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Author: Bill Dow, PMP

Project Communications Plan – Who, What, Where, How, When…etc.

dow Sept18Back in 2008 when Bruce Taylor and I were writing our book the “Project Management Communications Bible” we found that a certain number of project managers were struggling with their project communications. Back then, we found surveys on the Internet that showed that project communications were the biggest reason for project failure and we talked to project managers and saw firsthand the problems they were having trying to deliver a successful project. Over and again we saw that project managers were consistently ignoring project communications on their projects. For example, we saw that many project managers were not building effective communication plans. We saw that most were not treating communications seriously at all. At a minimum, they would send out a status report and feel like that was all they needed to do from a communication perspective. Frankly, it was bad, and it was something that needed fixing right away.

Update our timeline to today (2013), and I am sorry to say the trend is not getting better. Project managers who put out a status report each week, each month, or even quarterly, and consider that their communications for their projects are kidding themselves. Often the project manager believes that if I send my customer a status report and if they are not getting what they need, they will ask me for something different. What happens in that case is the onus is on the customer to seek out the information, not on the project manager to provide it.

Remember the old saying that 90% of a project manager’s job is communicating? That’s well-known across the industry and rarely disputed. Most people in project management have seen several project failure survey’s and the one clear reason that comes up continually on why project fail, because of poor project communications. Take a second now, and search the Internet yourself and let’s look at the results. Well, what did you find? Did you find multiple survey’s on why projects fail? Sad isn’t it? What were some of the top reasons? Did you see project communications mentioned? Or did you see reasons mentioned ally communication problems but disguised as something else? (For Example, Poor Requirements)? I bet you did. Back to that old saying if project managers are not spending their 90% of their time communicating, then what are they doing? Why do we see so many project failures? Why do project managers not focus and drive their projects with communications being that important? Why do project managers not use the Project Communications Plans more effectively on their projects? Why do project managers consider creating a communication plan just a check box activity? Why, Why, Why….

Maybe the reason that project managers don’t create the communications plan or don’t spend any time on it is that they don’t know how to do it effectively. Oh sure, they can take the company’s template and fill in all the required fields and sections and call it complete. Sadly, many project managers do just that, which does not benefit anyone, especially not the customer. One reason that project managers simply fill in the template is because they don’t value communications or don’t believe communications is important to the success of the project. Remember the survey’s you found after searching the Internet? What did they say again? How often did communications come up? If you are filling out a document just for the sake of filling in a document, then of course there is not going to be any value to it.

Instead of filling in a communications plan, just to have a communication plan, I recommend that you embrace the process and do it right the first time. Remember, it is 90% of your job!

If you decide to, then consider the following during this process:

Developing a Project Communications Plan:

  1. Get a template. Use the company’s, grab one off the web…etc. But get a template.
  2. Put on your reporter’s hat and start filling in the template with these 5 critical questions in mind:
    • Who – Are you going to communicate the project information to?
    • What – Are you going to communicate?
    • When – When are you going to communicate?
    • Where – Where are you going to send or store your project communication reports? Are you going to use tools, send it to an email address?
    • How – How are you going to communicate? In person, email, Newsletter, Social Media
    • **Bonus Question – Why? It is a good idea is to understand why your producing the specific communication deliverable and what value does it bring. For example, why create a project schedule? What value is there to have a project schedule for your customer or project team?
  3. Once you complete the template and answer the 5 questions, the next step is to ensure the document is signed off and agreed by all parties. Customers, team members, and management all should sign off on the communication plan.
  4. Store the communication plan in a place that everyone can get to and regularly look at the document throughout the life of the project.

Completing this process will give you a huge start on your project communications plan. In our Project Management Communications Bible, we added two tools specifically called the “Communications Requirement Matrix” and the “Role Report Matrix” and that helps you document some of those 5 critical questions. I would encourage you to check out these tools and the other tools in the book to help you communicate more effectively. But even if you just document the 5 critical questions you will have a huge head start over most project managers.

