for heavyweight project management software. Instead many project teams rely on email as their main course of communications — with a healthy dash of conference calling mixed in and a lot of Excel spreadsheets on the side.

However, many of us experience the heartburn created by project-management-by-email: long, confusing threads of emails; accidentally hitting the reply all button; wasted time in boring status meetings; and lots of phone tag to update a project’s status.

Most of us put up with these modern annoyances because they are the new costs of getting things done in a virtual work world. But are these costs now becoming too high?

Productivity hits the wall

In the last year, productivity has risen by only 1.3 percent, the weakest showing in almost ten years. Labor costs are up 5.3 percent in the period, the fastest increase since 1982. As the costs of labor increase at the fastest rate in almost 25 years, smart businesses need to be looking for ways to increase productivity. If the slowing economy pushes companies to lay off workers, those who keep their jobs will have fewer resources and more work to get done.

It’s always smart to gut-check government data against what’s happening down on Main Street. Although the blogosphere may not yet represent Main Street, personal productivity bloggers, Get Things Done gurus, and life hackers are all buzzing about where we’ll find the next leap in project management productivity.

Management doesn’t mean execution

Project execution requires first gathering and processing relevant data into actionable information, and then effectively sharing information and to-dos so that the right people have the context, focus, and the know-how necessary to get things done.

Are we hitting the productivity wall because we’ve gotten very skilled at collecting information, but haven’t yet found smarter ways to share that information and turn it into action and results? Although we use powerful search engines to find data and email to move data around, many professionals still rely on Post-its™ stuck it to their monitors to convert to-do’s into results.

Social networking to the rescue?

To address this collection-execution imbalance, I built a project blog for one team that I recently managed. Determined to overcome today’s communication challenges, I asked my project team to rely on the blog as their primary resource for project communication and execution.

The team found the blog useful. But in the end, the blog basically served as a prettier place to put our project data, and not a better way to more efficiently manage time or focus the team on execution. Plus, the blog didn’t work off-line. I thought everyone would be able to get online when I needed them to be. I was wrong.

Sharing an Accomplice in Time

It was lesson I took with me as I recently moved on to a new project. I had met Jason Feinsmith and Uri Sarid, two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who had built a “smart virtual assistant” they called Accomplice. I took on the project in part because Accomplice offered a new information-sharing service that promised to make organizing team goals and getting to-dos done easier and more effective.

By watching how different people have been using Accomplice to get things done, I have learned a lot in a short time about today’s new breed of personal information managers – and what execution-oriented professionals who want to share project information and get things done should look for in one of these solutions.

Here are three key take-aways I’d like to share that will help your team focus on doing what’s important, instead of what’s at the top of the inbox:

It’s the sharing that matters the most. Don’t try to be a super-project-hero and do it all yourself. Look for applications that not only help you organize scattered to-do’s and related information into step-by-step actions, but one that also allows you to communicate all changes and updates instantly with your team — without relying solely on email or requiring any involvement from an IT team.

Virtual means mobile. If you can’t get it done when you’re offline, one day you’ll have a problem. Your project data must be available to the team whether they’re online or offline. Also make sure your data moves with you and your team’s Blackberry, Palm, or Windows Mobile. Give yourself extra credit for having U3 Smart™ flash drive mobility.

Enhance what already works for your team. Accept that your team will want to use email programs like Outlook, web browsers, and Excel spreadsheets to communicate. Look for solutions that leverage what people are already comfortable using.

Social networking advances are helping today’s busy professionals understand that smarter, timelier sharing of information enhances personal and team productivity. Who knows, maybe this enhanced productivity will one day shorten the work week.

Run that one by the boss.

Kent Allen, principal of The Research Trust (http://www.researchtrust.com) is an independent industry analyst and market consultant who researches and writes about how digital media and emerging applications improve communications, commerce, and conversion.

Accomplice is a virtual assistant application and internet sharing service that organizes to-dos, goals, and related notes into actionable steps shared across teams of any size. A free version with task-relevant, sponsored text links can be downloaded at http://www.accomplice.com/download.html A professional, early-bird discount version is available for $29.95/year.

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