How Enterprise Social Collaboration Can Get You Over the Project Wall: An Interview with Ken Winell


Last October, a few months after Ken Winell had joined Tough Mudder as vice president of technology, he found himself wading through the mud, risking electrical shock and pulling himself over walls in what has become the company’s wildly popular signature extreme obstacle course. Some projects may feel just as extreme to their participants. Winell believes that enterprise social tools such as Microsoft Yammer and Salesforce Chatter will enable project managers to respond more quickly to changing conditions. In his presentation during the Microsoft Project Virtual Conference, Winell showed project managers how to integrate new kinds of collaboration elements into their PM practices to shape projects more effectively. In this interview, he explains why project managers should care about the new breed of enterprise collaboration tools.

MPUG: In your virtual conference session you’re going to be talking about newer collaboration tools such as Chatter and Yammer. Why would project managers care about those?

Ken Winell: The business landscape continues to change from a collaboration perspective. The studies are all saying that by 2018 50 percent of emails will be more emoji-like than they will be text. Social commerce and social collaboration are going to be key focuses in being able to understand your customer base and, more importantly, being able to understand how they communicate with the cohorts you’re doing business with.

The idea in this session is to go through the principles of collaboration and what you need to know with respect to enterprise social management and how that ties into standard IT systems and the ability to actually leverage that data — measuring sentiment, for example — just like you would with any social media property like Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat. Yammer and Chatter give you the opportunity to have secure conversations outside of your email so that people can see the context of how things are done. You can watch the thread while talking about the customer and looking at the customer data. There are a lot of things that come into play here.

Some organizations turn on Chatter or Yammer and then it fails. The reason is that they have not thought through the rules of how to set it up and take advantage of it. It becomes very important to understand the rules and the etiquette.

At a recent conference I attended, I had the chance to talk with a lot of project management leaders. When I asked them what skill they’d most like to see in their new hires, almost all of them said better listening skills. Any thoughts about how enterprise social tools can help with that?

Sure. The whole idea is that listening and active listening becomes a two-part thing. I’ll be on a virtual conference and people might be listening to me talk, and at the same time they could be having a conversation with their friend: “What do you want to do about dinner tonight?” or “Hey, I don’t agree with him. What do you think?”

The idea of being able to actively listen using social enterprise tools is that you can have the conversation and it can sit outside the realm of the interactions you have with the other business users.

From a project management perspective, if somebody assigns you a task or work breakdown structure or something you need to get done, you’re actively assigned to that. The enterprise social structure will allow you to get the context of it and ask questions of other people like, “What is the best way to go about this?” without telling the boss that’s how you’re doing it.

How do you build the use of digital collaboration into your project plans?

First and most importantly, understand the business context. This is the big takeaway I would give everybody: Project management is no longer just the way to get the business requirements met. Project managers must be part of the business. The discipline has to be there in order to get things done. Therefore the ability to integrate social and digital tools to allow visibility, transparency, honesty and the ability for feedback are all critical components in the success of any project.

When you’re planning your project, you want to deploy very quickly. Let’s use the example where you have your project plan and you have a Gantt chart and dates and milestones and assignments and resources, and that’s great because people can very clearly see what tasks each person is assigned and they can see the dependencies between those tasks.

But the questions about those tasks and the conversations that need to go on about that project plan can all be integrated into Yammer and Chatter. You could ask a question: “What does everybody think about this task? Is this the right task to do?” Having those honest dialogs integrated directly into your Gantt planning is going to help you manage risk and keep the dialog going. You’re reading that in real time and communicating directly with the audience and everybody is participating. You’re not waiting for a weekly or daily or hourly status report.

There’s a whole level of transparency that doesn’t exist in the old school. This really sets the stage for ultimately being successful in your project delivery.

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Written by Dian Schaffhauser
Dian Schaffhauser is MPUG's editor. She's been covering project management, business transformation and topics technical as a journalist and editor since IBM released its first PC. She invites you to send your best story ideas for MPUG to her at She promises to let you know what she really thinks.
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