Project Management Series: Understanding Communication Whilst Communicating Understanding
Formal Project Management has been around for thousands of years dating as far back even to The Great Wall of China. As with every project the ancient builders and project managers encountered the same challenges that every Project Manager faces today (this of course without the risk of death!).
The same could be said for successful projects; controlling all the dynamics and managing issues as they are presented to you, could be compared to building defensive walls around project stages to prevent the plundering hordes of issues and risks invading and causing uncontrolled havoc. This of course requires experience and skill to be able to manage each stage in the most documented and controlled way possible (whilst still being a likeable!).
Formal methodologies currently on the market allow for this theory to be presented to the Project manager. However, to be able to fully grip the scope of issues, risks or opportunities this takes experience and a firm grasp of tangibility towards the project goal, whilst keeping a disciplined eye on the plan
and tweaking when required (with authorization from the Emperor of course!).
Projects can also be at risk when Upper Management can get over involved in the project itself, making decisions which they are not qualified for or against the knowledge of the Specialists involved.
Specifying roles and communication plans early on every project lifecycle is extremely important and can prevent this issue from ever lowering its royal head. The project team on the great wall included over 1 million workers but with each their own well-defined role to fill (which 400K of them included their own death). There was a strict hierarchy of information communicated (usually with whips) and a clear yet simple plan to follow despite the logistical nightmare that was endured (maybe Managing Logistics?).
The movement of information and understanding of clarity across project stakeholders is of paramount importance within every project. With myself originating from a Computer Science background at a University as a Technical Research Fellow working with Industry professionals. I have beared witness to non-technical colleagues at meetings saying that they understand but are really actually just nodding nervously. This is usually followed in the next progress meeting of newly learned jargons that are confidently yet repeatedly said but misplaced 80% of the time. George Bernard Shaw said it best with ‘The Single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that is has taken place.”
So, what should you do? How can you check that there is clarity throughout all project stakeholders? Well the simple answer is that you cannot completely….
However, if you have a well-detailed project stage plan and that it is documented clearly, then you are reducing your liability for off-spec deliveries. Upper Stakeholders do not NEED to understand certain information such as the composition of a brick to make a wall.
They just need to understand that the wall is being made with clay bricks (as they specified) and will be completed by the date that they signed off too at the beginning of the project. If the correct information has been presented and signed off then the Upper Stakeholder or Executive or Emperor has only themselves to blame if an off-spec occurs. This does not mean that you cannot take responsibility for TRYING to educate the upper stakeholders when necessary as to the current technical progress of the project. This is a necessary communication skill that every Project Manager needs to have; to be able to adapt and present information in a controlled and understandable manner going up and down the hierarchy.
So…. its not actually a simple answer after all but for sure as a Project or Risk Manager you are the first to be blamed so make sure that your defensive wall of documentation is also able to stop Giants (as well as ‘Horse-people’).
CP Training Consortium offers such a course which is taught by highly experienced industry professionals whom are able to convey these skills and experience over to you.
This intermediate level knowledge based qualification is designed for all practicing and potential project managers who require an in- depth knowledge and understanding of the fundamental principles, tools and techniques for successful project management.
The APM Project Management qualification is based on the APM Body of Knowledge 6th edition which gives a concise and structured guide to the knowledge required in managing projects.