In Part 1 of this two part series on project communication problem areas, we looked at the first two of four critical communication touch points that can potentially become weak links within the project communications infrastructure: between the project manager and his team members and between the project manager and department managers within the delivery organization.
Between PM and outside resources. Outside resources can be difficult because it’s rare that your priorities and their priorities are in sync. No matter how urgent your deadlines or how important the project is to the company – they may not share the same urgency and this can be quite frustrating for the project manager. This particular potential weak link can end up being of considerable consequence to the project if not managed closely and carefully.
Anticipate problems with these outside resources when planning the schedule and how and when you make requests and communicate information. Don’t wait until the deadline is upon you, but plan well ahead to eliminate the problem through communicating as clearly as possible.
Between PM and senior leadership. This can be the project manager communicating with the PMO Director. It can be the project manager communicating with some senior executive in the organization – or possibly even the company CEO. All of these are key communication points that can lead to misunderstandings or miscommunications – especially if the communication is with someone on the executive team who may not be keenly familiar with the project…which is usually most of them.
Once you are given a project, your first task should be to ensure that you and management are in complete agreement. What is the purpose and the desired end result? You may execute a project according to the highest standards and come in on schedule and within budget. However, if you’re not meeting these key individuals’ expectations, then you’re not successfully delivering on the project. You need to define your processes and your schedule, and check with the person who gave you the assignment.
Another issue can be assignment and goal changes for you and your project that come down from above. And this may even occur – believe it or not – without your knowledge. For example, a decision is made at the board level, and the executive’s priorities change, but you are not informed of this decision. Things like this, unfortunately, can happen all the time. It’s nearly impossible to ever anticipate, but keeping accurate information and status reporting going with executive management can help keep you in the loop and you can greatly increase your chances of avoiding this type of situation.
Hopefully, in the case of a PMO, the processes are already in place for a regular reporting structure so you should never be able to stray too far off course. But that’s not a given as many PMOs are floundering or have vague or inefficient processes in place. It’s the director or executive’s responsibility to draw your attention to a wrong direction, but this may occur only if you make the effort to reaffirm the way you are executing the assignment.
Excellent communication and understanding of information are both keys to success. You can’t always guarantee understanding, but by practicing clear and precise communication, making sure that your listener is engaged and then following up critical information with a summary or questions or a discussion to ensure proper understanding, then many potential instances of miscommunication or misunderstanding can be avoided or resolved. Never just assume that your message was received…especially if the information that is being relayed is especially important to the project. It’s not good business, definitely not best practices, and it should not be a risk that you are willing to take.