Have you ever accepted an invitation to do something, or attend something, and found that you really had no idea what you had accepted? It could be a project that you were invited to run, or a charitable event that you plan to attend. It could be a meeting without an agenda. Regardless, it’s frustrating. Rather than wasting time wondering (or worrying) about the expectations, we should be communicating about them. This is no different when it comes to project management communication.
Project managers are taught to develop a communications plan for every project. The goal is to manage expectations, and the forum for doing that is through communications. Sometimes projects seem too small for the effort, but every project, task, meeting, or romantic date comes with expectations. And, when expectations aren’t met, there is disappointment.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning the construction of a mile long bridge, the opening of a new school, or a family wedding, communication problems can make your life much more difficult. So, if managing project communications is on your job description, what can you do to improve? To better manage expectations?
Think about your efforts from other peoples’ perspectives.
Let’s say that you’re dealing with a difficult client, who doesn’t read or respond to emails or calls. It’s easy to think that you can just document everything, to protect yourself. But that may not get your bills paid.
Put yourself in the shoes of the people who are going to receive the communication. What will their questions be? Answer those questions. Try doing the recipient a favor by raising the questions that he or she may be too busy to consider.
Recognize that over-communicating can be just as bad as under-communicating.
Parenting may be the best teacher of this lesson. How many of you have seen teenagers stop paying attention? When you need to communicate an important message, it’s frustrating to feel like the person on the other end isn’t interested. That busy colleague, who just never finds time to respond, can drive everyone crazy. Everyone is different. Try and find that sweet spot with each personality you need to communicate with.
Allow time to deal with responses.
Sometimes I get to the end of the day and I feel like my inbox has been exploding all day long. And yet, I have accomplished nothing that was on my list.
The problem is that I sent one or more emails, communicating some change or announcement, and there were a large number of responses. I didn’t allow time in my schedule to deal with those responses. I had moved on to the next item on my agenda. But our job as communicators is not over when we push the send button. Communicating is not a one-way street. And the more emotionally laden your activity or project is, the more communications are important.
Know what form of communication works best for everyone on your team.
It’s a reality of our world that there are many ways to communicate with people. Who prefers texts to emails, and is there any logic to their preferences? Are you using a chatting tool like Slack? If you are, does that tool include clients and vendors? I don’t know about others, but my world is divided in about ten directions, on a good day. Some messages are coming from my phone, and others to my email. Then, there are the calls and visits, the buzzers and doorbells, and the knocks on the office door.
I recommend that you document the preferred method of communication for everyone on your team. There will be times when you simply need to tailor your communications to the individual if you want a response.
Understand what types of communication needs there are.
When you thought through all of the activities that are needed to accomplish your project scope, did you outline what deliverables were needed? Did you consider who would need to approve which documents? Or, who would need to be consulted, and on which issues? It may sound overwhelming to think through this for every activity. That’s why I don’t believe in breaking a project down too far. You can achieve your goal of managing expectations if you set up your big activities thoroughly. Everyone must know what is expected.
Many other project communications relate to meetings. Are you publishing an agenda that outlines the objectives, questions to be resolved, time and preparation expectations? Is there a quick way to follow up on the action items after the meeting?
Know whether it’s important to monitor the perspectives of others.
Sometimes, part of your job depends on monitoring the perspectives of others. That’s not always the case. For example, if your project is about making deep changes in an organization, you are going to have to monitor the perspectives of the employees, particularly if you have vocal leaders who may try to derail your project.
Ask yourself if the stakeholder in question has the potential to derail your project. If so, you’d better consider his/her perspective. And, if you have a stakeholder who could positively influence your project, you may want to find a way to make that happen. Do you have some sort of tracking system for recording the data on these people?
Review your written communications before you send them.
When I promised project communications made easier, you may have thought that I meant easy, simple, cheap, or less time consuming. I meant none of those things. There is nothing easy about managing project communications. But what makes everyone’s life easier is having communications that don’t raise more questions than they answer. Proof your emails and texts. Think through the message that you plan to leave on the voice mail before you make the call.
Project management is more of an art than a science. We all say and do the wrong things at times. The hope is that we learn something from those mistakes. And, we need to forgive others when they say or do the wrong thing. We are all individuals, with different needs, preferences, opinions, and habits. What works for some, will not work for all. What works for one, will not work for another.
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