Finally, one of the last best practices I would recommend for project managers that I have not seen occur that often is to document the project’s color conditions with the project management communications plan. What does it mean to document the color conditions into the communication plan? Well, it starts by working with your customers and team members and getting an understanding of what and how you should communicate when a projects goes into red, yellow, or green status. By documenting these Red, Yellow, or Green status conditions it prepares you, your customer, and your project team ahead of time on what to do when your project goes into that color. For example, if a project goes into Red (your customer may want twice a day meetings) and so you would document that requirement (two meetings a day) in the communication plan under the Red status. You would then document the Yellow status and the Green status conditions. Then, as you start executing your project and one of these event occurs (projects goes to Red, Yellow, or Green), you can turn to what was agreed to in the communication plan and perform the actions.

What do you think?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Project Team Management – How Much is Too Much?

I was talking the other day to one of my favorite project managers who told me his project team was complaining that he takes too much of their time every week. While this seems to be a common complaint in the Information Technology (IT) industry, I wondered if it is also common in other industries. Does a plumber or electrician on a construction project continually feel the project manager is taking too much time from them each week? Do team members in manufacturing feel the project manager is taking all their time? Do project managers in different industries need the same amount of time from a project team member that an IT project manager does?

Because this is common for IT project managers, they must be cognizant of balancing their need to gather information with the independence of their team members, which can be a difficult balance. Let’s think about some common questions that project managers face with this issue:

  • Why is it so hard for project team members to understand that project managers need time?
  • Why do IT project managers have to have this battle with their team members?
  • Do the team members have the right to question how much time they should be providing to their project manager?
  • How does a project manager with direct authority (hire and fire) over team members deal with this issue? Is it even an issue in this case? Does having this decision-making ability factor into whether team members will complain about an increased time commitment?
  • How does the risk tolerance of a project manager play into the time they need from their team members? Does a risk taking project manager need little time and a more cautious manager take more time?

These are all great questions and something that project managers should consider when they are facing and dealing with this issue. Even reviewing these questions gives project managers a starting point to think about how they can address this issue.

Let’s look at some of the various reasons project managers call their team members together:

  1. Project Planning
  2. Project Status Team Meetings
  3. Project Risk Meetings
  4. Project Customer Meetings
  5. Project Group Deliverable Development

If you consider these meetings being an hour at minimum, this means that roughly five hours per week when the project team member is not working on project tasks. The project manager considers these five hours as project administration and the team members is thinking “the project manager has pulled me away from doing my real work!”

Now, in a typical 40-hour workweek, five hours out of 40 hours is relatively small. The 5 hours broken down across an 18-month project, is only 360 hours (factoring in 20 hours per month). In actuality, this is pretty minimal when you consider the importance of having the team member in the room, providing status information, and communicating his or her area of the project. Imagine what a project manager would face if they received little time from their team members each week to learn a project’s status?

Now, this is all pretty easy to understand if we assume that a team member is only working on a single project. Unfortunately, in today’s world that is rather unrealistic, and many team members are working on multiple projects. As such, project managers should be aware of the commitments their team members have to other projects, as well. 

While there is no single correct answer, here are a few recommendations and best practices for project managers to consider when asking time of their team members:

  1. Consider the time you are going to ask from each team member and set expectations from the project’s launch so team members are informed from the beginning.
  2. Project team members must consider project administration time into their time efforts on their projects – if they know and understand this time commitment at the beginning of the project, then they will factor this in and won’t feel like the project manager is pulling them away from their real work.
  3. Project managers must consider that project team members in most cases are working on many projects at once. When you double and triple the administrative time that you are asking from your project team members, it could leave them with limited time available to perform the work of their projects.

I think it is important for project managers to do a good job in administrating and driving their projects when it comes time management of their team members. Project managers must consider their project team members and the time commitments they have when assigning individual project tasks. I also believe strongly that it is important for project team members to understand the importance of providing project information to their project managers. If managers are asking for information, they’re probably doing it for a reason. If both parties work together on this and are considerate of each other’s needs, project teams will likely be far more cohesive and successful.

