Why Modern Project Managers Do Not Need a Project War Room

A project war room used to make sense especially if you are managing a complex project. Having a central place to hold project team meetings, brief stakeholders, and analyze data that helps you to control the project was needed as late as the early 90s. However, as with many other management methods, the rise of the Internet brought new technologies and techniques that replaced the need for a physical project war room. Online tools can provide the same or superior benefits to the centralized physical war room.

1) Better communication – Having everyone in one room does make it easier to hold meetings and impromptu consultations with team members. Even so, with smart phones and tablets, it is just as easy to find people and to hold impromptu meetings no matter where the team members are located.
2) Better working conditions – For some work, team members need a quiet space to concentrate. This is often impossible in the shared workspaces of project war rooms. By allowing team members to work in private cubicles or offices can increase productivity while social networking tools can keep the team members in the loop when needed.
3) Better documentation – Another advantage of social networking tools is that it is much easier to document the impromptu conversations that take place during project work. Additionally, having a central online document repository handles the problems of keeping up with different versions of the documents and making sure every team member has equal access.
4) Better reporting – A major function of the project war room was to collect progress information and display it for the project team and stakeholders. The same information can be collected online and displayed online for the team and stakeholders with even more options to personalize the reporting and analysis.

Even the argument for face-to-face meetings is losing its value as webcams and online meeting software can give virtually the same experience without the tedium of long meetings with an overstuffed agenda.

What do you think? Are Project War Rooms still necessary for successful project management?

Disclaimer: This posting is my own opinion and does not represent the opinions of my employers and any organizations I am a member of and should not be construed as such.

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Profile Photo Corey McCarren

Yes, I do believe they are, though the entire project doesn’t need to be conducted there. I’m trying to think of a way to say this without sounding nuts! I am not a fan of doing everything over the phone, Skype, G Chat, what have you. I definitely don’t mind parts of the project being done that way, but definitely not the whole thing. I’ve read studies about how the more we use the Internet as our main means for communication, the worse communicators we are. Maybe the “war room” isn’t necessary for the success of the project, but I think for the success and overall happiness of the team, it is. If telecommuting is necessary though, it’s great, and it can be great for those sick days that you still have stuff to get done and don’t want to spread it around the office.

Profile Photo Bill Brantley

@Corey – Well, my intent was to stir up some discussion on the topic and I appreciate your response. I suppose that the biggest concern is the cost of maintaining a war room and I have had some managers question the cost versus the benefits that you outline. Thanks.

Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

As you suggest, Bill, the project management software available today makes it unnecessary to have a dedicated physical space. Where physical space might still remain important is meeting face-to-face as team. I’m wondering if video-based tools sufficiently approximate the ability to be together in the same room. Thoughts?

Profile Photo Steve Cottle

I’m with Andy on the continuing importance of occasional face-to-face meetings. There’s something about being in a room with someone to form a personal bond that is difficult to do virtually, even with video conferencing.

However, I’d agree that technology has made the war room concept less necessary than it once was. Similar to how one can easily become distracted and inundated with information in the digital age (e-mails with requests, constantly uploading social media streams), you can be overloaded by constantly being in a room with team mates. The difference? You can turn off technology. When team mates have a question, it could be more conducive to uninterrupted bursts of productivity if they send electronic requests and questions for you to deal with when you can. If it’s urgent and they need an immediate response, that’s fine. But, they’ve not had to take just an extra moment to consider urgency before interrupting. In a room, it’s easy/natural to shout a question before even looking up. I’ve had teams that have experimented with techniques to deal with this and, although I prefer more constant human interaction, there can be big productivity benefits to having a quiet place to retreat to.

Profile Photo Bill Brantley

These are great comments and exactly the discussion I wanted to trigger. What I am seeing is top management questioning the value of war rooms because they can be expensive and there is little evidence linking having a war room to better project management. You also can blame Microsoft for part of this problem because of the number of collaboration tools built into the latest releases of MS Project.