If you have been part of a project, large or small, you have seen communication challenges. These challenges seem to crop up often yet the good news is that they can be addressed. When you take the time to pay attention to the project’s communications and work at doing it well things will go much smoother for you.
Here’s look at some of the biggest challenges:
- Poor Planning – This shows up in several ways: a lack of information, wrong information for the audience, and information at the wrong time.
- Ineffective Messages – These cause delays in action or decisions, mistakes due to misunderstanding, and confusion about what is happening.
- Organizational Issues – In some organizations team members are assigned to multiple projects which means the PM is competing for their attention, virtual teams are becoming more common which adds complexity to communicating, and working globally introduces delays due to time zone differences.
- Language Constraints – As business becomes more global language barriers can get in the way of communicating effectively. Different meanings for words and gestures, lack of a common language among a global team, and cultural communication styles are all issues the PM must learn to handle.
- Style and Skills – The communication style and skill level of the PM can introduce challenges. Very direct people can seem overbearing to those who are indirect while indirect people seem to never get to the point to direct communicators. Being uncomfortable in front of a group can impact the effectiveness of the message.
The communication plan and its effectiveness is a key component to delivering a successful project. If the PM or team leader has the skills to adapt to different audiences and different styles they will be more effective. This helps the project in the following ways:
- Decisions will get made in a timely manner
- Tasks are completed correctly when due
- Changes are handled promptly and with less conflict
- Problems and issues are addressed properly and promptly
- Stakeholders understand the changes and impact
“Communication is the breakfast of Champions” – Ken Blanchard
If you are a Project Manager or a Team Leader take the time to focus on communicating well and develop your communication skills. If you are seeing delays in decisions, mistakes, missed due dates, or confusion about changes then you may need to work on improving your project communications. For more information how you can improve your skills check out a free White Paper on “5 Keys to Effective Project Communication” by clicking here.
Thanks to my colleagues in LinkedIn’s The Project Manager Network – #1 Group for Project Managers for their contributions to this topic.
Whether you are a leader or not you need to plan your communications when you will be sharing ideas, changes or updates with others. Have you taken the time to think about the message you want to deliver?
If you are involved in a project, particularly one that involves change, you need to stop and think about what you are going to say to people, how it will be shared, and how frequently you will update them. Change is really difficult for the majority of people to accept so you need to pay attention to what you say to them and how you say it.
Here are 5 steps to follow to ensure your message gets through properly:
- Address WIIFM: Each of us wants to know “What’s in it for me?” so address that is all your communications. This may be the impact the change will have on them; it may be why the change is happening. Helping them understand why they should care will help get them on board.
- Vary Delivery: People need to receive information multiple times before they will really get the message. Some people will want to hear it and others will want to see it, so mix up how you deliver the message, use presentations that include great visuals, send emails, use newsletter, send postcards, do posters, discuss it at department meetings, or have town hall type of meetings. There are endless variations of how you can share the message so use a wide variety.
- Change the Message: Make sure you change the wording of your messages. Address questions is some, share vision for future in others, present information from different perspectives, give the business case, or share personal stories. Change is often complex and breaking the information up into a variety of different messages will make it easier for people to absorb.
- Repeat Often: Since it takes multiple times for people to grasp the entire message you will need to share information more often than you think is needed. Keeping the lines of communication open means that you will need to be frequently sharing information with others. You can enlist the help of your project team and early adopters to spread the word.
- Be Open for Questions: There will be questions about what, why, how and when. Make sure you have a forum for people to ask the questions and get answers. Maybe it’s a meeting or series of meetings. It could be a Q&A area on your company intranet. Use a newsletter with FAQ’s. Let people share their fears by asking question and honor their concerns by taking time to provide answers.
Take the time to craft a solid communication plan to help ensure a smoother project. Address why this is happening, how it impacts people and what they should expect. Find different ways to share information by using different media, different words, different pictures, and so on to make sure people get all the information they need.
The hardest part of almost every project is making sure the people involved or impacted understand what is happening and what they need to do. Take the time to plan your communication well and your project will encounter fewer people issues.
