Change Your Directions!

What is Your Communication Style? I don’t mean do you talk softly, loudly, often or little. I’m thinking about how effectively you communicate. Is your style good enough? I was talking to a colleague the other day about team communication and realized that we really aren’t very good at it. Sure, there are communication plans for various levels of stakeholders in a project, but how do you communicate directly with the project team? Do you give direction the same way with everyone? Do you find it frustrating when your directions aren’t followed the way you’d like? Do you have team members that are consistently missing the mark?

Sure, the team member might have underlying issues that are effecting their performance and could follow directions better with a little extra effort, but maybe it’s you. There might be an opportunity for improvement on your part which can assist them in better performance.

Think of it like this, we all learn in different ways. Some people can learn by simply hearing (audible), some by reading (visual), and yet others learn by seeing or even being coached with hands-on activities (kinisthetic). More often than not, we hear of these learning styles with children, but do we grow out of this as we get older? I would say, probably not. Sure, as adults, we learn how to cope with changes in learning environments, but is that really efficient at all to simply know your weaknesses?

As a project leader (or any type of leader for that matter) how well do you actually  know your project team? While it is your teams job individually to listen intently and understand the directions they are given, it is YOUR job as a leader to ensure the team has the tools they need to succeed.

I recommend trying an exercise over the next month or so. DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind I’m a project manager, not a phycologist, so the durrations may be inadequate or too much but you get the idea. Give your team directions in different ways, utilizing the three methods, and make mental or even written notes on how the team performs as a whole. Which way is the best way for your team to receive direction? Do you notice a boost in performance?

Take it a step further, talk to your team individually. You can try the same exercise as you did with the whole team, or, you can go even one more step further and actually talk to them. See if they can or will tell you how they learn best. Note: Make sure they understand that you are not trying to give them any criticism, even constructively as they might start to get nervous and shut down, or even quit. Tell them what you are doing and what it is that you are trying to accomplish. I believe they will respond positively and your productivity will increase for the simple fact you actually care about them.

The whole premise here is we sometimes think of ourselves as the absolute authority when it comes to giving or receiving directions. I assure you this type of thinking is a recipe for failure and you are setting yourself and your team up for poor performance. Go the extra mile, pay attention to your team and give them the tools they need to hit a home run!

Do you have a favorite method for delivering directions? Tell us, maybe we can learn a technique we didn’t know before.

What Does it Take? A Look into Project Leadership

Project leadership and project management go hand in hand, with leadership having perhaps more soft skills than a person who “simply” manages a project by following some sort of process. I have written several posts about the difference between management and leadership so I won’t get into that topic here. I use the term leader rather than manager because I believe it takes both to be truly successful. Of course, only you can define your success but what others think of your success should play into your definition at least a little, especially your boss.

Project leadership can take on many forms and definitions; there are many widely accepted principles and disciplines to keep you up-to-date on the specific ins and outs of your area of expertise. I will not get into these specifics here. Instead, I want to get into the general skills that it takes to keep you into a project leadership role. Obviously this will not be a definitive list, but rather one that is designed to get you to thinking, “Do I have what it takes to get or keep this thing going?”

  • Have integrity: This is a personal favorite of mine because so many people do not, even some so-called leaders. Without integrity, your team will not follow you because they will not trust you.
  • Trust and empower your team members: If you do this, your team will go to the ends of the earth for you and everyone will reap the rewards.
  • Communicate Honestly: Having good communication skills are essential in any leadership position. As a project leader, you must communicate honestly so there are no surprises at the end of the day when the sponsors think everything has been going smoothly, and it hasn’t.
  • Be organized: Keep project files organized on the server (not your local computer unless it is backed up daily). Make sure all stakeholders know where the documents are that affect them.
  • Know how to create and maintain a schedule: Get your team invoved early so you can estimate your man-hours. Once you have buy-in from your team, they will be more likely to work towrards the deadlines rather than resenting it, telling you it is just too aggressive.
  • Know how to create a budget: Estimating is big! At the end of the day, you will need to make every effort to stick to your budget. You got buy-in from the team on the time estimates, so use them to create your budget and include other resources, expenses, and other capital items.
  • Understand Risk Management: Failing to understand this piece will result in failure of some sort. Know what can happen and what measures you will take to avoid it altogether or how you will react if it moves from the risk column to the event column.
  • Learn and follow processes appropriate for your industry: PMI has a set of processes that are general and widely adaptable for all projects. Learning additional skills such as Six Sigma, Agile, or ITIL (among others) is also recommended if it applies.
  • Be Adaptable: One thing I like about being a project leader is the constant changing project environment. It speaks to my A.D.D. and is a constant challenge. One thing is for sure, being a projet leader is never boring! If you are inflexible, chances are you are going to be miserable trying to be a project leader. If you are flexible, not only will you like your job better, but you will have a better chance at success as well.

I saw it written once that being a project leader is “the best job – EVER!” I agree with this and would love to mentor new PMs that are ready to go. As I said before, this post is in no way intended to have a definitive list. It is simply designed to get you thinking critically.

I’d love to hear what else you’d add to it. Please comment below and give feedback.

Project Communications

Project communications are perhaps the single most important aspect of your project management plan. It is also one of the most overlooked from a planning perspective. This could be because project managers have a tendency to think they know what to communicate to whom and when. The truth is, communication is something that has to be talked about and planned in advance.

The PMBoK Guide – Fourth Edition (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) breaks communications management down into five sub categories:

  1. Identify Stakeholders: Identify all people and organinzations that will be impacted by the project as well as their specific involvement and impact on project success
  2. Plan Communications: Determine what each person or group actually needs to be made aware of and in what form. For example, you will perhaps send daily detailed communications to the project team via electronic communciations, but only a weekly wrap up via staff meeting to a project sponsor or executives
  3. Distribute Information: This means that you actually do what you said you were going to do in the previous item.
  4. Manage Stakeholder Expectations: Pay attention to your stakeholder’s needs. You don’t want to give them too much or too little information. Give them only what they need which may mean removing or even add to the information identified in step 2.
  5. Report Performance: Periodic analysis of baselines versus actuals during the project. This includes analysis of performace, risks and issues, work completed, upcoming tasks, summary of the approved changes, and others.

Communication is a critical piece of the project health. We are always communicating with our teams and other stakeholders. If we neglect to plan the communciations up front, it is almost guaranteed that something will get missed. When things get missed, we lose out on opportunities to make vital corrections, learn of a new direction, or even a pat on the back every now and then.

I know I have simplified things a bit, especially as they relate to the PMP exam, but for daily business, these are the basics. Sometimes, the projects are small and greatly simplified. This doesn’t mean that these steps should be overlooked. It merely means that the steps are that much easier to follow.

Happy Communicating!