Sanity Check

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate.”

While we’re not recommending you play the rebel typified by Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke,” we’re sure that there have been times when a project misses the target for what appears to be no good reason and those words have come to mind.   You think you’ve done everything right and yet the due date arrives and half your team misses the mark. 

Think that project communication is only 50% of a project manager’s role?  Think again.  How about 80%?  Project management is tricky – when you’re dealing with human personalities it’s more than critical paths and emails.  Not everyone reacts the way we expect, or hears what we thought we said.   So what to do?  Ask yourself these questions before you start, and throughout the project, and you’ll likely find your project performance improves.

1.Do they want to be on the team? How many times have you been given an assignment that you didn’t have the time, capabilities, or willingness to do?   Make sure each of the people on your team wants to be on the team and should be on the team. If not, find any way possible to change the team makeup.  Otherwise you’ll almost certainly find that person’s achievements less than you hoped; perhaps endangering your entire project.

2.Do you have project buy-in from your team? During your initial project meeting listen to everyone’s advice and then incorporate it if possible. Vest your team in the process.  Show them how their actions help fulfill the team’s goals. 

3.Have you developed key messages for your project?  These messages should reflect your overall objectives.  You can’t be there every minute that your team is working on a project.  These messages should help guide them in the right direction when you’re not around and make intelligent decisions that are in tune with your project’s overall objective.

4.Does all communication come directly from you?  Remember that game we played as kids where you whispered something in someone’s ear who in turn passed the message on to the next person, and so on, until it came back to you?  The end message was always very different than the original message.  Project communication using Lieutenants or assistants works the same way - each person in the chain adds in their own meaning, or their own message, often the message they’d really like to hear.  If you want to make sure that key directions and messages stay intact make sure you’re the one delivering them. 

5.Have you set expectations?  Make sure that everyone on the team knows exactly what they’re responsible for, and when.  This sounds simplistic, right?  But how many times have you held an interim meeting and heard someone say that they didn’t know they were responsible for that?   At your kick-off meeting state your expectations for each person in plain English, make sure they acknowledge (and watch for non verbal clues), then follow up several days later in an email or other written correspondence.

6.Are you aware of the diversity of your team? Your team is composed of individuals with different personalities, beliefs and cultures.  Pay special attention to cultural communication issues – does yes mean yes?  Or does yes mean I heard what you said but do not necessarily agree? 

7.Do you target the outcome? Set logical milestones for your project that lead to the final outcome.  Then schedule and hold meetings around these milestones.  Have performance indicators so you know you’re moving towards your final objective.  Do not schedule meetings on a regular interval, for example, every other Thursday.  These meetings become ho-hum routine affairs where your team will have nothing to report, and worse yet no pressure to achieve their milestone (“still working on that”).   Send out your meeting agenda in advance.  Make sure that milestone update - reporting of achievement - is the first item on the agenda. 

8.Do you separate action items from issues at your meetings?   Action items are things to do.  Issues are things to solve.  Review both issues and actions at each meeting but solve issues quickly - in the long run they’re much more important to your critical path than action items because issues are often immovable road blocks to achievement.  Make sure you’re solving the root cause of the issue, not the symptom. 

9.Are you staying involved? Have you been on a project where the leader reappears after five months and you spend a week bringing them up to speed on new developments?  Project managers who start a project and then walk away are almost always in for a surprise when they check back in.  Stay informed, show continued interest. 

10.Are you checking in with individual team members?   Continually monitor and check-in with each participant.  Some people don’t want to speak up in a group and may feel much more comfortable in a one-on-one setting.  So check in with individuals frequently.  Make sure to watch for non-verbal cues; more than 50% of all communication is non verbal. 

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