Challenges of Organizing an Ad-Hoc Tech Project

Organizing an ad-hoc tech project has its challenges, as evidenced by a project currently in the early stages -- the Fireseed OMECC streaming supercomputer project.

This project is transitioning from a casual conversation phase into an organizational and project definition phase. Making that transition is highlighting a few of the challenges in organizing an ad-hoc tech project, as outlined below. Most of these challenges would relate to any ad-hoc project between loosely connected knowledge workers, not just tech-focused projects.

Four challenges observed thus far on the OMECC project (Open Milwaukee Educational Computing Cluster) are:
  1. Time available from project members
  2. Defining goals and roles
  3. Identifying project members
  4. Early stage engagement
Let's first look at Time. Most Americans whom I know who potentially would work on this project have very little 'free' or discretionary time in their lives. That means an ad-hoc project will require them to take time from some other activity and allocate it to the ad-hoc project. The project, therefore needs to have a compelling feature from their point of view. Just today someone told me a minor tech project, getting a wiki for the WSMS group off to a good start, is a good project but they're doubtful they'll be able to contribute much of their time to the project.

Once potential project members have tentatively committed to being part of the project, the next challenge is to identify times when project members are able to collaborate in real time, either in-person or via remote tools such as teleconference, videoconference. Identifying the best time for these group meetings, getting commitment to participate in the scheduled meetings and communicating the information all takes...TIME!

Defining Goals & Roles is next. Because this is an ad-hoc project, the project members who come together will unquestionably have widely differing goals and agendas for a project. Getting input from everyone to both help define what the project should be and to get buy-in from the project members needs to be done skillfully to be effective. Doing this primarily using remote collaboration tools with people who have not worked together extensively and who have unspoken agendas is tricky. Make sure everyone's motivations for participating (agendas) are defined and understood by others on the project team.

Once the project has been defined and the goals documented, it is much easier to define roles. However, once again, if people haven't worked together a lot and aren't knowledgeable about and comfortable with other potential members of the project, it will still take a while to agree on roles of the various members.

Identifying Project Members. This step is woven throughout the other issues highlighted here. Because this is an ad-hoc project, there may (will?) be project team members moving off and onto the project team as people's priorities and life situations change. The larger and better connected the 'community' is from which project members will emerge, the easier this task will be. Doing an ad-hoc tech project in Silicon Valley is orders of magnitude easier than doing a similar project in the Midwest USA. But hey, you either move or deal with your challenges. Until we all move to Silicon Valley, we'll just work on better connecting and communicating amoungst the Midwest tech community. Identifying project members will be much easier if the tech community makes a priority of effective networking and develops usable tools for promoting and enabling collaboration on these ad-hoc projects.

Early Stage Engagement is Critical. Because of the aforementioned issues, fostering early stage engagement is critical to the success of any ad-hoc project. If a core project team of twelve people are highly engaged in and committed to the project, that project will either be successful or will be clearly understood by the twelve to not be an appropriate project to work on. The secret to ad-hoc project success, ergo, is to find twelve good team members whose time, interests, monetary resources and skills will converge to highly engage them in the project. Once highly engaged, those twelve will quickly drive the project to a clear path forward or to an early, but necessary, re-treading or retirement.

In short, what's needed for any ad-hoc tech project, such as the Fireseed OMECC project, is an interested project manager/leader with advanced people skills not easily found in your average geeky tech enthusiast crowd. Did I see someone raise their hand?


Below is the final list of issues for the TUESDAY, 30 January 02007, NEW NET (Northeast Wisconsin Network for Economy and Technology) 6:45 - 9:00 pm weekly gathering upstairs at Tom's Drive In, 501 N Westhill Blvd, Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.

Top Three Tech Issues in The Past Seven Days

  1. Windows Vista Release – Huge not because of the significance of its technical innovations, but because its impact will be measured in the billions of dollars in direct Microsoft sales and in the billions of dollars from increased hardware needs.
  2. Intel and IBM/AMD’s New Transistor Technology – I’m not knowledgeable enough to explain or understand the details of the new transistors with reduced leakage current, but Gordon Moore says it’s the biggest advance in 40 years.
  3. China Anti-satellite Missile Test – The US still has military concerns regarding the Russian bloc, but the recent satellite-killer missile test makes it clear that the main military superpower over the next 20 years, other than the US, is likely China.

The ‘net

  1. The cost of monoculture http://www.kanai.net/weblog/archive/2007/01/26/00h53m55s
  2. China net use may soon surpass US http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6293345.stm
  3. Chinese communist leader wants to 'purify' internet http://www.itpro.co.uk/internet/news/102956/chinese-communist-leader-wants-to-purify-internet.html
  4. Bubbl.us: Simple Effective Idea Organization http://www.solutionwatch.com/538/bubblus-simple-effective-idea-organization/
  5. The Blogosphere Sounds Off on Hyper-Local http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/070125-065557
  6. Upside down for net-stealing neighbors (read this, Bob P) http://www.ex-parrot.com/~pete/upside-down-ternet.html
  7. YouTube to pay for User Generated Content http://blogs.zdnet.com/social/?p=75
  8. MOO for photographers http://www.moo.com
  9. Top 10 Hacks on Flickr http://thomashawk.com/2007/01/top-10-hacks-on-flickr.html
  10. Sing (or Hum) and Search (I’ve been wanting this search engine for a long time…) http://www.resourceshelf.com/2007/01/26/sing-or-hum-and-search/
  11. LinkedIn Raises Nearly $13 Million More http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/01/28/linkedin-raises-nearly-13-million-more/
  12. Wellsphere Launches Wellness 2.0 http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/01/28/wellsphere-launches-wellness-2/
  13. 27 Tips for Teleconferencing http://webworkerdaily.com/2007/01/28/27-tips-for-teleconferencing/
  14. The Top 100 Alternative Search Engines http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/top_100_alternative_search_engines.php

