CrowdSourcing and Project Management

Crowdsourcing is the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of a specialized few – Jeff Howe



rowdsourcing is the practice of outsourcing tasks to a broad, loosely defined external group of people. The idea is generally to introduce new or more developed skill sets or a larger work force to achieve some specific goal.

The term was first coined in 2006 by Wired magazine author Jeff Howe in an article titled “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” Howe suggested that crowdsourcing encouraged the best-qualified and most creative participants to join in on a project.

Crowdsourcing Book by Jeff Howe

Crowdsourcing Book by Jeff Howe

This summer I read Howe’s book “Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business”; I found it very interesting and my advice is to read it to better understand what is intended with the term “Crowdsourcing”.

Let come to the scope of this article; Crowdsourcing surely has many points of contact with social media and collective brains, but what’s the link to Project Management? I’ll try to give us a glimpse as a single article isn’t enough to explain the whole subject.

A crowdsourcing project typically gets launch through some kind of social media platform like Facebook or Twitter, and if it’s popular enough it can go “viral”.

Starbytes by Reply

Starbytes by Reply

Let me mention our company’s (Reply) initiative StartBytes, as an example of Crowdsourcing. They offer the opportunity to all companies who need to develop creative works, digital products or services, to meet an Italian community of freelancers and ICT professionals and get their job done.

Outside EU, a recent example of a crowdsourcing project was the Doritos commercial that aired on the Super Bowl.

This contest allowed consumers to submit their own Doritos commercials that could then be voted upon by the general public to select five finalists in which monetary prizes are given out.

Obviously this went viral and generated nearly a million social media comments.

We could watch some of Doritos’ videos to have some fun before going on:

Doritos Super Bowl XLVI commercial – 2012 Winner – 1st spot

Doritos Super Bowl XLVI commercial – 2012 Winner – 2nd spot

Doritos Super Bowl XLV commercial – 2011 Winner

Doritos Super Bowl XLIV commercial – 2010 Winner

Now, let’s talk about the link to Project Management.

First of all, let’s consider some preliminary items to think through:

  • Industry: the first order of business is to understand that crowdsourcing projects work best for industries such as marketing, advertising, industrial design and open source software projects. We’d better not think to manage, for example, the design and construction of an implantable medical device; we could try it, but the result won’t be guaranteed.
  • Crowd Management: Crowds will engage with our project for fame, notoriety, money or all of the above. We have to make sure we have the right incentive to give the crowd the consequently right award for their contributions.
  • Real-Time Communication Management: Real-time feedback and communication is absolutely critical in this type of projects. Going “viral” can bring us to paradise as we get positive comments on the net, or can take us down to hell as we get bad press (probably a nightmare for our project and organization).




In this kind of situation (and here’s the real link to Project Management), we will have to do Agile.

Our crowd will have to be self-organizing. There is no choice, since we aren’t picking the crowd but rather hoping we generate enough of a crowd (the larger, the better) to get the talent we need.

We’ll get iterations, but they will not be the well-defined Sprints we are accustomed to, but rather waves of self-correcting iterations provided by the crowd. And rather than remove barriers, as a typical Scrum Master would do, our job will be to provide the right kinds of rewards to keep the crowd active and moving forward.

Rather than fall to a traditional communication plan or attempt daily stand up meetings, we’ll have to be great social media communicators who know how to nip bad press in the bud before it goes viral and ensure good one get “Liked” and “Re-tweeted” through the social network to create a friendly environment around the project.

Nice subject, isn’t it?


Here are some examples of large enterprises that are using crowdsourcing for innovation:

Harley Davidson – utilizing a crowdsourced ‘virtual creative department’ listing 3,200 international participants to create a market overview out of the ideas of thousands of participants, as well as guide the marketing model for the brand.

P&G – Procter & Gamble is utilizing crowdsourcing in such a way it accounts for more than 50% of its product initiatives.  P&G is systematically crowdsourcing ideas involving packaging, design, marketing models, research methods, engineering, technology and more, as its Connect + Develop initiative already resulted more than 1,000 active agreements.

Kraft Foods – the company recently created a promotional entertainment film for its Lacta chocolate bar in Greece. The only twist is that the entire film, from the script to the actors, was crowdsourced to the public. The film, titled ‘Love in Action’ was viewed by more than 335K Greek viewers on TV, attracting 12% of all national viewers.

Nokia Labs – Nokia invites customers to test pre-commercialized apps. By crowdsourcing customer feedback and testing to a user community they can market test their new applications and get ideas for further development.

GE’s Ecomagination Challenge – crowdsourcing smarter power grids and energy technology solutions. GE invested $100M in the challenge, which was matched by 4 venture capital firms. Participants were offered incentives in the form of funding.

Sony’s Open Planet Ideas – In collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WFF), Sony launched the Open Planet Ideas initiative in order to crowdsource the next breakthrough environmental solution from the public, while, at the same time, it provided opportunities to repurpose the company’s own technology.

InnoCentive – It is an open innovation company that accepts, by commission, research and development problems in a broad range of domains such as engineering, computer science, math, chemistry, life sciences, physical sciences and business and frames them as “challenge problems” for anyone to solve. It gives cash awards for the best solutions to solvers who meet the challenge criteria.


Here are some examples of large enterprises that are using crowdsourcing to build Customer Engagement:

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – the Priority Club Rewards and Chase loyalty program. IHG turned to Communispace, a provider of private online communities, to rally a pool of 300 current Priority Club Visa cardholders willing to share their opinions on what card benefits and services they would want. Six months later, the community continues to serve as a learning mechanism for Priority Club Rewards, helping with both ideation and customer service.

My Starbucks Idea – launched by the coffee company in order to crowdsource ideas generation to its customers. The website enables the company’s audience to vote on ideas, give mutual feedback, discuss and collaborate. This is a great way for Starbucks to increase customer engagement as well as publicity, and of course generate an overview / flow of suggestions to the company from a brand & customer perceptive.

Best Buy’s IDEAX – launched by the retail giant in order to crowdsource feedback, ideas, and business improvements from their customers. Users can vote for ideas they favor and engage the community and other members, increasing Best Buy’s own engagement within the consumer market.

Forbes’ Names You Need to Know – crowdsourcing topics and scoops to readers. Through their recent crowdsourcing initiative, they achieved a stronger connection with their readers while establishing insights into their readerships most respected and favorite people.

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