Category Archives: management advice

Imagine there’s no email – communications planning

Back in the day before technology such as email, social networking and forums had been thoroughly adopted we were resigned to actually speaking to each other – either face to face or via telephone. I wonder if we compared success rates for project delivery to today if achievement was higher? Probably not, however I bet communications were deemed as much stronger. I am a huge fan of modern technology and it’s benefits for easy access and recorded communications however as we become busier and lazier – it is all too easy to fire off a few emails and update online activity boards without actually discussing any changes or actions required by the project team. How many times have you seen your name entered next to a piece of information or been put on copy of an email and thought; “what does that actually mean?” Our ability to interpret information varies from person to person and so a great deal of important instruction / information can also get lost in translation.

As a project manager the minimum you should be doing is making sure you speak to people, understand their workloads other commitments and ensure everyone is clear on what is required. I am not a fan of unnecessary meetings either, meetings are required but only last week I was talking with a PM from the investment management sector who was complaining that they have meetings about having meetings – this is of course a step too far.

Work out a communications plan – make sure you list everyone involved on the project with the most heavily involved at the top working down to less active members of the team. Placing priority on the more heavily involved and working out a mutually convenient way to communicate such as weekly calls / coffee and teleconferences for groups to join in is a good start. Don’t be a stranger to the team and if possible, do pop over for a coffee and chat to see where they are at with their workstream. By effectively communicating at the start of the project and building relationships – you can convince the team of your intentions to keep in touch and that you are not micro managing, explaining the need to have a transparent view of where everyone is at will help you all work together more effectively. In my first PM role I reported to a programme director who said to me, “If you tell me when things aren’t going to plan, I will have your corner. If you cover up and drop me in it then you are on your own.” You can’t say fairer than that! Encourage your team to communicate – but you can only do this if you are openly and regularly communicating yourself.

Communication and interpretation

Communication is the most important element to success in both personal and work environments – yet it tends to take a back seat, why is this? In relationships often when they break down it is because we don’t talk to each other, only when we hitting breaking point do we sit down and start to share our thoughts. Having managed multiple concurrent projects across a number of globally based manufacturing sites I learnt early on that open communication had to be enforced to ensure successful delivery and effective contingency planning. Interpretation can be a big player here – in my situation there were the language and cultural barriers, asking for a status update from Germany often yielded responses of “we have not set up the tooling up until now”. This would indicate that they have just set up the tooling – actually this means that they haven’t set it up at this point, a language translation which could be catastrophic to a project if you were to action the next stage of the project when the site was not ready. However I have come across similar issues within the UK and with the USA, to overcome these I learnt fast what the technical teams were actually trying to communicate and made sure every teleconference and meeting was followed up with clear email communication which required a sign off from each individual and also designed a software package which required sign off at each stage from heads of the manufacturing sites before the next stage could be released.

How many times have you called and emailed someone for an update on something only for no reply to be made? How many times have you “parked” an email as you do not have any news? Often the reason for not replying is that you want to be able to give good news and demonstrate your effectiveness but in fact you are doing the opposite to this. One thing which has become ingrained in my working process is to make sure I respond to all calls and emails, even if I have no news yet. By simply responding and stating that you haven’t forgotten and that you are chasing it up – you can ensure you are gaining trust and alleviating any frustrations at the other end. It’s not very time consuming and will help build a strong relationship with others as you are not deemed as ignoring them.