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Project Communication in Threes
By Michael Pruitt

Something that I often see is the conflation of project administration and project management. While administration is important and plans are good, people are typically poorly motivated by the knowledge that a task has been assigned to them in a tool. Successful project management requires the hands on management of people and tools are just support for that management.

I see this in the context of both work and bicycle teams. It doesn’t come from a lack of desire to manage people, but often from a combination of empathy and practical tools and techniques. Here’s what I mean by that:

  • Lack of Empathy – The most common example is when a project manager or administrator assumes that just because a vision or idea is clear them, it’s clear to others as well. This is often a problem in organizations where PowerPoint decks are used to both drive presentations and document the vision.
  • Lack of Tools & Techniques – This comes from an unconscious fallacy that managing people is a scaled up version of doing “individual contributor” type work, like writing code or testing. People are promoted or pursue project management as career step only to find that leading by example isn’t really helpful and resolving obstacles for your people doesn’t mean showing them how to do the work. In cycling, I’ve ridden on teams with outstanding riders, but very rarely were they actually leaders.

So what can you do today to improve? Using our bicycle team as an example, you need to set a goal, articulate it to your team and then work with them to plan how to achieve that goal. A great way to do this to get your team to articulate what that goal means to them, while rephrasing the goal. In linguistics, it’s common advise to repeat yourself three times, three different ways to ensure that you use words that are meaningful to the person you are speaking to. This may sound boring, but if you just spread it throughout the conversation, it works really well and keeps the conversation interesting. It may sound like a lot of talking and communication, but the team will have a clear idea of the message.

Saying “we want to focus on road races next year” sounds like an actionable goal for a team, but it is also open to interpretation. There are approximately 50 Seattle area road races a year that include varying terrain and are sprinkled from February to September. It’s easy for a group of riders to think “that’s great” and walk away thinking they’re on the same page only to find out each had a specific, different subset of road races in mind.

Another technique is using sprints. For example, two-month intervals work well for our cycling team. We meet as a group and identify a subset of races during a two-month period the team can do and commit to as a group. The key is to pick ones that as close to everyone can do as possible. It’s better to pick two and do them than go for four and get low participation because the idea is to get real commitment from the team. At each sprint, review the results and scale up or back as the group develops a track record. You’ll find that the team starts interacting more. This works in projects too. Whenever possible, get resources working together and try to get fully deliverable results in short bursts.

Michael Pruitt chronicles his pursuits as both an Engagement Manager and an avid cyclist, and will talk about the overlap and learnings from both in this blog series. You can contact Michael at MichaelPru@vmc.com.

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