Rob Purdie on values-based project management

This year's Web of Change conference included a session with Rob Purdie of Important Projects on values-based project management. Here are my notes on the session, which focused on collaboratively sharing tactics for boosting the various aspects of organizational culture that support effective project work.

Success of any project can be judged by 2 criteria:
1. were the objectives met?
2. did the team find the work itself rewarding?

Projects not going well has to do with not having a project friendly environment

What is a project?
A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to produce a unique product, service or result.

– objectives: the things the project is unertaken to achieve
– deliverables: what project will produce in order to achieve objectives:
– requirements: qualities deliverables must have/criteria deliverables must meet in order to achieve objectives
– constraints: that project must be delivered within [time/scope/cost] (the iron triangle) [scope=quality]

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project objectives.

On good projects, people take the time to define objectives.

Org culture is the river; the project is the boat.
If org culture is flowing smoothly, you just have to steer the boat; otherwise you're driving upstream
Projects involve risks, so risk-averse organizations will have trouble
With problematic culture you need more money, and more authority as project manager

Build a project-friendly environment, at least within the project team.
Build a culture of personal empowerment and risk-taking.

b/c of a set of assumptions that turn out not to be accurate
confusing the politics of anti-hierarchy with the need to get shit done

– people skills: being able to listen and communicate well; need to manage expectations and explain things clearly so all sides understand; integrating into project culture is all about people skills
– they need to be bright and flexible and quick and adaptable and know how to talk to people
– persistence: keep coming back for the piece of info they need
– do they need to be values aligned?

Need balance between outputs and processes (ends and means)
Don't burn people out.

Cross-functional integration is valued
Risk taking is supported
High conflict tolerance; need to be able to engage in healthy conflict; a meeting with no conflict is not valuable
Value open and honest communication; respect for one another

5 groups: (how to build each)

Personal empowerment — grow our teams so people feel empowered. Everyone wants to contribute their best work (whether they know it or not). When people feel frustrated it's b/c they feel blocked. How can we remove things that get in way of allowing people to contribute their best work?

Trust — need closure in communications as pro-active way of building trust. Whenever I have a conversation with anyone about anything i want to know who is doing what by when. If you can do that with every conversation, nobody is going back to their desk wondering if the other person is going to be doing the thing that needs to be done for me to do my work.

Respect — what are some specific tactics for instilling this in group. Being late is disrespectful.


  • Buy-in. Are you going to stick with the project through hard times?
  • What is everybody's standard of excellence?
  • Commitment is a great quality for organizers, but it's different in a project context.
  • Can't focus on the meta-level of commitment at every project level — objective of producing the brochure can't be saving the world.
  • Project has a beginning and an end.
  • Commitment can be to doing a great job, to saving the world….but need a long-term theory of change.
  • Need to make sure we continue to find projects that the team finds meaningful. Team wants to be happy as well as paid.
  • Make sure that the projects speak to the values of the people I'm working with.
  • What projects you're choosing — projects can be aligned with a range of values. When does choice of project become strategic — not just about feeling good about the projects you're doing.
  • Can someone who's not values aligned authentically serve the role of supporting other people's values.
  • Think of this as irrigation: project manager is irrigating the growing plants — the people who are trying to get the job done.
  • You are serving a group of people who really care about this —
  • How can you transform someone into excitement about this value of promoting social change?
  • Ask them: are you interested in transforming?
  • Commitment builds trust.
  • If you do what you say you're going to do — you make a commitment — that builds trust. If you can't fulfill a commitment you've made, you go back to people and tell them you can't make it and tell them when you can meet them.
  • Staff commit to timelines but then don't meet it. People commit to overly amibitious timelines as a way of proving their commitment.
  • PMs  need to ASK, rather than tell, when something can be completed.
  • Time estimates should be offered by the person doing the work.
  • Need to create a culture of honesty about how long things will take.
  • Projects are always in a longer/larger context.
  • Overcommitment — working overtime — as a sign of commitment. Burn-out as a sign of commitment.
  • Sometimes the culture can be great, but people are just wrong about how long something will take.

