As project portfolio management (PPM) methodologies continue to gain greater adoption in IT departments, the greatest challenge facing executives and IT project managers is a lack of voluntary team member participation in the project management process.

Traditionally, project leaders have employed top-down or command-and-control management approaches on the project teams, but these approaches no longer work for today's evolved workforce. What IT project leaders need is a paradigm shift: to evolve their project management processes to depend more on people and less on process or technology.

A better way to get work done

The search for a better way to get your work done requires that you stand back and take an objective look at the PPM process. Thomas Kuhn, who coined the phrase 'paradigm shift' in 1962 said, A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone share. A paradigm shift is a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science.

Kuhn used the duck-rabbit illustration at the right to show how a paradigm shift can cause someone to see the same information in an entirely different way. Regardless of whether you see the rabbit or the duck at first glance, as your IT department embraces project management methodologies, it's important for you to look at today's challenges in the PPM industry from a new perspective.

PPM's greatest challenge

Let's face it; IT project management as we've known it is changing... evolving. Today's workforce is more social and reliant upon collaboration, more creative and technologically savvy, and more distributed than ever before. Because of this, your greatest challenge as an IT project leader is getting voluntary team member participation in the project management process. And recent research shows that using the top-down, command-and-control management approaches of the past with today's workforce will only lead to:

  1. Project information that executives and project managers can't trust
  2. An overly structured management environment that people dislike
  3. A lack of confidence between project manager and team members
  4. Frustrated project teams whose accomplishments often go unrecognised
  5. A steady decline in team member engagement and participation

The three key drivers of increased project team participation

By looking at IT project management with fresh eyes, you will discover that people are more willing to interact with the process and provide the valuable, accurate, and timely information you need in order to make informed decisions and lead your team if you focus on these three things:

1. Empowerment.

People want to be empowered. What is empowerment? Explained simply, empowerment is investing someone else with power. In the project management world and in the team setting, that means giving team members the power to first, make decisions, and second, to act on those decisions. A part of that includes giving them ownership of their work and flexibility regarding their deliverables and deadlines.

Another aspect is making sure to include team members in your project planning processes. When team members feel like they have a hand or a say in how things should be done, they automatically feel more committed to seeing a project through to completion and to success. And any time you can employ a more team-centric task assignment model within your team, you will enable your team members to contribute to the establishment of benchmarks and timelines while also giving them a greater sense of responsibility.

2. Confidence.

Managers and executives are constantly consuming conversational information about projects so they can get deeper insights into the real status of their projects. Project leaders who leverage solutions or tools that facilitate free-form conversations around assignments can capture better information to help them keep an accurate pulse on their projects and make more proactive decisions.

In a report commissioned by AtTask and conducted by Forrester Research, bottom-up operational reporting was identified as three times more accurate than traditional top-down monitoring for informing decisions. If you can create a more transparent environment where everyone's work contributions are visible to peers and managers, you will be able to get a more accurate pulse on what’s going on with your team and your projects.

One good way to get this kind of transparency on your team is to incorporate social tools (or at least emphasise and promote collaboration) into your project management processes. Social tools allow you to capture conversational information at the source, which qualifies quantitative data and provides valuable context that you wouldn't get otherwise.

When asked the question, 'What, in your opinion, would most improve data accuracy for knowledge worker project / task time tracking respondents to Forrester's survey indicated that the leading measure for improving data accuracy was 'capturing more qualitative information,' or in other words, more conversational information.

Taking the more social, collaborative approach to IT project management establishes confidence in three key ways: it will give you more confidence in your team members and vice versa, it will provide you with project data you can trust for making important decisions and for reporting to your stakeholders, and it will give your stakeholders and executives greater confidence in you and your team's ability to deliver.

3. Recognition.

People take pride in their work. They care about what their managers and peers think of them and their accomplishments. And although managers usually believe their team's accomplishments are being adequately recognised, Forrester's research showed that many knowledge workers feel their managers are out of touch with their contributions and value.

Over 40 per cent of knowledge workers reported lack of recognition by their managers and over 60 per cent by executive leadership. Because of this, project teams that facilitate the recognition of individual team member accomplishments and contributions foster an environment where team members are more inclined to engage in their work.

Think of it this way; why are team members so often disengaged at work - refusing to use PPM software, update spreadsheets accurately, or give responses more informative than '80 per cent done,' but they can easily spend hours engaging on social platforms like Facebook or Twitter? A key factor in that is recognition. Why do people post Facebook updates? Because they're looking for people to 'like' their status or leave a comment acknowledging what they've said. The same principle can apply at work.

If you can find a way to get your project team involved in acknowledging each other's work and accomplishments, especially if you can find that in a collaborative project management tool, you'll find that your team's engagement will increase dramatically.

Looking at the project management process from a different and fresh perspective makes it possible to see this paradigm shift, or this evolution of how individual members of project teams interact with the project management process and how that can impact the quality of information executives and project leaders use to make business decisions, as a positive thing for your IT department and your IT projects.

The power of empowerment, confidence, recognition, and collaboration within the structure of project management will help you capture more relevant project information, get clearer visibility into your business initiatives, and get your team members more engaged in your project management processes. It's not a change that will likely happen over night, but it's a change that's worth it.

AtTask is the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) leader for Enterprise Work Management solutions. AtTask provides the work visibility and accountability that enterprise departments lack by enabling knowledge workers to better receive, plan, prioritize, and coordinate their work through projects and collaborative work processes. AtTask provides an easy-to-use solution that improves productivity, social collaboration, recognition, and results. AtTask has a broad range of customers including Global 2000 brands such as Nike, Cisco, ABC, ESPN, 3M, and Trek. Additionally, AtTask was recently recognised as a Leader in the Gartner Inc. 2012 Magic Quadrant for Cloud-Based Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) Services.