We’ve heard it all before: the importance of effective listening, canceling out noise and focusing on understanding, blah blah blah. Listen to all interested parties, keep everyone informed, etc. But how well are we really executing our communication? How often are we taking steps to determine how well we are listening to our stakeholders?
I can tell stories (as I am sure you, lovely reader, can too) of delivered projects doomed to the Unfriendly Wasteland of the Unused because said project did not meet requirements. And the back-and-forth because no one wanted to own the responsibility for WHY the project did not meet requirements; when really, something as simple as checking in with your stakeholders could probably have changed the project outcome.
I don’t think the importance of effective communication is in doubt – according to PMI (Project Management Institute), 55% of project managers agree that “effective communication to all stakeholders is the most critical success factor in project management” (http://www.pmi.org/Learning/pulse/pulse-communications.aspx). Yet, for every US$1 billion spent on projects, US$75 million is at risk due to ineffective communication (http://www.pmi.org/Learning/pulse/pulse-communications.aspx). Why are we wasting so much money on something the majority agree is critical to success? That US$75 million is opportunity lost, readers!
I am not here to solve the problem of effective communication, because several factors go into this. I don’t know your history with your stakeholders, their preferred means of communication, positive vs. negative stakeholders and who has the most power – only you, fearless Project Manager, know this. What I can offer is perhaps some methods to gauge how effectively you are communicating – so if you find yourself not being understood, perhaps you can change your approach and make your project the teensiest bit more successful. Go ahead…take a bite out of that US$75 million!!
Review your Communications Plan
I’m going to ignore that cry of “but I don’t have a Communications Plan!” If you don’t have one, document one, and then review it. Mr. Carruthers in Accounting initially said he wanted status updates via email but has not responded once in four months. Well, get active. Call him. Drop by his office. Have a chat about the project and obtain his input. Double-check how he wants to receive further communication. Update your Communications Plan as required. Do this for all stakeholders (including your project team). Make sure you are being heard. According to PMI (http://www.pmi.org/Learning/Professional-Development/career-central/3-must-have-communications-skills.aspx), there are three must-have communication skills for Project Managers. The first two:
1. “Give the people what they want”
2: “Choose the right communication channel.”
Maintain active communication with all your stakeholders. If email communication has become a broadcast of project status every week or so, and you are not receiving any feedback, then it is time to re-engage your stakeholders. Review the language in your emails. How is your tone? Is it possible you are coming across as disinterested or even negative? How often are you having actual conversations with your stakeholders? You cannot coast on passive communication and broadcast messages. That is not going to achieve your mission. Keep your stakeholders engaged.
Throughout the project, continuously evaluate how you are communicating so the right message is received by the right people.
Stop with the Jargon
You are in the weeds in project development. A coding issue arises. As it turns out, this may reduce testing time and if not resolved, may impact delivery timelines. It is time to inform your stakeholders. When having the conversation, don’t use technical jargon. Also, avoid the labyrinthine Acronym Maze, which will cause your stakeholders to turn to their phones and tune you out. Jargon does not impress your audience or make you more believable (http://www.thereluctantspeakersclub.com/blog/2012/08/why-speakers-should-say-no-to-jargon/).
So just don’t. Keep your message clear and easy to understand.
Yes, your project has been approved. Yes, your team is actively working. The daily grind should not, however, grind you down. Especially in times of conflict or crisis, a good attitude (OK, spin) can be key to presenting the information and getting stakeholders to agree to a solution. You really DO catch more flies with honey than vinegar, dearie.
Read more here: http://www.powerofintegrity.com/articles-comms.htm.
You will always have negative stakeholders. They can derail your project. Don’t ignore them, no matter how much or how little power or influence they exert over the project. Especially engage them — sometimes this is all it takes for a negative stakeholder to champion a project. Sometimes not — so document a strategy for interacting with the negative stakeholders. If the stakeholder group was important enough to be considered stakeholders, then their input is necessary. Keep them engaged (broken record for $200, Alex, but you get my message, right???) so they find and create solutions, not issues.
Always support the mission. Always strive to accomplish the mission. Never let the stakeholders forget the reasons why the project was approved. Take a look at this (http://www.pm4girls.elizabeth-harrin.com/2014/12/9-project-communications-you-should-have-sent-this-year/) and modify your communications accordingly. Most importantly, monitor your Communications Plan and make sure your message is being heard. That US$75 million is just going to waste…seize the opportunity!
Good resources exist all over the Internet and beyond. Online, these are some of my favorites:
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sblackley