– need to be engaged in planning
– how to embed project into longterm goals of org — creating a culture

– establishing groundrules; closure on all conversations — who is doing what by when; clearly defining roles & responsibilities; including play in project activities to build trust
– project debriefs to make transparent what was broken
– Quakers: creating formats for appreciation — framing contributions in ways that are around appreciating fellow team members' work
– book: The art of possibilities

– tied to trust, communication and accountability
– clear expectations about individual expectations
– what everyone is responsible for as a team member
– groundrules for ccing people, lateness
– here are the ground rules we're going to stick by
– issues board: every specific period — if you're feeling disrespected , there's a way to bring that up
– respecting what client brings, client respecting what shop brings

– proactively handle team by getting to know how they handle conflict
– establish ground rules
– separate problem from person — give people a sense that the objectives are the enemy, not the people on the team

– clarity of objectives
– remember that decision-makers aren't the same as the implementers
– create culture with open feedback channel
– bilateral clarity of expectations — client needs to be accountable for their inputs

– bioteaming manifestos
– distributed teams

Looking for Oberlin alumni in social media/nonprofit technology

I’ve just started a facebook group for Oberlin Alumni in Social Technology” — either nonprofit technology specifically, or social media more generally. I have this theory that the nptech scene must include a fair number of Obies, and I’d love to connect with them. So I’m starting the hunt, and hoping I might even surface some fellow alums who will be at the upcoming NTEN conference in DC. If you’re an Obie and you’re reading this, please join the Facebook group or post a comment here.

John Hagel on expanding markets through virtual communities

I'm writing this from the Community 2.0 conference, which promises to be two great days of inspiration on online community building and management. It got off to a great start with a presentation by John Hagel on "What's Possible? Expanding Markets through Virtual Communities".

Here are some of the highlights of John's talk:

How do we create effective online community? 

  1. What do we mean by community?
  2. What skill sets are needed?
  3. What mind shifts are needed?
  4. What organizational structure is needed?

1. What is community?

There's a tendency to regard anything that's interaction as community.
The emphasis of real community establish connections among people so they can participate in shared discussions over time, leading to a complex web of relationships, and to an increased identification with the overall community.

The key to real community:

  • shared discussions
  • shared relationships
  • shared identity

There's an inexorable desire for these communities to meet in physical space as well, and over time the virtual and physical communities get woven together.

2. What skill sets (culture sets) are needed?

  1. Creating content.
  2. Structuring/catalyzing social interactions in a way that promotes enduring relationships.
  3. Economic business models. How to sustain over time.
  4. [My note: technical skills/culture is a fourth important set, and needs to be integrated with the first three.]

Communities typically start from one of these skill sets.

3. What mind shifts are needed?

  1. Need to be participant-centric. I often hear questions about what's the value to the company of doing this; but not about the value to participants.
  2. Need to think long-run. People think too short term.
  3. Need to move from top-down organizational perspective to bottom-up perspective. Need to give up control.

4. What organizational structure is needed?

Key issues:

  1. Who is responsible for community initiatives and do they have the authority to mobilize the resources needed to make community work? Do they have the appropriately broad perspective? Even if they're senior, they may be too narrowly focused on marketing or another narrow area — and that narrows community to the functional area of the person in charge?
  2. How do they define success? Too often there's not even a definition of success. What are the operational metrics. Are there systematic reviews to enhance performance over time?
  3. Who has the relevant experience in the organization and are they being mobilized into the community?

What value do businesses get from online community?

ROA: Return on Attention
Participants should ask themselves: What is the value I derive from the attention I put into and receive from this community? ALWAYS focus on ROA from participant viewpoint first. Organization can then look at the ROA for their own org. How much did it cost to catch the participants' attention, and how much value did that attention deliver to the organization AND to the  participants.

A small proportion of your customers deliver the majority of your value. How do you get them more engaged? And how do you take the less profitable customers and make them more valuable thanks to their communtiy experiences?

How do I create environments to provide resources participants didn't even know existed, let alone searched for, but which are valuable and relevant to them? This is the highest value return on attention.

