The Importance of Networks

The Importance of Networks

By Sheila Roberts

We were hesitant to use the CUPE International blog last week to post a tribute to Chris Holt following his sad death. We have been amazed by the number of people who have responded to this with messages of condolence or simply thanking us for making it known. Thank you to each of you who has been in contact. We are passing the condolences on to his family. This has brought home how many people’s lives Chris touched and how wide his network was. In turn, it made us think about the importance of networks in projects, programmes and portfolios.

As Project Professionals we create networks of activities, dependencies, products etc. These are useful techniques to aid us in planning and managing the work. There is a lot written on these techniques already, however, it is recognised that people are the main key to success of any project. This is where the importance of networks comes into play. We have networks which are both formal and informal and those which are through work and personal. They are all important in success.

The formal networks are through the organisation structures and the project organisation. There are formal links between the different levels and roles in the projects as well as between the project and the other areas of the business. These links are vital in terms of governance and in terms of ensuring organisational policies and procedures are followed. Whilst important these alone are insufficient to deliver a successful project. You need to add to them.

The informal networks are influential in stakeholder engagement and maintaining momentum of the project. These can also be crucial in terms of leading the project team. There is a world of difference between the commitment generated from having a coffee and asking about someone’s children / partner / interests and just going through the agenda of the meeting. Finding a person or interest in common helps bring the team together and facilitating communication. Enabling the team to get to know each other as people will help to cement their wish to support each other rather than just working on their own. 

Similarly having an informal network to ask about a technical issue to find a solution may save the project many days of trial and error and prevent delays to other parts of the project. Each time there is a saving of time, avoidance of delay or frustrations it also saves costs and enables quality to be delivered. An informal network may also alert you to an early warning indication of a risk, an issue or stakeholder views. Stakeholder communication plans can be amended to take advantage of the informal networks or to be informed by them. More than once I have been able to avoid a disaster by hearing about something through my informal networks (although it does not mean I have never had a disaster!). 

In conclusion a useful exercise as a project professional is to create a network diagram of your formal and informal networks. You will probably be surprised how many links you have and don’t always think of drawing on them.