Project network as a social network

Or maybe the subject shouild read "project network as a conversation." Patti Anklam posts an interesting comment about project networks in Project Team Analysis and SNA, which references an article by Dennis Smith, Network links go well beyond straight lines. To quote Patti:

... Dennis's insight, expressed well in the article, is that the links between tasks on a project chart often represent [the need for] multiple conversations, iterations between two people completing a hand-off of one's completed work to the other. As he says, "...microlevel interactions are left for those two people to work out and simplified to a single line in the project plan."

We so often think about these branching and interconnected networks as a fancy list of tasks. Built well, they represent interdependencies among people and the tasks. But the insight above really gets at the people nature of projects. There aren't hard cutoffs between the end of one task and the beginning of another. The line on the gantt chart implies a conversation, and depending on the complexity of the tasks, the amount of time people are working on the "line" between the two tasks could be significant. Most projects are not assembly lines.

There is also the point that any project plan is only an educated guess at how the project will proceed, and Dennis Smith works with that theme as well. Wouldn't it be fun to acknowledge that some tasks within the project require more "networking" than others -- more interactions with people outside of the formal people assigned to the activity. Has anyone mapped a social network against a project network? Is it possible to come up with a view that would make sense?

Smith's summary tells us to get around the lie (the inability of a gantt chart to represent how projects really flow), we need to communicate early and often.

Good communications between team members, sponsors, customers, and the leader is the best incremental investment you can make. With good solid communication rules and well-built working relationships at the person-to-person level, you may even make the biggest project lie go away. The biggest lie? "We understand everything that is going on in our project and it is under control, within budget, and on schedule."

5 Comment(s)

Valdis K said:

Here is a project team -- color coded by which part of the organization they are from. The links show the project communication paths during the last month.

We see some interesting network patterns -- ones that were causing project delays. For more details see the web page...

Jack Vinson said:

"Ask and ye shall receive." Thanks so much, Valdis. This is exactly what I was thinking of - I should have known. I'd love to see an animation of how this network changed over the course of the monthly snapshots. Based on the article, I am guessing you saw much more activity through the hubs and more inter-departmental activity once managment intervened.

It would be great if you had evidence of using this as a predictor as well as a diagnostic tool.

Valdis K said:

As time went on we saw less flowing through the origianl hubs and yes there were more interdepartmental connections. Yet the origianl hubs and the clustering did not totally disappear. What was interesting was how some connections [and therefore patterns of connections] changed as the project progressed through various phases.

Everyone wants to predict the future... other than expecting some patterns and trends to continue into the near future... predicting long term future is really an impossibility.

And maybe networks do not change that much... Several years ago Karen Stephenson shared some research on how executive networks remained pretty consistent even as a large company went through a formal re-organization. The formal networks changed, the informal ties did not.

Dennis Smith said:

To the question "Has anyone mapped a social network against a project network?" - yes, that is what I do and it is called Team/Project Acculitics. An overview is at

loans said:

You can also check out the sites dedicated to- Tons of interesdting stuff!!!

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