Recommends Peter Moorville's Ambient Findability. Powerful way to think about return on attention. While most people think about usability, usability presumes findability. Have to figure out first how they can find you.  Hagel says  findability=fundability.

ROI: Return on information
where information = information on participants

Look at ROI initially from participant viewpoint, then from provider/organizer viewpoint.

From participant perspective: how much info have I shared, and how much effort did it take to share it? And how much value did I receive from sharing that info?
From organizational perspective: How much info did I receive from participants, and how much value was I able to generate — for myself and for participants — from that information?

Organizations are investing a lot in collecting info but aren't thinking much about how to use it.

How can we be more helpful to participants by providing resources based on their profiles/behavior?

How can we shorten cycle between when participants provide info and when they get value back? That's key to motivating participation.

ROS: Return on skills
For participants:  skills from participating in these communities
For organizers: am I able to attract and retain the most valuable contributors?

Distinguish between communities of interest and communities of practice.
In COPs, focus on places where people are coming together to generate work product, eg in open source software communities. Expects COIs and COPS to start converging. As we face more pressure to deepen our skills and increase value delivered from their skills, I see increased tendency for people to make their passions their professions,b/c you're more likely to develop skills where you feel passion. Likely to seek out communities where people develop their talents while engaging with their passions.

Chat transcripts for May 30th now available

Transcripts from our May 30th remote conference sessions and May 30th hallway chat are now online. You can find transcripts on the remote conference page or on the hallway page — or just follow the links below. 

You can subscribe to RSS feeds of the chat transcripts by pointing to or That will give you the last 200 messages in the chat room; or if you subscribe to the feed from an aggregator, you'll get ongoing transcripts. (If you're new to RSS, see the RSS resource center on Net2Learn.)

Just because it’s a remote conference doesn’t mean you don’t get a badge

Meet me at Net2 Remote Conference

Planning on joining us for the remote conference? Let the world know (and give the conference some link love) by posting this badge on your blog or web site. Just copy and paste the following HTML code wherever you'd like it to appear:

<a href=""><img alt="Find me at the Net2 Remote Conference" title="Find me at the Net2 Remote Conference" src=""/></a>

Create a hallway for your web site with Gabbly

We've been playing with a new tool, Gabbly, as a possible means to run live chat on the NetSquared site during the conference. Gabbly lets you add a chat window to any web page on the Internet, simply by typing "" in front of any URL. For example, you could chat with other folks reading the NetSquared blog by typing in the URL "" — check it out!

Gabbly keeps the last 18 messages in the chat room visible to anyone joining the room; and as long as you keep the chat windown open, you'll see ALL the messages typed since you logged in (plus the up-to-18 that were then when you arrived). And since Gabbly generates an RSS feed for each chat room, you can archive the chat about any web page by aggregating it back onto that page (as long as your web site has a built-in tool for aggregating RSS feeds).

Live blogging today from NetSquared North

We’re live blogging today from NetSquared North, a gathering of folks interested in non-profit technology issues who are in town for the Northern Voice blogging conference. Check out the NetSquared North wiki here.

Our opening session decided on four topical discussions for the day:

10:10-11:20: Online community-building: blogging and beyond
1:00-2:05: Top 5 non-profit technology needs and the best practices for addressing them: non-profit capacity-building

Aggregation as an endless loop

Here’s a challenge for wiser RSS-wranglers than I: as aggregation becomes a more widely used tool for populating web sites, how do we prevent RSS feeds from being cluttered with multiple identical posts? I was just looking at the Technorati tag page for net2,...

Speed feeding

Part of the plan with the ecosystem is to bring relevant content into sites using RSS. In the case of event sites — like the Capetown site that is the very first telecentre event site to get up and running — we’ll use...

Wanted: RSS calendaring

At the top of my wishlist: a good RSS calendaring tool that would let me share my whereabouts with friends, family and well-wishers. (If anyone has a technology that can specifically exclude ill-wishers, so much the better.) The absolute minimum that I need is...