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Four Keys to Effective Project Communication
By Ty Kiisel

I didn’t go into work yesterday. I had a number of personal errands to do that couldn’t be done on the weekend. For example, it was time to renew my drivers license.

They’ve changed the rules since I last renewed my license, and although I should have known the rules changed, I didn’t (my wife suggested that I hadn’t paid attention to all the announcements that were made a few years ago). I ended up making the visit twice. I didn’t have my “papers” in order. Recent changes to the law require a birth certificate, passport, your blood type, the maiden name of your mother’s grandmother on her father’s side and…You get the picture.

Of course I’m exaggerating a bit, but after sitting “patiently” at the Drivers License Bureau twice, it felt like I was trapped in bureaucratic hell. I digress.

I don’t bring this up to complain, although I do feel much better now. I bring this up because the “renew my license” project didn’t go very well due to a communication breakdown. I have to agree with my wife, the changes were made public by the state, but I largely ignored them. Ignoring them probably cost two or three hours that I could have been doing something else—something more productive.

I wonder how often this type of communication breakdown happens among project teams? Probably more than we would like to admit.

The technology that enables effective communication is evolving incredibly fast—I wish that meant that we were communicating better. I don’t think we are.

I don’t really think it matters if you’re a project leader, a team member, a project sponsor or other stakeholder, effective communication is critical to success. What’s more, I don’t really think the medium is that important either (however some are much more effective vehicles for project communication than others).

Here are a few suggestions that might help communicate with the team:

  1. Actively Communicate: I don’t know why it’s so hard to do, but I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years who never made the effort to have a conversation. They didn’t answer emails. They were so heavily scheduled that getting time with them was virtually impossible. And, they seldom (if ever) made the effort to step away from the desk to have a conversation with individual members of the team. Building rapport and trust doesn’t happen in meetings—it takes place in one-on-one conversations outside the context of a meeting. Communicating with the team requires that you actually do it. It requires actually communicating.
  2. Don’t Force People to Trust a Crystal Ball, Ouija Board or Fortune Teller: Face it, it might be very clear to you, but members of your team can’t read your mind. Don’t make them try. I’ve been married now for over thirty years. A few years back my wife asked, “Did you notice something as you walked in the house?” One of our children had done some work in the yard that I should have noticed, but didn’t. We had words about my lack of attention; which resulted in a suggestion for a communication style change. She will now ask, “Did you notice ‘this or that’ as you walked into the house tonight?” To which I don’t have to guess what she’s talking about. I can either go back outside and “notice” or I can make a relevant comment. This happens far to often in the workplace.

  3. Don’t Pretend to Know More than You Do: It’s OK to make stuff up as you go along. Great leaders have done that for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. There’s nothing in the guidebook that requires a leader to know everything. “I’m figuring this out as we go along, so I’m going to need your help…” will get everyone on the team working together to solve the problem. When leaders don’t know, but treat the team like they’re stupid because they don’t, it destroys morale, inhibits creativity and doesn’t encourage everyone’s best work. Besides, if you’re making it up as you go along, the team can tell. Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know and you will encourage honest and effective communication from the team.

  4. Lay All Your Cards on the Table: I’m convinced that those closest to the work really do understand it the best. Transparency in communication gets everyone engaged in the project at hand. Holding back information that would help the team solve problems or better understand the objectives just doesn’t make sense. National Security aside, when people understand the objective, they understand why they are doing what they’re doing and they understand the value of their individual contribution to the effort, you’ll get their best work.

Don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes—you will make them. I am fairly certain that the next time I try to renew my drivers license, it will be less painful than it was yesterday. The same can be true for the way you approach project communication with your team.

What do you do to ensure effective communication? Are there other things that should be on the list?

About Ty Kiisel

Writing about project management for @task gives Ty the opportunity to share his personal experiences as an “accidental” project manager along with the lessons learned from conversations with customers, hopefully demonstrating that it really doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the rewards of successfully executing project-based work are universal.

About @task

@task helps organizations focus on being more effective, innovative, and more competitive with a rich project and portfolio management solution that enables decision-makers to maximize their resources by implementing those initiatives that provide the greatest business value. @task helps align the strategic goals of objectives with the implementation and execution goals of project teams.

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