Effective CommunicationsWritten by Patti Gilchrist
The key to successful communications is asking stakeholders what they need communicated to them, and then follow through and provide it to them. I have heard many new project managers complain of "backseat drivers" on their projects, always going around them, asking team members for status (i.e., asking "are we there yet?").
I suspect the reason for this is that many project managers act as if project status is top-secret, classified information that only the privileged few with top-secret clearance can receive. Consider that the project is operating on a "need to know" basis and your stakeholders really need to know. Mark it as confidential if you are so inclined (or if it is appropriate because you are actually dealing with confidential or sensitive data), but send out accurate and timely communications on a regular basis.
By managing the work and reporting the progress regularly to stakeholders, you will avoid the "backseat driver" syndrome.
Another benefit of this is that you will create the environment for the team to do their job uninterrupted without numerous disruptions from various stakeholders asking for status updates because you fail to provide updates sufficiently. If this is happening on your project, know this: it is the project manager's fault.
I'll share a story from my career.
In my colleague's haste to leave the office for vacation, she failed to update a stakeholder on a critical deliverable that was due at the end of the day. I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and became the unintended recipient of his frustration. He was extremely agitated and looking for anyone who could give him an update. I was able to get an update for him in less than five minutes and he had the information he needed and the assurance that his deliverable was on target. For something that took so little time and effort, it created a lot of unnecessary stress, frustration, and ill will. So ask yourself, is it worth it?
It is remarkable how many failing projects I have seen rescued throughout my career by improving communications and reporting. In many cases, beginning project managers did not understand their role and were not collecting or disseminating the information accurately or in a timely fashion. The work was in fact being completed; however, it was not being managed, thus timely handoffs (i.e., for dependent tasks) were not occurring between project team members. Nor was there any evidence of progress being presented to stakeholders. Therefore, stakeholders had the perception that the project was way behind schedule and they reported as such to their management. Of course, this causes a rippling effect of escalations. As soon as an experienced project manager reigned in and managed the team and got a handle on the work actually being accomplished, status was adjusted to reflect accomplishment accurately, handoffs between project team members occurred, and the project quickly was back on track. Performance reports present evidence of the work. Without them, how will anyone really know what is being accomplished along the way? The team works hard. It's your job as project manager to ensure this is reflected in your performance reports.
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Patti Gilchrist is a Sr. Technical Manager with extensive experience in the field of IT Project Management. Patti has more than 20 years of IT experience and a reputation for effectively implementing strategic enterprise initiatives, with a proven track record of delivering simultaneous large-scale, mission-critical projects on time and budget. Her experience includes ERP implementations, data conversions, business software application development aligned with critical business requirements, IT infrastructure delivery, and process implementation in existing and startup organizations. Patti currently manages a team of project managers and is dedicated to the continued development of her team and knowledge sharing within the project management community. Patti has worked and consulted at many large corporations such as Westinghouse Electric, Progress Energy, Alcoa, Bank of America, and UPMC Health Plan. Industry experience includes Manufacturing, Energy/Distribution, Banking/Finance, and Health Care.
Patti is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, the "City of Champions." It is the home of the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. Patti now resides in the Southeastern US.
Patti has a BA from Temple University and holds PMP and Six Sigma Black Belt certifications.