What do you think?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Project Nightmares – Gordon Ramsay to the Rescue!

dow FeatureArticle April24I am a huge Gordon Ramsay fan; from Kitchen Nightmares, to Hell’s Kitchen, across-the-board Ramsay is both an entertainer and expert in his field. The magic he works turning around restaurants is amazing. If you spend any time watching Ramsay, and actually listening to him – which people forget to do – he clearly knows what he is talking about in the restaurant business. He has success around the world, is a proven leader, and people should be honored to work with him.

Recently, I was watching an episode of FOX’s Kitchen Nightmares,(Mauk, Hayden T.,(Senior Producer), Raigel, Scott (Producer),(2013) Kitchen Nightmares [Television Series] and I started thinking about what Ramsay does when he evaluates restaurants. Many of those same processes could easily be modified to the project management industry regarding the way we evaluate our projects. If you are not familiar with the show, let me walk you through how he turns around restaurants.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares Evaluation Process

  1. Samples the food (he tries almost the whole menu)
  2. Review of the surroundings (color, lighting, atmosphere, etc.)
  3. Review of the kitchen processes (billing, wait staff, line cooks, how orders are processed, etc.)
  4. Review of staff (including qualifications, background, experiences of owners, wait staff, bartenders, chiefs, etc.)
  5. Review of fridges (walk-in’s, freezers, food quality, etc.)

And the list goes on and on.

After Ramsay spends the time and evaluates these multiple areas, he then starts recommending ways to improve the restaurant. He changes the menu, redecorates, changes processes, hires chefs, and sets up the restaurant up for success. After Ramsay leaves, it is up to the restaurant owner to keep everything Ramsay has set up or they could quickly fall back into trouble.

So, let’s think about this process that Ramsay does for a second: he comes in, he evaluates, he recommends, he changes, he leaves – a successful working restaurant – all in a matter of weeks.

Now, let’s look at this from a project management perspective.

What happens in the project management world when we evaluate projects? Well, it usually starts with projects going through an auditing process. Project auditing has been going on for years. During these auditing processes, we repeatedly hear, “you don’t have this deliverable,” or “this schedule is out-of-date,” or “you are not tracking your budget.” It tends to be of little value from a project manager’s perspective.

And ladies and gentleman THAT is the problem!

That process of looking at projects from a purely audit-taking perspective is where I believe we are going wrong in the project management industry. This is not what Ramsay does when he goes into restaurants. He is not an auditor, nor list-checker, but he is an expert in the restaurant business that knows how they run and why they fail. He has seen restaurants repeatedly make the same mistakes, and when they change even the smallest item, they increase their chances of success. I wonder if we see projects make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Remember what Ramsay does? He comes in, he evaluates, he recommends, he changes, he leaves. What if the project management industry did what Ramsay does to restaurants to our projects? How much better off do you think our projects would be? Do you think we would deliver more effectively, have better on-time metrics, and be able to bring our costs down? You are right; if we had experts like Ramsay come in and replicate what he does to our projects, they would be much more successful.

What if we had someone like Dr. Harold Kerzner look at our projects following the same steps Ramsay follows? Dr. Kerzner is the father of project management, an industry expert, leading project management author, and could clearly perform the same steps Ramsay follows but to our projects.

Let’s look at what an expert in the project management industry would look for as part of their evaluation process.

Project Management Evaluation Process

  1. Review the project health data (Is the Project in Red status, is the budget Green, Risks/Issues…etc.)
  2. Review project deliverables (no getting around it, you are going to have to look at the deliverables and the content)
  3. Review project processes (Look for areas going well and areas of improvement, how does the project manage change? What about the budget process?)
  4. Reviews project resources (Look at their qualifications, their background, experiences…etc.)
  5. Talk to customers and team members (how are the relationships, what is the working environment like…etc.)

