In the Everyday Project Management book, the author Jeff Davidson provides interesting and important details about reporting in project management and how the good project manager needs to respond, react and do their daily work in an efficient way. This is an amazing book and we recommend it to everyone in the project management field.
In this chapter, you learn about potential difficulties in reporting your results, how to effectively use communication tools and techniques, the value of giving credit to your team, and the importance of assuming any blame alone.
Communications Channels of the Project manager
In this age of sophisticated software (as described in the previous chapter), not to mention the web, smart phones, and whatever else becomes available, it should be easier than before to communicate your progress as you proceed on your project. Yet, for some project managers the experience is the opposite.
The increasing number of communication vehicles have resulted in making it more difficult to capture the time and attention of those to whom you need to report, even when they are waiting for your report! Does this seem like a paradox?
Many communication vehicles mustered considerable impact, for a while, following their widespread acceptance in the marketplace. Thirty to 40 years ago, it was a big deal to receive a FedEx package. Today, when express packages from any vendor arrive, sometimes they merely add to the burden of what you’ve already received that morning via other information and communication vehicles.
At least several times during the week, many people in the workforce feel inundated by too much information—if not each day and much of the time. Are you among them? Think back to yesteryear, when today’s communication devices were not available. How did the typical project manager convey reports to his or her boss? Chances are the two worked literally within shouting distance of each other.
Is it any wonder, then, that project managers have a more difficult time reporting results at scheduled intervals, not to mention at random times, throughout the course of their projects? The ability to e-mail a skillfully developed WBS, Gantt chart, or CPM chart offers no guarantee that the recipient will review them as scheduled—or at all!
Starting with the least technical, least involved method of communication—one person talking to another—let’s proceed through widely available communication options at your disposal, with an eye on how to employ them to your best advantage.
Project management requires in-Person communications
For scheduled meetings where you have to report your progress, the key word is preparation. Align your ducks. Have your charts completed, assemble your notes in order, and devise bullet points of what you want to present. The person to whom you are reporting is ultra busy. This project could be one of many items or concerns that he or she needs to monitor.
If your face-to-face report is to a committee, preparation becomes even more important. Committees are more critical and less accommodating than a single person. If you’re using presentation software, restrain yourself! It’s too easy to go on and on, showing slide after slide in brilliant color, with words that shake and sounds that go boom. Such features extend the length of your presentation and tend to take you off the mark of what you need to be reporting:
◾ If you have a video to present, make it six minutes or less. Three minutes or less would not be too short, depending on your project, your current progress, to whom you report, and other dynamics of your organization and the situation. Brevity is the soul of wit when it comes to making an audiovisual presentation!
◾ Whether you’re using a flip chart, wall chart, chalk board, white board, or presentation hardware, prepare in advance. For flip charts and wallboards, map out and complete what you can before the presentation begins.
◾ For white boards and other media that you add to on the run, work from comprehensive notes and schematics prepared in advance so that you don’t meander.
Informal Person-to-Person Meetings with the project manager, directors, and stakeholders
For informal, person-to-person meetings, employ the same guidelines. Be brief, be concise, and be gone! Catch people when they are seated, when they can click a mouse, take notes, or staple something together. When someone is standing, follow-up and feedback activities aren’t nearly as viable unless they have their cell phone out and are ready to record or take notes.
Don’t collar anyone in the lunchroom, the hallway, the lavatory, or anywhere else unless you’ve established prior protocols for such interaction.
If you’re asked to informally say a few words in a group meeting, stand and face the entire group while they are sitting. Independent of what you say, standing will convey more authority. Again, be as concise and brief as practical. Be open to insights and constructive criticism. Thank the group for their attention and depart gracefully.
Perhaps your project responsibilities include phoning your boss several times a day, once daily, several times a week, once weekly, or only occasionally. Regardless, seek to schedule your key phone calls; otherwise, you’re likely to end up with voice mail, a result that can be frustrating if you need an interactive conversation then and there. As you have experienced, the likelihood of actually reaching someone you have called at random is declining.
