Over / Under Communication for Project Managers
It is often said that you can't
, but I'm willing to bet most folks - and especially your project
sponsors - underestimate the cost and effort of this critical component
of project management. Consider this fair warning - and a good checklist
for folks wanting to get into IT, project, or functional management.
To achieve any decent amount of success, you have to be a good
communicator with both face-to-face and written / published media.
And by "good" I mean both "comfortable" and "effective". You should feel
good in your own skin, confident that you can carry a conversation at
all levels of an organization. And you also have to be an effective
communicator - able to get your point across with the right amount of
detail, not too much or too little. Another effectiveness challenge is
the ability to balance between personalized, one-on-one written &
oral communication, and insightful, understandable mass communication.
You may not realize how many different "languages" you speak - and
effective managers must be reasonably fluent ...
- Languages - Finance, Operations, Sales & Marketing;
business groups have just as many confusing specialty words as the
techies in IT
- Dialects - Do you speak Oracle or SAPanese? Experienced in small companies or
large corporations? Public vs. private? Entrepreneurial or slow growth? High
volume low profit FERTs, or low volume, high margin custom products?
The concepts are all the same, but sometimes the specific words are
- Slang - Slightly different than dialects - all companies,
organizations have local shorthand term so that over the years in
their particular organization to mean very specific, nuanced things.
- Sound Bites - A form of speech where a complicated topic is
reduced to a single word or phrase. For example; ATP. Are we talking
about master data, settings on time fences, the process of
checking for availability, or the policies around A, B, C and D
companies? Sound bites can sneak into conversations and
you could be discoursing for 15 minutes before you realize you're
talking about two vastly different things.
- Strata - Management v. line, Middle v. executive management.
Depending on what level of the organization you're talking to, you
will need to change the level of detail that you go into.
Typically, higher up in the company means a lower level of detail
that they want to wade through.
Volumes have been written on this topic, but most people have trouble
coming up with a concise definition of what this means. To oversimplify
- but drive right to point: change management is typically about
delivering "bad news".
However, "bad" can mean different things. It can be "disappointment":
the date will slip, we're over budget, or we can't fit this feature
request into the schedule. However, adjusting expectations as early as
possible is one of the basic skills of a good project manager. You need
to be willing to deliver bad news like this as early as possible.
The other significant area of "bad" - walking into an organization, a
group of people, or a individual's cube, and letting them know that the
way they have been doing things for years is about to change. Sure, it's
easy to say that "change is hard" and "change is inevitable", but you
yourself probably don't like change in your established rituals. Empathy
is the key here.
As with many other things, the more project communication you do, the
better you get. Some of the more common lessons learned:
- Defensive project teams will often negotiate for delay by
asking for / waiting for More Communication, and complaining about
Not Enough Communication
- In any project plan, you will underestimate the time
required for communication, the number of times you'll have to repeat
the message, and the ability of the team to consume your
communication in various forms of delivery media
- You will definitely underestimate the time required for
follow-up and follow-through to make sure it's Done
- You will overestimate the amount and quality of existing
documentation, and the ability of the project team to bridge the gap
to the required level of documentation
Here's the killer -
- If you try explaining to management about the problems /
challenges of communication, they won't listen and/or won't
understand (yes, that is a tight loop)
Machines will never replace us - but this is one case where sometimes,
you might wish they could.