And the list goes on and on.

Do you think it would be difficult for project managers to accept Dr. Kerzner’s advice if he performed this evaluation process? Do you think we can get project managers to embrace not an audit, but a process like the one described above to change the way they are running projects today? Remember: restaurant owners are asking Ramsay to come in and help them turn around their restaurants, and therefore they are looking for help. I have experienced that most project managers are not open to sharing how they run their projects, which often leads them into trouble because they get stuck in their own ways which sometimes causes problems on their projects.

We should change the project management industry by moving away from project audits and moving towards hiring experts to provide evaluations and recommendations on what they are seeing in failing projects. If we can adopt the ideas and processes that Ramsay has been following with the restaurants into the project management world, we would have a much better chance of our projects being more successful.

What do you think?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Everything Goes Through Me – The Project Manager’s words to live by!

Do you remember the old saying “the bucks stops here”? US President Harry Truman had a sign of it on his desk, making it clear he was accountable for all decisions. Everyone knew if there was a decision to be made, he would make it. The buck stopped with him.

I heard another version of that saying the other day, and I began thinking about Project Managers and Project Management, in general. I thought if project managers would take on the same kind of accountability, leadership, and decision-making attitude that is stated so succinctly on that sign on Mr. Truman’s desk, the industry as a whole would get much better at delivering projects across the board.

Let me explain what happened to me the other day and where I heard another version of that same saying that Mr. Truman made so famous. I was at a local pharmacy waiting for my prescriptions standing alongside a number of other people. The employees were swamped, constantly hopping from customer to customer.

As I am standing there, one of the other people standing beside me was approached by the pharmacist asking if he needed help. This customer, who was already being helped, said he was being taken care of and provided little additional information. The pharmacist, sensing that the customer’s hesitancy, then said to the customer “okay, but everything goes through me,” indicating that he may not need to provide her all his information right now, but he would have to down the line because she approved all prescriptions leaving the pharmacy. Now, I want to be clear, the customer was not being nasty, he just simply was being helped by someone else and the pharmacist was also doing her job just trying to be helpful and ensuring that everyone was being take care of. So it was really a good experience for everyone.

When she said that statement to the customer, I really could not stop thinking about it. I tied it back to Truman’s “The Buck Stops Here” mentality and I thought she clearly ran her pharmacy effectively because I could tell she was in charge and clearly making all the decisions. But what I was impressed with the most about that statement was the fact that she said it in the first place. I was impressed with the fact that she took such strong accountability and showed strong leadership skills.

While I continued to wait for my prescriptions, I kept thinking about how powerful of a statement that was and the confidence a person has to say that to a customer, as well as in general. I started to get excited thinking about that line in the context of project management. I thought if project managers possessed that same kind of confidence and showed those same kinds of leadership skills, the project management industry as a whole could be much more efficient in delivering our Programs and Projects. It is easy to understand that the roles of pharmacists and project managers are completely different, and there is often much more accountability and authority in the hands of a pharmacist than in a typical project manager. But that does not mean project managers cannot assume the same leadership qualities and sense of accountability when completing their projects on a daily basis. In fact, if project managers were more willing to take on the “everything goes through me” attitude, I could see the following benefits:

  • Projects would run more efficiently
  • Project team members and customers would know who is making all the decisions
  • Decision-making would be faster and more effective
  • Projects in general would run more smoothly

Over my project management career, I have hired and worked with a number of project managers who have experienced success, and others who have struggled. The ones that were at the top of their game acted exactly as the pharmacist did – they had a take-charge, accountable, strong leadership personality and rarely had any issues in delivering their projects or making their customers happy. The other project managers who did struggled never had that same skillset and would constantly be looking for areas to pass the buck or shed accountability.

Finally, as I think about my next set of project management hires, I am certainly going to look for these qualities in them. And if I can’t find these qualities, I know I can always find them at my local pharmacy.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to add, I am all better, it was just a common cold.

What do you think?

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.