With luck, you will each respect each other’s needs to be not unduly interrupted during the day. Texting is useful in situations where immediate feedback is crucial but a phone call might be impractical.
If you happen to end up with voice mail and talking to a machine, here are some guidelines for being effective in that circumstance:
◾ Aim for a message between 35 and 55 seconds long. Too short, and the other party is likely to discount the importance of your message—unless, of course, it’s something like “Leave the building! It’s about to blow!”
◾ Speak precisely, whereas others often speak hurriedly. If you know that you’ve reached a landline, offer your phone number at a speed that actually can be written down by the respondent on the first listening. A good way to approach this is to pretend that you’re writing your phone number in the air with your finger as you announce it over the phone.
◾ Offer something compelling in your message. Saying, “Please call me back,” is not nearly as effective as, “We need your answer on how to handle the extra shipment.”
If you think a face-to-face report or a phone conversation is warranted, you’re probably right. Follow through. If you need a “Yes” or “No” answer to a project-related question and have leeway as to when you might receive the answer, e-mail is a great tool. If you need to easily transmit a report or data to others waiting for it, as you know, e-mail can also be highly convenient.
Here is a brief roster of appropriate project reporting uses of e-mail:
◾ Approval or disapproval
◾ Forwarding vital information to appropriate parties
◾ Data, charts, summaries, estimates, and outlines requested by recipients
At times e-mail can be inappropriate for reporting purposes, such as conveying:
◾ Outlandish, highly novel, or earthshaking ideas
◾ Items requiring major discussion, clarification, or delicacy
◾ Emotionally charged information
◾ A hard copy paper trail is necessary or helpful
Dr. Jaclyn Kostner, an expert on e-communications, says that e-mail is better than voice mail when
◾ A written record is needed.
◾ The team’s normal business hours in each location are not a match.
◾ You’ve been unable to reach the person interactively, but know the person needs the details.
◾ Language is a barrier. In multilingual teams, written words are frequently easier to understand than spoken ones, especially when accents are heavy or language skills are less than fluent.
Conversely, leave a voice mail or answering machine message when
◾ The sound of your voice is key to understanding your message.
◾ The recipient is mobile. In that case, voice mail and texts are easier to access than e-mail.
◾ Your message is urgent.
The project manager needs memos and informal notes
These days, a hard-copy note sometimes commands more attention than texting, voice mail, and e-mail. Don’t underestimate the impact of a handwritten, brief, friendly note such as, “Making good progress on Task 2, anticipate completion by tomorrow afternoon and smooth transition to start Task 3.”
If you choose to write by hand, use your best handwriting. It is of no value if your handwriting looks like a flea fell into an inkwell, climbed out, and then staggered across the page before dying. Poor penmanship can cost businesses millions of dollars as a result of misunderstandings, disconnections, rewrites, and revisions.
Formally Composed Documents
Whether you type and then print a letter to be hand-delivered, sent by fax (some places still use fax), sent by mail, or delivered by courier, proofread your own document. Proofread especially if the document is a deliverable. The document likely will make the rounds and eventually will be viewed by stakeholders. Any typo or grammatical error that you haven’t corrected, even if tiny and not crucial to the overall understanding of the document, tends to diminish your status.
As with person-to-person meetings, keep your document focused—short is better than long, and concise is better than rambling. Offer all your contact information on any document that you submit to project stakeholders, including your name, address, phone, e-mail, cell phone, and whatever other electronic leashes ensnare you.
Teleconferencing could occur between you, your project staff, and those to whom you are reporting, or it could be you alone reporting to others. Teleconferences often are conducted in conjunction with online presentation materials. For example, the committee hearing your report can follow your slide show in the sequence that you’re presenting your material. This can be done by uploading your presentation to the host location in advance and simply referring to each slide as numbers 1, 2, and so forth.
