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9 Project communications you should have sent this year

9 project communications you should have sent this yearA few weeks after I started back at work, one of my long time stakeholders sent a message to someone pretty high up the hierarchy saying ‘project communication was so much better when Elizabeth was around’. It’s nice to hear people say I was doing something right, although it was a bit of a shame that she hadn’t realised I was already back at my desk. I guess I didn’t do much communicating during those first few weeks.

Good communication on projects is so important, and something that it is useful to reflect on at this time of year as we establish areas for improvement in the coming 12 months. Did you send any of these project communications during 2014? You should have done.

1. We have uncovered an issue but…

When something goes wrong you should ‘fess up as soon as possible. However, senior stakeholders like it when you can tell them what you are doing about the problem.

If you faced a problem this year you should have presented the issue along with your solution or recommendation.

2. We’re on track for…

You should have kept stakeholders informed at all stages along the way. Letting them know that things are on track helps them feel confident that the work is progressing as planned.

This is different to the ‘reporting by exception’ model. In my experience, that only works for a short time. When people stop hearing positive noises after any length of time they attend to assume the worst, even if you’ve told them that you will report by exception.

3. I’m sorry…

How many times did you apologise this year? Lots, I hope. (OK, not that many.) You can cut through a lot of conflict and office politics with a well-placed, sincere apology.

4. The current status is…

I hope you used regular project status reports this year. You should have used them as a tool to communicate status on your project, at least once a month, at least to the project sponsor. Preferably more.

Need some help improving your project reports for 2015? Take my online project reporting course and get people to actually do something as a result of reading your status updates.

5. I saw this and thought of you…

Make connections. As a project manager you are well placed to see what is going on in various areas of the business. Link people together, make introductions, pass on information that you think others would find useful.

If you didn’t do this during 2014, read these 6 reasons why networking is important and see if I can change your mind for next year.

6. Thank you for…

For coming to my meeting, for giving up your resources to help with testing, for passing me that great contact, for being such a great project team member.

There are dozens of reasons why you should have said thank you to the people you worked with this year. I hope you took every opportunity.

7. That didn’t meet my expectations of…

Sometimes we have to communicate the bad news, and if you don’t speak up you won’t ever seem improvements. When a team member doesn’t perform as expected, talk to them about it (and not via email). It’s not personal. You had expectations, they didn’t meet them. Discuss how you can both get a better result next time.

You should have done this with suppliers as well. Don’t put up with bad service because you are too worried to say something.

8. I need…

Did you get the resources you needed to complete your project tasks successfully? No? Did you ask for them?

Don’t expect your project sponsor to be a mind-reader. If you want more people, more money or more time, ask for it. You might not get it but at least you have tried!

9. If…then…

You would have made a lot of decisions this year. Did you always take the time to explain why you put forward that particular recommendation? You should have explained the consequences of your decisions in business terms, so that stakeholders and project team members understand why you’ve opted for that route forward.

Which of these phrases will you aim to use more frequently in 2015? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Managing Change on Projects“We have to get them to want what we have to deliver,” said Dr. James T. Brown at the PMI UK Chapter event Synergy earlier this month. “We have to go through this process to prove you are a good person and to make them anticipate the deliverable.”

He was talking about wooing.

It’s what project managers have to do to get stakeholders on side for their projects and to make change successful. “Wooing,” he continued, “is not a step function. You don’t implement it and you get it.” It takes time and effort to build relationships that result in stakeholders getting excited about your project and prepared to deal with the work it takes to change.

The three steps of change management

James said that there were many change models but he subscribes to Kurt Lewin’s Freeze Phases:

  1. Unfreeze: recognise the need for change
  2. Do the change: deploy project, deliver change, transition to new way of working
  3. Refreeze: fix everyone in the new way of doing things.

It’s an easy model but one that you have to apply if you want your project deliverables to really stick.

“There’s no magic here,” he said. “It’s not complex. Project management is not difficult. The difficulty is in applying the discipline of common sense.”

Communicate aggressively with stakeholders

Wherever you have unknowns, people will imagine the worst and will act as if the worst is going to happen, he explained. People don’t care if the change is for the good of the organisation: when something big is happening they only care about what it means for them. James stressed the importance of communication: “Communicate aggressively,” he said. “Provide continual reassurance.”

