It was not that long ago that a printed-out Project Charter would be the start of project approval. The key stakeholders would physically sign the document, which would be passed in the internal mail between parties, finally returning to the project manager to update the version control for the document to version 1.0. She would then file it away for safe-keeping and proof that the initiation phase was over and that the real work could begin.

Does that sound like your workplace now?

Most project sponsors would now expect the entire approvals process to be done by email. That is not to say that you can skip getting formal project approval. Instead, the way you go about securing sponsor sign off is different, due to the technology available to you – and them – in the workplace. No longer do project managers have a filing cabinet of original functional specs and documents signed off in ink. They are more likely to hot desk with limited storage space for project files. Documentation is stored electronically on a central shared server, with scanned copies of any documentation that has been signed. Copies of approval emails are stored with the rest of the project documents on the server. This is now the accepted ways of working, even in industries like financial services which typically take a while to catch up.

The Google Generation

This approach to handling documentation has evolved due to the availability of technology of work, and an evolution of the way in which we use it. This has given risen to the ‘Google generation’. You probably fall into this category. It is not to do with age. It is a distinction based on the adoption of new technology.

If you want information, you can go to Google (or your favourite search engine), type your question and get a relevant response in a fraction of a second. The Google search engine has changed the way project stakeholders expect to get information. In other words, if you need to find something out, you expect to be able to do so quickly and conveniently. It is no longer necessary to trawl through encyclopædias or take a trip to the library to do research. If you don’t know the answer, you can Google the question on your computer or mobile phone. This phenomena has contributed the rise of cheating in pub quizzes, but it has also made project management more difficult.

In the past – and it wasn’t that long ago – the monthly steering group report would be an adequate representation of the project status. It was acknowledged that it was not a real-time project position, but it was accurate enough for the purposes of judging progress against milestones and budget. This data would be sufficient for steering group, and if anyone else wanted a formal project status report, the latest steering group report could be handed over as a snapshot in time. Most of the time, people were happy with this level of detail, even though implicitly they knew it could no longer be true. Only in an emergency would any one ask to see anything more up to date.

Project info at your fingertips

Today, project stakeholders have different expectations about project information, because they can get other information at the click of button. You want to know the weather in Bangalore? Google it. You want real-time stock prices on the FTSE? Google it. You want up to date project status reports. Here’s last month’s steering group report, precisely 19 days out of date. This lack of real-time data is no longer acceptable to project stakeholders who can get everything else in a fraction of a second.

Sixteen per cent of the workforce is what research group IDG calls ‘hyperconnected’. These people have “fully embraced the brave new world… They liberally use technology devices and applications for both personal and business use.” IDG also estimates that the amount of workers falling into this category could soon be up to 40%.

The fact that people are connected at work and at home has a knock-on impact on the way in which we provide project data. Now project stakeholders expect real-time, up to date status reports. Or at least, they expect you to give them that information whenever they ask for it, by return of email. Project managers now have to deal with those raised expectations and always be on top of project status in case anyone asks.

And I think we should be. Project managers who don’t know what is going on — and are not able to communicate it — aren’t serving the needs of the project team or the wider stakeholder community. Of course, accurate and timely information works both ways, and we need it from sponsors too.

So how have you adapted your project management practices to the evolving needs of your hyperconnected stakeholders?

About the Author

Elizabeth Harrin has ten years of experience managing projects. She’s a member of PMI’s New Media Council, and she writes about projects on her award-winning blog A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. She’s also the author of Project Management in the Real World, a case-study based book that tells you what you really need to know to succeed in project management.