Donna Fitzgerald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Donna Fitzgerald
Research Vice President
5 years at Gartner
31 years IT industry

Donna Fitzgerald focuses her research on strategies and approaches for using program and portfolio management as a way to create unique business value. Read Full Bio

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Thoughts on Facebook, friendship and social network analysis

by Donna Fitzgerald  |  April 18, 2009  |  4 Comments

A couple of months ago I got dragged kicking and screaming into setting up a Facebook account.  Like most over 30 some things I wasn’t sure why I needed it or what it would do for me.  I was also concerned about whether or not it would be my personal site or turn into a reflection of my work persona.  After 90 days I’ve come to some conclusions.  The first is that I love it.  It’s brought me back in touch with people who were starting to move away from my intimate circle simply through time and distance.  It’s also given me a way to say who is a “friend” in Facebook terms and who isn’t.  My working definition is that if I’ve broken bread with you multiple times especially if some of those meals have been consumed in our homes — then you’re a “friend”.  I’m amazed at how jealously I want to guard this little corner of the world.  I look forward to the books people say they’re reading or the interesting podcast GC’s found on the web.  I enjoy the fact that CA is forming an interest group for people who want to move to Galt’s Gulch.  And I can join with BK as he laments that he can’t possibly be old enough to send his son out the door to his senior prom.   This is our community; we worked together, we sweated blood building and shipping software together and for now we don’t want to lose touch.  I expect the people I have on my Facebook account will change over time if I don’t keep up the personal contact.  What I understand about Facebook is that it is a great place to stay up with your “friends” but at least for me it only works if I continue the “breaking bread test”.  What I realize from Facebook is that another one of its purposes is that it serves as a nudge to call, email or meet for lunch with my “friends” so that the page doesn’t become the equivalent of a reality TV.

If this seems like a strangely personal commentary on a Gartner blog it actually has a purpose.  I’ve been thinking a lot about social capital, social networking and how we use these tools on our programs and on our projects.  I’ve gotten as far as understanding that our relationships with the people we know can be viewed as concentric circles.  We have an inner circle that includes friends of the heart, we have another circle that we could call friends of mind, and the third circle would be friends of proximity.  There are other relationships we have with people.  A shared community through belief or common interest would be the most common.  I’m currently thinking through the concept that every project or program manger needs to understand his or her social network (who’s in which of the 4 concentric circles) as part of their “personal mastery” work.  I’m thinking that once you really understand it yourself then you can begin to understand how to evaluate your stakeholders.  I know I once completely misjudged a relationship between my sponsor and one of my stakeholders.  I thought they were friends of proximity (they had both been there when the company was a start-up).  What I learned later was that that the relationship was actually one of being “best friends”.  I still want to whack myself upside the head for not realizing that anything (and I mean anything) that I wanted to do that was going to change things, needed to be vetted not by the sponsor but by this individual stakeholder.  Additionally, I now realize that I needed to make sure he really agreed with what I was saying as opposed to just listening politely (which he was wont to do.)

I learned a long time ago that we all make mistakes and part of the value of a blog is our ability to share tacit learnings with our peers.  Over my career I’ve personally made enough mistakes that I will never run out of “pot hole here” advice to give.  Some of the mistakes were simply ones that resulted from lack of experience.  Those obviously were self correcting.  Some of the others were mistakes it took me years to even realize I’d made and those are the ones I’m interested in concentrating on here. 

So back full circle to Facebook.  It’s a great idea and I will be exploring it in my research since it or something like it has a role on a project.  For me personally, I’m going to try and keep with my breaking bread test.  This means when I get back from my 4 weeks in Asia-Pac I need to give some people a call and insist we go to lunch.  I know a couple of restaurants that have terrific sourdough…

4 Comments »

Category: Program Management     Tags: ,

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 john ripberger   April 18, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    You are correct, you meet people who you have lost track of.

  • 2 Donna Fitzgerald   April 18, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I actually find that I’ve found more people through linked-in than through Facebook. The interface on Facebook is actually hard to use, which is both a blessing and a curse. Leading to someone sending me a note asking if I’d graduated from a high school in New York (no, I’m a California girl).

    This does come back to an issue I’m explore in more depth which is virtual identity. Who are we and in what context? What’s public and what private? Teenagers don’t understand these issues but they’re real for adults.

    Anyway thanks for commenting

  • 3 john ripberger   April 18, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    I can keep track of news, people, thier likes and dislikes, I just wish that facebook would clean it self up. Eliminate the language issue, believe it or not it offends some people.

  • 4 Donna Fitzgerald   April 18, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Earth to Donna. What language issue? I know Gartner Analysts are supposed to know everything about everything but I’m in the dark on this one. I’m guessing that people can say anything they want without deleting the expletives? I might have a slightly different view of it then what you’re advocating. If we start with the concept that Facebook is limited to our Friends then profanity (if that’s what we’re discussing) is actually coming from within our circle of friends. I have one “friend” whose language leaves something to be desired. When he worked for me and we were in the office I insisted he tone it down but on Facebook, it is who he truly is. I can either keep him as a friend or I can not see what he posts on my wall. In this case the fact that I find his language as annoying as I found the language on Deadwood (the western tv show) is actually my problem. I can either accept it or just chose not to see it. Or am I missing something?