Stakeholder communication should be:

  • Regular: planned in the diary already
  • Personal: take the time to meet every stakeholder while the project is going well so that if something does go wrong you aren’t meeting them for the first time to share bad news
  • Balanced: don’t only communicate bad news; share successes as well.

Getting stakeholders ready for the journey

“Project management is not difficult. The difficulty is in applying the discipline of common sense.”

James T. Brown

Think about how you are going to help your project stakeholders on the journey. They will need training on the new deliverables or solution you are implementing but how about also:

  • Training them on the project methodology
  • Talking to them about requirements creation and management
  • Making organisational roles and responsibilities clear
  • Working through changing business processes.

These all make them feel more comfortable about how they are going to get to their new state. That helps them feel more secure about the change and how it will be achieved.

He also recommended listening to everything, especially the things you can’t change or control as sometimes people just want to be heard.

Plan for success

Finally, James talked about concrete steps to take to bring people along with the change, ending with planning for acceptance. This final stage on the change management journey helps people see that you have reached then end and that the new ways of working are finally here.

Set up a mentoring programme and ensure they have all had their training on the deliverables and are ready to use them. It’s also important to acknowledge what the end of the project is going to look like and how you’ll know if you have been successful. Set and communicate project success criteria to measure yourself against (read more about how to define project success criteria here).

Whatever you are doing, ensuring good stakeholder communication and change management on your project will help you be more successful. As James said, there is plenty of theory and practice to draw from but “nothing beats knowledge and judgement.” Apply these wisely and your project stakeholders will thank you for it.

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The connected project manager

hppm cover imageCollaboration tools have a number of benefits, and enhanced communication with stakeholders is top of the list. You can use your communications strategy to identify and map stakeholders. Your chosen tools enable the project team to engage with stakeholders in a way that suits their preferences, and many people today have shifted the way they work to using online tools.

Web-enabled technologies make it easier for your project communications to reach a wider audience. Where the strategy is to communicate (and not collaborate) with stakeholders, for example, members of the public during a public sector or third sector project, social communications enable you to reach a wider group. Whether you limit the readership of your project blog to your company’s employees, or share short status updates with the world on your favourite social networking site, the reach of your project communications now goes far beyond an email distribution list or a printed project newsletter.

Social communication systems are also convenient, especially when working with virtual teams. Many tools are designed to be accessed on the go from multiple devices such as smart phones or tablets. Tapping into the mobility that these products offer means that you can communicate with your team, wherever they happen to be. This can improve collaboration because it is easy to stay in touch this way, and when working practices are easy, people are more likely to adopt them.

However, the most important thing for the connected project manager to do is to ensure that there are benefits to working this way. If you cannot identify benefits to the project and to your team, then don’t adopt social communications technology. An example would be a small Agile team, all based in the same location and working closely on a software release. A collaboration tool would not provide any benefits over and above the face-to-face cooperation that the team benefits from daily. However, if the team needed a knowledge repository, a wiki would be a good addition to their toolset. Social collaboration tools are not necessarily appropriate for all teams and all projects, so weigh up the benefits before making the decision to adopt them.

If you cannot identify benefits to the project and to your team, then don’t adopt social communications technology.

If you do decide to adopt them, having a policy for their use is an essential part of making the deployment a success.

Social communications policies

Once you have decided to embark on a social media or communication/collaboration system initiative, it is essential to set some guidelines for your team. You may find that your company already has corporate policies around the use of social media tools and that these can be adapted for use of the solutions on projects. If no such guidelines exist, ask your PMO for assistance in producing them, or simply draw up a brief document yourself that you and your project team can agree on. Search the internet for examples of social media policies: many companies are happy to share their policies and have posted them publicly online, so there is no need to start from scratch.

An alternative to a social communications policy is to build the relevant guidelines into existing corporate policies. Many companies have a suite of human resource policies relating to appropriate behaviour, and you could ask for these to be updated to include online behaviour as well.

Social communications policies should include:

  • Standards for online behaviour such as the official position on suitable language and any links to codes of conduct.
  • Privacy/Data security/Confidentiality guidelines to protect project and personal information.
  • Guidelines around the use of individual or generic logins.
  • Guidelines for mentioning other staff members or company business outside the project.
  • Details about the appropriate use of the company or project logo.
  • Clarity around the fact that the individual represents both the project and the company when operating on internal and external sites.
  • A statement around using good judgment and common sense when posting to social communication tools.

