It’s that time of year when many of us step back a bit to enjoy our families, donate to charities, enjoy our traditions, and do a little planning for the next year. In celebration of the family, I’m continuing my blogging efforts on what I’ve learned about project management from parenting.
Recently, I wrote a blog on how talking improves project collaboration. As a parent in a large family, I can attest to the fact that while some millennials may enjoy online communications, they aren’t always the best choice. Here are four lessons learned about communicating on projects.
Sitting around a table and solving problems as a group provides better solutions, and is often more fun.
One year, we returned from vacationing in Costa Rica and I was frustrated because I needed a coffee table. Our children ranged in age from about 3 to 14. I took the four younger ones to breakfast one morning and we talked about my desire for a coffee table. After many, many suggestions and revisions of suggestions, we decided to hire an artist to create a simple table (which her father made for us) and paint it with our favorite animals from our trip, all playing musical instruments. Each child got to pick his or her favorite animal playing the instruments that delighted him or her. The picture above is a picture of that table, and it has been a conversation piece for 20 years.
Online chatting can be a very valuable tool, but not when you are trying to solve a big problem. There are two reasons. One is that the people are often distracted by other matters and not fully focused on the problem at hand. The other is the temptation to roll with the first suggestion instead of seeking out better solutions. Project teams that develop camaraderie are more effective.
Face-to-face conversation is still the best way to plan a project.
Planning a project by typing back and forth reminds me of planning your son’s prom night by talking to him through a locked door. You can’t see his face, what he’s doing, who else might be in the room with him egging him on, or any other distractions behind the door that he may be concealing from you.
I’m amazed that so many project management tools market the ease of using online communications to get a project done. Sometimes I think I’m the only project management software developer promoting the idea of talking.
While there are certain aspects of planning that can be done through online chats, the biggest gains occur in well-structured meetings. In a meeting you can argue, debate and watch people’s body language; you can wrestle with how to best accomplish the project objectives.
People don’t always hear what was said. Or read what was written.
When one of my girls was about six, we received the notice from her school that head lice had been spotted. When my husband walked into her room to wake her the next morning, he bellowed, in a way that only he can do: Sarah… Do you have head lice? She woke up, rather startled, wiped her sleepy eyes, and thinking that she had been asked about head lights, she said, rather meekly… Dad, I don’t even have a car. (Maybe you had to be there to appreciate this story.)
The fact is that communications are everything on a project. From documenting exactly what is needed on an activity, to knowing what kinds of updates are needed by your leadership, to knowing what your customer wants, communications are critical. One challenge with communications is ensuring that what was heard is what was meant, and that what was read was interpreted as intended. Sometimes, the overload of communications is just as bad as too little communication. Ever wasted a gazillion minutes looking for something in a massive amount of online threads?
An app is no substitute for a lap.
I sometimes frown, unknowingly, when I see parents of toddlers putting an iPad in front of them to amuse them when what the child really wants is to be cuddled. And as the child gets older, I see parents putting televisions, computers, and iPhones in front of their children when valuable time could be spent talking or reading. Technology is not a substitute for human interactions.
And as I watch more and more software developers embrace artificial intelligence as the solution for the future, I wonder how the situation will improve. As I’ve said before: people, not computers, do projects.
Not that I’m against artificial intelligence. I’ve always been fascinated by the possibilities and started writing about artificial intelligence before the Internet. Perhaps one area where artificial intelligence can help is the development of more game-like features in software, since our kids have proven that game like interfaces are more compelling and even the best of project teams will game the system.
For now though, most companies need to be solving their problems by engaging their people on projects with clear objectives, in an environment that fosters open and honest communications, develops camaraderie, and improves efficiencies.
Want to know more? Sign up for our newsletter. And if you haven’t read the NY Times piece by Sherry Turkle that talks about the research behind talking, check it out here.