Let’s start from scratch. In the beginning, there was communication. It’s what separated us from the other animals and it still does. Although today’s animal may be in the cube next to yours.
Nothing to do with the process is worth noting if communication is ineffective. As project managers, much of what we do is broker communication. We broker communication among many groups including our teams, superiors, the client, vendors, and many more.
Each aspect of communication is nuanced for that particular silo. This is where many companies fall short. They may have a formal process in place, but no formal Communication Framework, and because of that the process fragments and cannot be duplicated.
The key to what a great project manager does is to communicate effectively. Without this consistency, you may win the battle of an individual project, but lose the war of an entire account.
In order to achieve consistency, the project manager needs to act carefully. These four proverbs, as old as time itself, encompass how a project manager should think about communication.
Follow the Four Laws of Communication to be on solid footing:
1. If you don’t learn from history, you’ll be doomed to repeat it.
It’s a shame that our politicians don’t adhere to this maxim. On every project, there will be things that go right and those that go wrong. Don’t forget either experience.
Adopt process improvements, fix pitfalls, and learn how to discern potential obstacles. Learning to forecast obstacles will help you to steer clear of them on future projects. This is materialized in your postmortem meeting, subsequent documentation and process improvements.
2. Proper planning prevents poor performance.
This is all about preproduction and the foundational role of Project Management. Get all your ducks in a row before you begin the project. It may take a little time up front, but it will save a great deal of time in the end.
Manage your team and client to do the same.
The time spent in understanding not only the problem but also the solution will keep you from changing course midstream. The more you can stay on track during production, the fewer obstacles will materialize in postproduction and the better the outcome.
3. The quickest way to get from point A to point B is a straight line.
This is encompassed by the proposal in the form of timeline and assumptions. Your timeline is always pushing the fastest, most efficient way from A to B while taking into account all of the possible delays in the process.
Assumptions cover your ass. Vagueness spells death to all great solutions. Be sure to build the most honest, accurate and complete schedule that you can. Don’t take anything for granted. And then support it with as many assumptions as are necessary to guard against all obstacles to its success. Whether those obstacles lay with the client, third party vendors, technology, hours, people… you get the idea. Can you see how “learning from history” and “proper planning” feed into this maxim?
4. Procrastination is the thief of time; collar him.
Ah, Dickens! To extend the quote, “…Never do tomorrow what you can do today.” One thing is for certain on every project: it will end. Do not leave all of the effort until that point.
Meaning, don’t keep pushing out discussions, deliverables, handoffs, and other integration points, thinking that you have all the time in the world. This mistake is most often seen in the client Review, Feedback & Approval Loop. Eventually, you will run out of time, resources and money. It’s important to note here, that eating into the time allotted for QA at the end of a project is not a viable way to make up for lost time in production.
If you stick to these four maxims half your job is done. All that’s left is to manage the process and communicate expectations. Simple, isn’t it? It’s the communication of expectations that trips up most managers. Focus on what you can control – communicating the facts – and use that as the foundation for your framework.
Michael Gill has over 25 years of experience in Project Management and is currently a consultant with Harvard Business School. He is the author of The Process of Communication, A Practical Guide to Project Management, which can be purchased on Amazon. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn and learn more about how he can help your company at www.michaelegill.com