Your recipients listen, you hope, on some type of commercial speakerphone. Hence, your words need to be as clear and succinct as you can offer. Slow your pace a bit and ensure that words and sentences have clear endings. Some words sometimes are not clear; some words on speakerphone, despite the claims of manufacturers, seem to sound clipped. Even sophisticated speakerphones designed for top executives at teleconferences might have shortcomings. A small degree of channel noise might be evident, though this is diminishing as newer and newer models appear.
As you likely know, a variety of Internet vendors such GoToMeeting, Zoom Video Webinar, or Webex can assist in facilitating the transaction in real time. Whichever way you proceed, don’t employ your cell phone’s speakerphone capabilities. It could sound like you’re in a tin can or at the bottom of a well. Pick up the phone and speak into the receiver or use a headset, available in office supply stores. Have your notes sequentially laid out in front of you, to offer a logical, easy-to-understand telephonic presentation.
Be prepared for the same round of observations, insights, and criticisms that you might experience in person. Teleconferencing participants are less likely to speak up than they would be in person, but the potential is still there.
Depending on the dynamics of your situation, you might be able to fulfill the formal aspects of your reporting requirements via web pages and certainly using the communication and data-sharing capabilities built into the various PM software programs. The watchword here is effectiveness. Don’t splash lavish colors plus audio and visual effects onto a presentation that distracts from your overall message rather than enhances it.
The beauty of big computer screens on office desks is that the charts and slides that you send will look as magnificent on their end as they are on yours.
Oh, Them Golden Bullets
Could you possibly overdo it when it comes to disseminating messages, data, and information? In Project Management for the 21st Century, authors Bennett Lientz and Kathryn Rea observe that “messages are golden bullets—you use them sparingly.” Some project managers overcommunicate. They spend too much time with verbiage and too little time addressing the issue at hand. Before preparing a report or delivering a presentation to any project stakeholders, consider the following:
◾ Will the information have strong impact, and what will be its aftereffects? Will someone misinterpret what you have offered? Have you been as clear as you can be?
◾ Contemplate in advance who receives your message: both those present when you first delivered it, and anyone else who will encounter it later.
◾ To the degree that you have leverage, decide on the best medium to deliver your message and the best timing.
◾ Stick within established boundaries. If your report is supposed to be three pages or less, keep it to three. If it is supposed to be delivered via attachment, make it happen. If it is supposed to be free of graphics, keep it free of graphics.
◾ Seek feedback. What value is it to you if you deliver a report and don’t receive a timely response? You might head in a slightly different direction because you didn’t attain the needed input in a reasonably timely manner.
Incorporate the Thoughts of Others
It is often to your advantage to emphasize “we,” not “me.” When preparing a report to others, either in person or via cyberspace, in real time or delayed, if practical incorporate others’ opinions and ideas into what you’re doing. For example, you could say,“As José suggested to us the other day, we chose to proceed with XYZ. This turned out well for all involved.”
If practical, relate within your report how you are progressing and how your work might benefit the organization as a whole. Accent the milestones that you’ve achieved and the deliverables you’ve offered, while not going overboard. Share the credit and praise for a job well done, with as many people as you can. Bring credit to your team even if you did the brunt of the work. Upper management tends to know what’s going on regardless. The upshot is that you’ll look like a team player; someone worthy of promotion.
Conversely, accept blame for what didn’t go so well without casting aspersions. You will appear to be a “stand-up” guy or gal, and people tend to have an unvoiced appreciation for this.
Be honest when it comes to addressing your own performance. Some leeway is permissible for tooting your own horn, if it is an accurate toot. No one likes a braggart or a report filled with fluff. No one likes to be deceived. Stay on the up-and-up, and develop your reputation as a project manager with integrity.
◾ The increasing number of communication options can actually make it more difficult to grab the attention of those with whom you correspond and those to whom you must report.
◾ For scheduled presentations of any variety, the key word is preparation.
◾ A hard-copy note can generate more notice these days than voice mail or e-mail.
◾ Incorporate the words of others and give credit to the group, but personally accept blame.
◾ Be entirely honest when it comes to addressing your own performance.
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