Great project managers are great communicators.
Our job revolves around communications. Communications nurtures relationships which in turn creates better communications.
Failing to communicate can be detrimental to a project and to your career. It is easy for communication to lag during a project. While in the midst of executing we often get wrapped up in handling problems or working down our task list that we forget to share important info with project members.
Being proactive in communication involves sharing information that can have an impact on the project in a timely manner.
Did you just learn that the programmers are behind schedule? Inform the server admins that the deployment might slip.
Did the server admins tell you that they are considering using a different hardware configuration for the servers? Tell the programmers that a hardware change can affect their deployment.
Did the project deadline move the left? Inform the whole team.
Is task ahead of schedule? Inform the succeeding tasks if there are linked dependencies.
While this seems intuitive most people do not execute on communication well enough. Proactively sharing information can help prevent project slips. Having informed project contributors will enable them to act accordingly, giving them the best chance to minimize risk and overcome challenges. People want to do the best they can. Problems during projects can cause frustration in team members. More often it’s the lack of communication around a potential problem that causes frustration, not the problem itself. People want to make the project successful and being uninformed gets in their way of doing that.
However, not all data needs to be shared immediately.
The Right Balance
Determining which information to share can be difficult and sometimes it just comes down to a gut check. There are two questions that I ask myself prior to communicating important information, especially when there is a problem.
“Do I have all of the information?”
“Will others benefit from this information or will others be hampered by not knowing this information?”
If the answer to both of these questions is “Yes”, then communication is in order. Do not communicate any problem, delay, scope change, or other significant project impact without having all of the information. Be sure that you are well informed so that you can answer any questions and intelligently discuss impacts once you tell others.
One way to stay on top of project impacts is to ask for them when you someone communicates with you and when you communicate with others.
Ask for Impact
As a project manager it is our responsibility to determine impacts but we need to be soliciting the help of the subject matter experts in determining impacts. Simply asking for the impacts when someone presents you with an issue goes a long way in getting the info needed to determining impact.
For example, the networking team informs you that they will be deploying different type of encryption for a data link than what was in the project documentation. Simply ask “Does this change impact any other areas? Possibly the server configuration or the application coding?”.
Even if the networking expert states there is no impact, the project manager still needs to inform the other teams and ask for impact. “The networking team is switching the encryption on the data link. Will this impact your server configuration / application coding?”
If all the parties involved state there is no impact, then the project can move forward without change. If one or more of the parties states there is an impact then it’s time to pull together meeting with everyone and discuss it further.
Until that meeting happens and the impacts are resolved, there is no need to communicate the issue out any further or make changes to project yet.
Not all communication in a project is around problems. Hopefully most of the time the project manager is communicating that everything is on track.
Reoccurring Communication From the Start
The most important communications to be proactive with are stakeholder status updates. Project stakeholders are always interested in status updates.
You do not want project stakeholders to have to ask you for status updates. Stakeholders who regularly have to come to you for status updates will question project status, feel out of the loop, and doubt the necessity of any scope changes that are proposed.
Get into the habit of sending regularly scheduled project status updates to stakeholders. Doing so shows the project stakeholders that you are actively managing the project. At the start of the project inform your stakeholders of the communication plan and stick to it.
Stick to it.
Being proactive in sending regularly scheduled project status updates builds trust in stakeholders. The value of this trust is immeasurable. As a project manager trust is commodity that we use regularly.
Trust enables easier conversations when we pursue scope changes, additional funding, or additional time. Trust is akin to belief, belief that the information, reasoning, and issues that we are communicating to stakeholders is valid. This makes decision making based on our input easier for stakeholders. Second only to always successfully completing projects, stakeholder trust is a necessity to being a successful project manager.
Key Takeaway: Really good communication builds trust between project members. Proactively communicating with stakeholders lets them know that you have control of your project and makes it easier to address problems and scope changes when they occur. Use calendar reminders to ensure that you are proactively communicating status updates.