Are “Projects” Conversations, Too?

  Web 2.0 for Good – alcove conversation 
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There is great risk of shark-jumping on the whole "…are conversations" concept, but there just might be something here worth exploring. 

I have been thinking a lot about how projects get done (and a "project" could be a software development project, or a product launch, or an office move, or an org-wide deployment of Vista, or what have you.  Ok, maybe not an org-wide deployment of Vista, but you get my drift.)  The context might also not just span a single project, but perhaps an entire portfolio of projects that are competing for an organization’s (or individual’s) scarce resources.

One thing that struck me during a conversation I had recently…the whole buzz around Cluetrain’s first thesis,"markets are conversations," is really, really relevant in this context.  Because, when you get down to it, projects are conversations as well.  The tasks, and milestones, and artifacts are all part of the infrastructure, but can one posit that the thing that really matters (and is currently completely, 100% ephemeral) is the conversations and collaboration between the project team members? 

Perhaps the traditional project management trappings are really simply low-level artifacts and surrogates that management twiddles in order to try to get to some sort of measurement…but perhaps the real value is in the conversation.

I bounced this idea off Demian Entrekin (disclosure: Innotas, where Demian is CTO, is a Cerado customer), and he pointed me to a piece he’d written back in 2006(!) that touched on this as well.  Demian:

"Is the WBS [Work Breakdown Structure, a tool that shows all the tasks related to a project – ed.]  a decomposition tool for understanding the ideal structure for a project, or is it a communication vehicle for teams to work together toward common goals? Sure, it can be both, but the question should not be too quickly answered and dispensed with. If it becomes more of a communication tool, as I would argue it is, then how must its behavior change?" (emphasis added)

Here’s Demian’s more exhaustive thinking on the subject.

So, what do you think?  Are projects where stuff gets done a collection of artifacts?  Or, perhaps, instead, are they instead a collection of collaborative acts based in conversation, out of which artifacts are produced?

Man goes in the cage. Cage goes in the water.  Shark’s in the water.