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March 2, 2009 » 12:00 pm

How Project Management Tools Empower Communities

I recently posted an entry at the Blue Oxen Associates blog on Obama, Wikis, and Collective Leadership. The crux of the post was simple: Collective Leadership happens when it’s clear who’s in charge.    (N51)

In other words, powerful communities empower their participants to lead by giving them Permission To Participate. When it’s clear that a community has thought about what needs to be done and that people within the community are doing those things, then people can have confidence in that community’s leadership.    (N52)

Entangled in all of this are notions of trust and transparency. One of the simplest ways to build trust within a group is to have good Personal Information Hygiene and even better Group Information Hygiene. The path to enabling good Group Information Hygiene is transparency.    (N53)

Good Project Management tools encourage good Group Information Hygiene via transparency. As a member of a project team, I can look at all of the group’s tasks, I can see what’s been assigned, and I can know who’s following through. Moreover, others can see the same about me.    (N54)

In a small team with clearly defined roles, project leaders are supposed to be responsible for all of this. But by making these things transparent, project leaders engender greater trust and empower the entire team.    (N55)

In a large community with no imposed authority, this is even more critical, because there isn’t anyone who has been pre-assigned with the responsibility. One of the most powerful ways to be transparent and empowering is by using a Project Management tool to openly list tasks, and by enabling anyone in the community to contribute to or volunteer for tasks.    (N56)

A few years ago, I had a conversation with my friend, Steve Ketchpel, about this phenomenon, and he shared a brilliant insight. He said that most Project Management tools are not useful for empowering grassroot communities, because they assume that people who take responsibility for a task will actually follow-through. What we actually need are tools that encourage people to do their best to follow through on tasks, but that also encourage others to take over those tasks when the original volunteers don’t or can’t follow through. This is simply a reality of life in grassroot communities, and tools need to support this.    (N57)

The Project Management tool that comes closest to supporting this is Chandler. Obviously, I’m biased, but I think that Chandler does a great job of making it easy for anyone to see and take on tasks. Ironically, one of the ways it does this is by not having a task assignment feature. You can sign up for a task by adding your initials to the title or description of a task, and you can just as easily reassign tasks the same way.    (N58)

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