How do you make sure your message is getting to all the right people?
It’s clear that successful teams have diversity built in. They have people with different skills and abilities needed to complete the project. However, each team needs diversity in personalities as well. Here are five key people every team needs to help them succeed:
- Instigator – This is the person who jumps in and gets things going. Often they are the first person to offer up ideas in a brainstorming session. They will tackle the hard tasks so that progress is made.
- Revolutionary – Here is the person who loves to challenge status quo and will offer up the off-the-wall ideas that can spark true innovation. They bristle at “that won’t work” comments.
- Devil’s Advocate – This is the one who will question every idea and every suggestion, no matter who makes it. While this can be annoying it helps identify risks and will improve the final solution.
- Cook – They are the key to pulling together all of these different approaches and personalities. Like a great cook they can take all the different thoughts and ideas and mix them together to formulate a workable idea or solution. As well, they will help calm the chaos and dissension in the ranks.
- Chief – The team looks to this person for wisdom, guidance and arbitration. They are the ones who will resolve the conflict and make sure everyone is moving in the right direction at the right pace.
Team members may take on each of these roles at different times in a project. On some teams there are one or two people who stay in one role the entire time. It doesn’t really matter if people shift in their roles as long as things are progressing.
If not managed well, the revolutionary and the devil’s advocate can become problems within the team and derail the project. They play critical roles in finding new, innovative ways of accomplishing the goal. Unfortunately, since these personalities question everything and challenge every idea they can become a negative factor and create chaos. The cook helps bring everyone together but the chief must insist on problem resolution to keep things moving. If not balanced these two overwhelm the team and cause the instigator to start acting independently just to get something done. Now the focus has been lost.
Interestingly the project leader may not be the Chief, often they are, however if they have not earned the trust of the team or are weak in some area another person can end up playing this role. For the team and for the leader this is less than ideal, yet it will naturally happen. To see who is acting as the chief look at whom people are asking for help and guidance. The team leader needs to ensure that they are a safe place for people to share concerns and they must be willing to settle the disputes. Building consensus is critical for team success.
Enjoy and embrace the variety of personalities on the team. Encourage each member to assume one of these roles at varying times. Manage the conflict that questioning behavior can trigger to ensure success. By effectively managing and utilizing the strengths of each character you will help create a team that can achieve amazing results.
At one time or another we will all be responsible for managing a project at work. Often we get these assignments without really having any authority over the people on the team. This means to succeed we need to create a collaborative, welcoming and mutually beneficial team environment. It’s not as hard as it might seem.
Here are my top 10 tips for creating success:
- Solicit Input: Actively engage each team member in brainstorming ideas and options. Participation is a must not an option.
- Hold People Accountable: Require updates and hold people to due dates for tasks. Address performance issues quickly and professionally.
- Communicate Often: Provide progress reports to stakeholders often. Share status within the team. Let people know what’s happening and why it’s happening.
- Make Decisions: As team leader the final say is yours, so make the decisions. Even if your choice is not popular you must decide and act. Seek to get commitment, consensus is not required.
- Believe in Success: Show you believe the team will succeed to EVERYONE!
- Give Credit: Share the credit with the team, place them above your personal recognition.
- Celebrate Milestones: Take a moment or two to celebrate reaching key milestones. Long projects need the small wins to maintain momentum and enthusiasm.
- Track Progress Closely: Know the status of the project at all times. Regular updates will keep people moving forward.
- Lend a Hand: Help destroy obstacles, pitch in if someone is overwhelmed. Have your team’s backs.
- Learn to Say No: If the project scope is creeping up as team leader you must say NO. If someone is attempting to dodge work or bail on an assignment you must say No and hold them to it.
Project management can seem really difficult and it can be, however, mastering these 10 items will help you set the stage for a successful project. Keep your team engaged, support them, hold them accountable and celebrate the progress you are making and you improve the odds of success. If you can get your team to work well together it will be much easier to navigate the rough patches that will happen. They will know you are there for them and they will be there for you. Success is sure to follow at that point.