Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why CRM is the New Project Management

Well, not quite... but definitely getting closer. I've been having the pleasure of playing with Highrise, an innovative CRM (Customer Relationship Management) offering by 37Signals, the makers of Basecamp and sponsors of Ruby on Rails. As my initial experiment with Highrise turned into serious reliance, I realized something magical was at play.

The Project's Not the Real Challenge

Here is the magic, the people are the project! Of course, defining what we know about the project is still critically important. Goals, milestones, and work breakdown structures are still highly useful for the known elements of the project. However, as any experienced Project Manager will tell you, project success is primarily about managing the people and managing the unknown. This is where some of the core elements of CRM are extremely helpful.

The focus of CRM is the people (traditionally in the form of leads and contacts). Highrise lets you quickly organize your tasks and communications around individuals, making the social dynamics of your project highly visible. Project success is really about managing complexity, a combination of discipline and sensing, of tracking the known and dealing with emergence.

We haven't quite arrived

The folks at HumanEdj get this as well. They organize projects around human interaction. The tools are clunky, but it's great to see things moving in the right direction.

So, what does innovative project management look like?
  1. Highly visible social network. Highly visible interaction management, including how people are collaborating both within and on the fringes of the project.
  2. Prioritized participant views. All communications, activity, and knowledge contribution needs to be grouped for each individual, allowing easy views of consolidation.
  3. Activity metrics. Instead of simply measuring progress to defined schedules and dates, add metrics of emerging contribution and interaction activity.
  4. Empowered project managers. Provide decision support data for the real challenges of project management, behavioural analysis and emerging risks or opportunities.
I'm excited about this fusion of socially aware, task driven capabilities. And even though we're still missing the killer app for large scale, leading edge project management, we're close to having all the ingredients necessary for the recipe. Along with my innovating contemporaries, I'll be fully engaged with pushing these tools towards meeting the challenges we face in the real world every day.

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