If Web 2.0 tools offer the promise of better project communication, what does “better” look like? Answering that means considering two broad dimensions of project communication that point in opposite directions. In one direction there’s collaboration where the priority is the individual experience of finding and sharing information. In that context “better” looks like one-stop-shopping for project information in surroundings that promote collaboration by encouraging people to engage in discussion through annotations and comments — in other words, the kinds of personal interactions that social media support. Looking the opposite way we find Enterprise Project Management systems where the priority is the transactional work of project execution. There, communication is far more structured and “better” means making it easy to track task assignments, report progress, submit time sheets and manage lists like issue logs or risk registers.

My research challenge for the balance of 2010 is to look at the marketplace to see if there is a service provider out there who can satisfy both of these project communication priorities effectively at a price that a small or mid-sized organization can afford. I will be visiting (and signing up with) a series of providers with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering for project management. I will be looking at them from the perspective of what the tools let people do, and how well they support both formal and informal project communication. I’m also interested in the business experience of working with the provider, so in addition to the functional aspects I will be exploring some basic management questions:

  • How easy it is to get started?
  • How easy is it to customize the look and feel of the site?
  • How much does it cost to get started and to maintain information with the provider over time?
  • Who is the provider, where are they and what it’s like to do business with them?
  • How stable is the provider (will they still be around in five years)?
  • What information security risks should I worry about?
  • How easy is it to retrieve project data from the site if I decide to change my project records management strategy?

From this I hope to draw a sketch of fit (and gaps) that different organization would likely experience with each of the providers I examine. Beyond that it’s up to you to judge the value of the information. I have a list of providers that I have started with, and the first review will be out in a week or so. The rest will follow as the year unfolds. I look forward to your comments and your suggestions.