Security, Privacy & Digital Controls

  1. NEC’s New Technology Fights IP Phone SPAM http://www.playfuls.com/news_05972_NECs_New_Technology_Fights_IP_Phone_SPAM.html
  2. Vint Cerf: one quarter of all computers part of a botnet http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070125-8707.html
  3. N.Y. scanners spark union cries of "geoslavery" http://tinyurl.com/2yfqs8
  4. Quebec police cybercrime squad takes crimebusting into 21st century http://www.macleans.ca/topstories/news/shownews.jsp?content=n012704A
  5. Hackers Actively Exploit New Microsoft Word Flaw http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=12300CLQ5HMR
  6. CA Predicts More Attacks on Experienced Users http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,2087584,00.asp
  7. Vista's beauty lies in layers of organization, security http://www.latimes.com/technology/chi-0701280342jan28,1,645890.column
  8. Vista's legal fine print raises red flags http://www.thestar.com/Business/article/175801
  9. Vista "upgrade" drops compliance checking, requires old OS to install http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070128-8717.html
  10. Courts Turn to Wikipedia, but Selectively http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/29/technology/29wikipedia.html

Mobile Computing & Communicating

  1. Free T-Mobile Hotspot for Vista Users http://www.betanews.com/article/Free_TMobile_Hotspot_for_Vista_Users/1169666834
  2. Toronto Readies Massive Downtown Hotspot http://news.yahoo.com/s/cmp/20070124/tc_cmp/196903043
  3. Owner of PalmOS changes name to GarnetOS http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070125-8708.html

Open Source

  1. Free software group challenges educational software patent http://tinyurl.com/2fvg88
  2. IBM contributes ID software to open source security project http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=4367
  3. (180 degrees from open source) Microsoft copies BlueJ, admits it, then patents it http://blogs.zdnet.com/Burnette/?p=245


  1. Google Metaverse, Made in China? http://gigaom.com/2007/01/26/google-metaverse-made-in-china/
  2. Fox subpoenas YouTube over "24," "Simpsons" episodes http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070125-8700.html
  3. Google announces overhaul of Google Video strategy http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070125-8699.html
  4. Bring back old-school Google Image Search http://lifehacker.com/software/image-search/bring-back-oldschool-google-image-search-231377.php
  5. Google Book Search: Buy your books by the chapter http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070123-8685.html
  6. Google defuses Googlebombs http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070126-8714.html
  7. Google gets back on Intel track http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070126-8713.html
  8. Google's Powerline Play http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=115564&WT.svl=news2_1

General Technology

  1. Intel Reinvents the Transistor http://www.betanews.com/article/Intel_Reinvents_the_Transistor/1169872301
  2. 802.11n Draft 2.0: draft hardware in the clear http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070123-8679.html
  3. Intel speeds up delivery of faster Wi-Fi http://news.com.com/Intel+speeds+up+delivery+of+faster+Wi-Fi/2100-1044_3-6152489.html
  4. MS Office 2007 File Compatibility Pack http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=941B3470-3AE9-4AEE-8F43-C6BB74CD1466&displaylang=en
  5. U.S. unveils non-lethal heat-ray weapon http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/01/25/heat-ray.html
  6. India gets serious about space http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070124-8688.html
  7. China confirms test of new anti-satellite missile http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/world/16532118.htm
  8. Global warming: impacts of temperature increases http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L25695323.htm
  9. Virgin Galactic eyes Sweden for European space tours http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/01/26/galactic-sweden.html
  10. The joy of the hack http://www.skrenta.com/2007/01/the_joy_of_the_hack.html
  11. Inside the Lucasfilm data center http://news.com.com/2100-1026_3-6153647.html
  12. 100 Gigabit Ethernet http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=278398

Economy and Technology

  1. HP accused of spying on Dell's printer plans http://news.com.com/2100-1014_3-6153158.html
  2. eBay Delisting All Auctions for Virtual Property http://games.slashdot.org/games/07/01/26/2026257.shtml
  3. Fuels industry seeks its 'ethanol 2.0' http://news.com.com/Fuels+industry+seeks+its+ethanol+2.0/2100-11395_3-6153349.html
  4. Mossberg Review: Vista best for Microsoft crop, but it's no Apple http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=118344&ran=87842
  5. Vista marks end of an era for Microsoft http://www.ft.com/cms/s/c850f0f0-af1e-11db-a446-0000779e2340.html
  6. Vista: Changing the World One PC at a Time http://www.technewsworld.com/story/55422.html
  7. The Age-Old Question: Mac or PC? http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2007/tc20070129_832843.htm



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