Blogs help project management

Had the word “blog” been in Tris Hussey’s IT lexicon a few years ago, a Web venture he was working on might have gone smoothly. But the endeavour became “a case study in how not to do a project,” he says.

In 2002 Hussey was in charge of Internet projects at a pharmaceutical firm. One undertaking — building a Web site for asthma sufferers — went off track.

The people involved had trouble communicating with each other. The team tried to use project management software to aid connectivity, but installation problems killed that idea. Users fell back on e-mail to keep each other informed of change requirements, new ideas, etc., but sometimes messages didn’t reach everyone they were supposed to reach. That slowed the project’s progress.

When execs requested updates, it was tough to provide an overarching explanation of how well — or how poorly — things were going. Information was everywhere, but nowhere easily accessible or collected for analysis.

The pharma corporation eventually finished the site, but not before blowing the financial plan. “I left in March 2003,” Hussey says from his Salt Spring Island, B.C. office. “At that point we were probably in the hundreds of thousands over budget.”

A better communication method might have solved some of the problems. “A blog would have let us work, comment and tweak phrasing without organizing another dozen-person meeting,” Hussey says, now the product manager of Qumana Software Inc., which makes blog-editing software.

Hussey isn’t the only one saying blogs (long version: “Weblogs”) are good for project management. The inexpensive technology provides an easy-to-edit, network spot to archive needs-requirements documents, tech specs and other details to ensure the endeavour stays the course.

Members of the Toronto Visual Basic User Group used a blog to stay in touch while developing PocketPCBuilder, a mobile project management app. London, England-based eCourier Ltd. used blog tools to co-ordinate developers in Italy, Germany and the U.K. when creating a package-tracking system.

According to Hussey, blogs help cut down on e-mail messages among project participants. They aid remote connectivity. And blogs afford a place for execs to see how the project’s doing.

Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont., says blogs provide a trusted, yet flexible means of communication. “Communication is key to whether you succeed or not.”

But Hussey points out that document version control is as difficult on a blog as it is in e-mail. “You have four or five different perspectives on the same sentence. Which one is right?”

Blogs are also somewhat public, so users might consider them to be risky, notes Lauren Wood on her own blog ( “There’s the sense that anyone could read it, even if password-protected,” writes the Sun Microsystems Inc. senior technical program manager.

Sometimes “it can be really hard to get people to adopt it,” Hussey says. Blogs could play a part in an enterprise’s project management toolbox, but they won’t be the only implements at hand, Hussey says.

Large companies need more, especially regarding version control, than blogs provide. But blogs could become popular among small development teams within big businesses. “It’ll let people do project management light. But for a lot of people…that’s enough.”

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— With files from ComputerWorld (U.S.)

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