Your social communications policy should be incorporated into the project governance framework and communications plan. You will want to include the use of your social communication tools in your communication plan as well.

Monitor the adherence to your policy as you monitor other elements of your project and team performance. If you find that there are some elements that are not working, take the opportunity to amend the policy until it provides a suitable backbone for your social communications and collaboration activity on your project.

Online project management tools and collaboration systems are becoming more and more common – it’s a crowded marketplace, so it pays to learn how best to use these to your advantage to stay ahead. What ideas do you have for managing communications on your projects? Have you ever used tools like this successfully, or had to challenge anyone for breaching the policy? Let us know in the comments.

This is an edited excerpt, reprinted by permission of the publishers from ‘Managing Social Communications’ in The Gower Handbook of People in Project Management, edited by Dennis Lock and Lindsay Scott (Farnham, Gower, 2013).

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How can I help you now it’s too late? [video]

Last autumn I presented (virtually) at the PMI Southern Ontario Chapter about Customer-Centric Project Management and continuous improvement as a better approach to lessons learned than the traditional project-implementation review. It was a good experience to give a presentation over webcam and audio conference, but it was weird not having immediate feedback from the people in the room as I couldn’t see if they were really interested or falling asleep.

I recorded a version of my presentation just in case technology let us down on the day. This video gives you an overview of the main points about customer-centricity that you should be aware of on your projects.

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On International Project Management Day: a reflection

International PM Day logoOne of the themes for this year’s International Project Management Day (which is today) is environmental projects that protect or preserve the environment. I don’t work on installing wind farms or developing solar energy products, but I have recently taken part in Conference: Zero, which was a low-carbon conference.

Conference: Zero was put on by APM and Pentacle Virtual Business School, using a Second Life-style conference environment. You can see from the screenshots that it was like being in a computer game, only not as good as GTAV.

Screenshot of conference

Dr Yoram Bosc-Haddard, Senior VP at Capgemini, presenting in the virtual environment

As the delegates could attend from anywhere with an internet connection we collectively saved over 56,000 transport miles and the associated CO2 emissions. So, could this type of networking for project management take off?

carbon saving

Tweet from an attendee commenting on the carbon saving of Conference: Zero

The feedback from delegates – at least what I heard from tweets and emails during and after the event, plus the online chat – was that it had technical problems. Regardless of your internet connection speed or processor power, some of the rooms were difficult to move into and load. I missed the opening keynote because I couldn’t get into the virtual room, and I know of one delegate who gave up at lunchtime because it was too frustrating and he was arriving late to every session.

I was talking about customer-centric project management and I deliberately started my session broadly on time. I thought that was important (as I only had 20 minutes anyway) and for people who had made the effort and I wanted to respect their time. If I, or any of the other presenters, had routinely started late we wouldn’t have got through our material and we would have wasted a lot of time during the day which would have been equally as frustrating for everyone.

I think the online conference has a lot going for it. You can join in your pyjamas (as I did for Andrew Hubbard’s talk at 7.30am). You can drop in and out as you please, attending the presentations that capture your interest and doing something more productive when there isn’t anything on that you want to listen to. But the networking side of it is harder to do. It’s almost impossible to strike up a conversation with a random delegate because there is no lunch queue or coffee queue. I went to the bookshop a couple of times but no one was there – that would be rare in a real-life conference, where people browse for ages.

My book on display in the bookshop

My book on display in the bookshop

I would attend again, but I think this type of virtual environment needs practice. We all know how to walk around and find the right room, chatting to people as we go, but doing that with your keyboard takes practice. We need to learn the quirks of online networking in a virtual environment. Yes, it’s great for the environment, but it also doesn’t have the benefit of a day out of the office. That’s one of the main reasons to go to a conference – it refreshes you, fills you with great ideas and you come back to the office inspired. At least, that’s what it does for me.

Sitting at my PC eating breakfast, or getting frustrated that I’m missing presentations isn’t the same. So while I think we’ll see more events hosted virtually to save travel costs and the planet, I really hope that face-to-face events don’t fade away completely.

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What are the benefits of project governance? This infographic shares 6 reasons why project governance is a good thing for projects and project managers.

governance infographic

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Managing change on projects: James T. Brown at Synergy 2014

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