Oh My Goodness! Many Project Managers are cringing when I talk about their teams being more open and transparent and leveraging social technologies. Has everything we know about project communications changed? I think I finally understand why they worry, but let me assure you, a good communications strategy is still a key to project success, you just need to tweak it a little.
I know that it may feel like trying to manage projects with transparent and open communications is the antithesis of everything that we were ever taught as project managers about communications. Being open just feels risky (kind of like buying something off of Craig’s List and meeting the person in an abandon building).
The principles of social collaboration seem to challenge all the conventional ideas that we have as PMs for project communications. Traditional guidance on project communications tells us that one of it’s main principles, is identifying what information is to be shared, when it should be distributed, to whom, and how it should be prepared. How do you control communications in the open?
Yes, social collaboration means that the team, and maybe even the client, might have access to the non-confidential information about the project that is being worked on. But, there is a tremendous benefit to working project details out in the open. This allows the team to participate, collaborate, and react in a just-in-time way. As PMs we need to embrace the fast-moving business environment that we work in, harness the reality of the current technologies we deploy, and leverage the globalization of our project teams.
What Transparency Means
Our communications job as Project Leaders is to ensure the team and the stakeholders have current information (status) on what, where, and when. Being transparent, in the project context, means having an open and honest dialogue on the current state of your project. Many projects run behind and even fail, because teams don’t want to tell each other, or the customer, the truth about scope creep, schedule slippage, resource challenges. But, that is the reality of the project and once the team can embrace being real, all the time, in real-time, magic happens. Being transparent is not about getting positive or negative feedback on an item, it is about disseminating information quickly so that all players can digest it, discuss it, and react to it. Some examples of transparent communications are:
- Open planning sessions to discussion and gather new ideas
- Show milestones so everyone knows where you are going and can comment on their parts
- Open discussions about issues; ask the team to comment regardless of if they are part of that subteam or not (solutions come from many places)
- Show schedule and dependencies and let others own their commitments instead of being bottle necked by the PMs weekly status round-up.
- Open your status meetings and let the extended team comment. Status now becomes ubiquitous. There is no longer a need for lengthy status reports because it is up-to-date all the time. (Gee, I love this as a PM because it sure makes my reporting easier.)
Business today is very agile and the old top-down communications models don’t always work anymore. The new social technologies allow teams to provide a continuous loop of feedback and ideas at the speed never before possible. This transparent feedback loop can help a project manager, or the executives of a company, make quicker course corrections, which means better response time to customer requirements or industry changes.
Recently, I was moderating the webcast of a global panel on Social Project Management (with 4 speakers and over 700 participants) for IBM. With only 4 weeks to put it together, all the planning, scheduling details, resource needs, were coordinated through a Lotus Connections Community. Everyone knew what was going on, what was needed, who needed what, when, and even, how we did after the event. Though the panelists sat in different countries throughout the world, that caused no problems because everyone checked in and chimed it, at their convenience. Issues were handled immediately (like people dropping out, or equipment not arriving). And, except for one conference call before the event (yes, I still hang on to some old school needs like making sure people are not robots – LOL), everything was discussed, resolved, and documented in our open space. We had a 98% participation satisfaction rating. I know this wasn’t a big project example, but I wanted to give you a flavor of how it works.
Just try it on a small subproject first. Let me know how it goes.
Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.
(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)