I’ve recently been reflecting on communications within the context of projects and the old principle that common sense is unfortunately not very common, so I wanted to share with you five “common sense “ guidelines for communicating within a project. If you follow these with either internal or external project managers, or stakeholders in general, they are going to enjoy working with you!
1. Context and Impact is Key!
The most frustrating thing to hear or read when trying to drive a project to successful completion, bar nothing, is “I didn’t get that done” or “there’s no way I can get that done in time” and then a long silence, as though that is the end of the conversation.
Depending on your project and the project managers knowledge they will have varying levels of understanding of what is involved in delivering work, so don’t leave it to them to ask, or worse guess! If you cannot complete a scheduled task, provide them with context and impact.
You should automatically answer these two questions;
1. When can or will it be completed?
2. What’s the impact on this on other projects?
For example: “I was unable to deploy the latest version today as there were issues with the build server but it will be done tomorrow. This delay will mean that I will need to assign my documentation task to Janice to keep our project milestone.”
2. We’re all on the same side…
When you’re feeling pressure from a project manager, it’s not personal, it’s their role in the project to question, probe risks and manage schedules. The result of effective control is a reduction in pressure, especially near key project milestones.
Always remember that they are working with you to make your life easier in the long term, so work with them and answer their questions in a timely and professional manner and your project manager will appreciate you and your efforts.
3. Never acknowledge or “respond in kind” to passive aggressive undertones…
I think we’ve all dealt with stakeholders who express concern and frustration through passive aggressive messages and phone calls. It’s important, as a stakeholder yourself, you can empathise with their situation so that you can appreciate and work with them on a good outcome, however, you need not acknowledge the tone directly in those messages. I find the best response is to remain positive and professional, always.
I’ve personally seen toxic relationships turned around with this approach and your project manager will enjoy not having to deal with project politics, instead remaining focused on project delivery.
4. Use the tools, and plan for it…
You all have your own tools for project management, and they probably vary greatly from manual spreadsheets, boards and timelines to fully integrated project management tools like Wrike, Asana, Trello and Online Scrums. These tools were chosen for a reason and if you believe that it’s not your job to participate, collaborate and update your tasks in these systems you are likely one of those team members. You know, one of those team members the project manager is forever chasing for updates from and “hounding”.
When we have a large group of like-minded team members project managers will feel that they are “herding cats” and will likely be very frustrated.
You know what’s involved in managing your projects, and if you don’t ask, and you should allow for your own self-management in your work estimates and breakdown. Add comments, raise risks, notify of delays proactively (following the above guidelines!) and update the status of your own tasks.
If your process does not allow for such self-management, you should, because it feels great to own your own work, ask for that level of control and execute it well.
5. Own your communications…
You should understand the expectations of you in relation to stakeholder communication. Some project managers want to own all communications while other only seek to get involved as a point of escalation.
From my perspective rarely should a project manager be responsible for all communications, it’s just not particularly efficient or effective. Again, own your work, and any communications required to complete your assigned task. If this is something that you’re not comfortable with, reach out to your project manager and ask them for some guidelines on how to communicate effectively and professionally. If it means that they can trust you to communicate to their standards with stakeholders they should be all for it!
Managing a project can be very rewarding, but even for the best project managers, it can be hard work when it feels like you’re micro-managing your resources. If people in your project understand these guidelines it’s going to go a long way to better, more effective and enjoyable projects, and better outcomes for all stakeholders