Which Project Tool is the Most Useful?
Think about a carpenter’s tool belt. The tool belt that is strapped around his waist gives him easy access to all the tools he needs to do the job. Whether it be a hammer, pliers, screwdriver, or tape measure…they are all within reach for him to get the job done.
But, he undoubtedly has his favorite tool. It may have been the first tool he purchased many years ago when he started his first job. Or, it may be a tool that was given to him by someone that meant a lot to him. This tool has a special place in his heart and one that he uses frequently.
As a project manager, you have access to the use of many project tools to get your job done. For example, you may use a work breakdown structure (WBS), to define what needs to be done to finish the project. Or, one of your favorites may be the risk register that helps you catalog and manage risk. A project tool that is one of my favorites is the 4-blocker status report that shows accomplishments, next steps, risks, and discussion points all on one page. This is a great project tool for executive debriefs and keeping the project moving forward.
While all of these project tools are great…I have to say that my absolute favorites are any that have to do with project communication. There’s no way a project can be successful unless everyone knows what is going on with a project, its current status, next steps, and what;’s expected of them to complete the project.
There are a number of ways this project tool can be implemented. The following are some ideas on how to make use of your communication vehicles (in any project) by understanding the multi-directional aspect of effective project communication.
Multi-Directional Aspect of Effective Communication?
What exactly is the multi-directional aspect of effective communication? All this mouthful means is that you need to communicate in different ways when you communicate in different directions. For example, communicating project status to a C-Level executive is very different than communicating status to an engineer that is in the trenches banging out code.
There are three directions in which you will communicate. Up, Down, and Sideways.
Communicating “up” is getting the word up the food chain to those that may be above your position. This includes your boss, executives and other stakeholders that have a vested interest in the success of the project you are managing.
Why is this important? It is important to keep this group of people apprised of the status of your project because they can make your life easier, or miserable…depending upon what and when they knew about what was going on. For example, if you know a project runs the risk of not making it due to a lack of resources, this is the group that can reallocate resources or reprioritize other activities in order to make your project meet its deadline. This is the group that will also ask “why didn’t you tell me earlier when I could have done something about it?” if you come to them too late in the process.
What are the challenges of communicating with this group? The biggest challenge with communicating up is that everyone is extremely busy and doesn’t have time for the long-drawn out explanations of what happened, why it happened, or what went wrong. You may be able to get a sound-bite or two in while you are walking with them down the hall or rushing to your next meeting together.
Which project tool should you use? To communicate your message “up” to this group it’s most effective to use the 4-blocker type of status report that I mentioned earlier. Make sure the information is brief, succinct and quickly nets out where things stand. Otherwise you run the risk of their eyes glazing over, losing interest, and a decision not being made. Also, this group relishes face-to-face conversation and short one or two line emails that get right to the point.
Communicating “down” is not to be taken in a negative way, but rather in a hierarchical way of those who are on your project team that are working with you on your project. These are the cross-functional resources from various departments that temporarily roll up to you while your project is being worked on.
Why is this important? This group is important to keep apprised of what’s going on with the project for obvious reasons. These are the people who are on the front lines of getting things done. They know the intricacies and nuances of what is being worked on and can provide you with the feedback (both good and bad) that you will need as a project manager to keep things moving forward.
What are the challenges of communicating with this group? Like the executives above, this group is extremely busy…just in a different way. They are most likely overloaded, overwhelmed, and under great pressure to get their work done. This is not just from you as their project manager, but also includes their functional manager and possibly other project managers as well. You need to be careful not to bury this group with too much unnecessary information that will slow them down or cause them to get frustrated or aggravated. Just give them enough information that they need in order to get the task at hand done.
Which project tool should you use? To communicate your message “down” would include weekly status meetings, 1-on-1 conversations, updated and proper project documentation (such as requirements, specifications, etc.) and emails with a bit more explanation on the background of why decisions were made one way or the other. This will give them enough information to be comfortable in doing their job.
Communicating “sideways” is an often overlooked aspect of communication. This is the type of communication that you carry on with your peers and colleagues that are on a similar level on the Org Chart. While it’s not a “requirement” that you effectively communicate with your peers, it sure makes everyone’s job that much easier.
Why is this important? These are the people that run other departments that you may rely upon to get your job done. You may need resources from their departments, or deliverables to be finished in a certain way, or just a plain old favor every now and then. By maintaining positive and respectful communication with your peers, you will find that all of these things will flow that much smoother.
What are the challenges of communicating with this group? Sometimes you just might not like them and their personality makes them hard to communicate with. They may run their department different than you, or feel they have to make you jump through a certain number of hoops before they say “yes” to your requests.
Which project tool should you use? Lunch. That’s right. Lunch with your peers and colleagues is one of the best project tools to use when it comes to communicating with this group. This gives you the opportunity to understand each other’s position and needs, commiserate over what’s wrong with the company, talk about how to make things better, and just get to know them better. You will be amazed at what a profound difference having some semblance of a relationship with your peers will do for your projects.
Just like a carpenter has a favorite tool they may use all the time, you as a project manager have many project tools at your disposal. Never lose sight of the fact that any project tools related to effective communication will provide a substantial return on your investment.
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