Ever have a bullet-proof project that starts to crumble shortly after launch? Or one that has been moving along quite well that suddenly takes a turn for the worse?
There is nothing more frustrating than swinging a bottle of champagne against the bow of your project to christen it, after all the preparation and momentum, and then to have people start trying to change course or drop anchor on the thing.
The problem is likely in the softer side of managing the project – communication. Reminds me of a quote from George Bernard Shaw - “The problem with communication … is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
Here are nine ways to help make sure your project moves smoothly on the people side of the project. This is in addition to the more formal pieces of communication that are likely already created (charter, requirements, etc.).
1. Ensure You Have Buy-In Across the Board
From the developers to the stakeholders it is important for each to feel that have given input and insight throughout the process. Everyone has an opinion. If you haven’t made sure each person was heard in the beginning, and that they felt like they contributed, you will get it later after the machine is in motion. That’s never been a good thing in my experience.
2. Uncover and Include All Influencers
Make sure you have uncovered everyone who will need to sign-off on the project milestones both formally and informally. Aside from the usual suspects of the project sponsor and the various teams doing the work there are virtually always others that may need to have a say. Depending on the project, check to verify that other departments like Legal, Marketing, Sales and Human Resources need to be involved.
Also, search out influencers that may not be part of the project, but may voice concerns, and be heard, as the project moves forward. These could be those who have been part of previous attempts in the past or those who might see your work as duplicate or threatening.
3. Tailor Communication to Fit Your Audience
Find out how the constituents of your project prefer to get their information. You are going to find that different folks prefer different things. Find out who prefers meetings, phone calls, e-mails, IM, blog, wiki and so on. Determine kind of information are they looking for, in what kind of detail and what format they prefer. Then make sure you communicate using those guidelines.
4. Control Information Flow in Both Directions
It’s the project manager’s job to make sure the right information gets the the right people in the right way. Whether you funnel it all through yourself or delegate specific types of communication to key leaders on the team it’s critical to manage information flow. Problems usually crop up when well intentioned team members send e-mails that get misinterpreted.
5. Have an On-Boarding Process for Team Changes
When bringing on a new team member after a project is underway, it’s important to give them the project background, their role and where things are at. It will also be important to get their fresh perspective and address any concerns they have. You want to make sure you address any issues they may have with the direction of any aspect of the project.
6. Conduct Informal Check-Ins
Touch base with each of the key people in the project outside of formal meetings to get a gut feel for how things are going. Ask them about their comfort level with the project, what’s going right and what opportunities there are for improvement. Not everyone will say what’s on their mind when everyone is in the room, on the line or via e-mail.
7. Make Time for Face Time
Working virtually is the norm these days, but make sure you get face-to-face with the people you are working with at least once. Preferably early in the project. It pays for itself in preventing those bumps in the road from misunderstood communication styles.
8. Manage Expectations
While this is fundamental to project management it is usually not done well. Just because you have formalized the charter, analysis, requirements and so on doesn’t mean everyone understands what’s in there. Heck, some people will never read those documents that you worked so hard on - gasp! Also, change is almost constant through a project. Every change causes a ripple and that needs to be communicated appropriately.
9. Manage the Grapevine
Immediately address rumours or concerns that you get wind of outside of the formal means of communication on the project. Many of the tips here will help mitigate the rumor mill. If you feel there is a lot of activity on the grapevine it is likely you aren’t doing one of the previous tips as well as you should.
From my experience, when the best laid projects threaten to run aground it can usually be traced back to a couple of these issues.