Thursday, January 24, 2013

Communication - A Must for the Project Manager

Buzzword Bingo: Communication
You have said it, you have written it down, you have sent it on e-mail and posted it on the team’s web page; but, have you communicated it? Did the receivers perceive the meaning of what you are trying to convey? Were they in a position to understand it? Did it promote an attitude of positive response?  I looked up the word communication in our text’s glossary section and it says: “Sharing the right messages with the right people in a timely manner” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, 2008).

Up until its interpretation, communication is simply information; which according to Gillard and Johansen, 2003, is simply existing, static and lifeless, waiting to be interpreted and for meaning to be added to it.  Technology makes it possible to make information available through multiple means; sometimes leading project managers down equivocated path of thinking that once information has been made available it has been communicated.  Well, think again; we haven’t until the receiver has understood it, interpreted it and acted in a way which supports and advances the project.

The question then becomes, how do we effectively share the right message with the right people at the right time? I am not sure there is a single, all encompassing answer for this question.  The minute you talk about a message being perceived or interpreted you know things are complicated; as each human has the ability to perceive messages according to their own internal processes, experiences and environments in which they exist.  Having said that, here is suggestion number one: As you are communicating, keep in mind the audience, their experiences and the environment within which you are communicating.  “A proactive communicator is cognizant of environmental influences, recognizes each as an enhancer or an inhibitor, and makes proactive decisions that shape the environment impact rather than decisions that are merely reactive” (Gillard & Johansen, 2003 P.26).

The message needs to be transformed into words.  A decision needs to be made on tone, organization, style, medium, purpose and receiver’s possible reaction.  Keeping these in mind, will help the communicator determine the way in which their message will generate the desired result.   The appropriate message will take into account the receiver’s knowledge of the situation, probable attitude, general educational level, job-specific educational level, age and gender (Gillard & Johansen, 2003).

Communication throughout a project is not a onetime event. Would you agree that communication effectiveness can be measured based on the feedback it receives? I think that the wise PM, constantly gages feedback; verbal, non-verbal, attitudinal or written in order to measure the effectiveness of his/her communication and how it needs to be adjusted going forward.  

Going back to perception and interpretation, Gillard and Jhansen, 2003, mention the following barriers to be kept in mind as we embark in the communication process:

·         Word interpretation

·         Perceptions of reality

·         Attitudes and opinions

·         Nervousness

·         Emotional distractions

·         Fatigue or Illness

·         Cultural and Social Backgrounds

·         Education level

·         Gender Related

·         Leadership style and personality

 The effective communicator will recognize the above barriers and be on a constant quest to break through them.  In his video, Dr. Stolovish says that Project Managers are diplomats, not technicians.  I particularly like this thought, as it denotes the fact that not everything about the pm’s job can be learned from a project management system.  The human element; particularly along the lines of communications can make or break the career of such individual.

Now, let’s talk about my perception of the message in this week’s exercise.  I would categorize the overall message as a polite, direct request; s it has elements of both.  I think that the e-mail was perfect.  It started with empathy for the receiver’s lack of compliance, it went on to clearly state what was required and the consequences for non-compliance, asked for specific compliance date, offered an alternative solution which might make it easier for the receiver to comply and ended with an appreciation statement. 

The voicemail message, while containing the same information, was not as positively received.  Voicemail is a bit more personal than e-mail; meaning that I expected a friendlier voice and salutation: Hi Mark, this is Jane.  I know you’ve been busy ……...  Just the fact that she did not introduce herself gave me a more negative impression in this communication. 

The personal communication was the worst.  I pictured myself coming out of an all day meeting, trying to prioritize what I am going to do first, answering voicemails, e-mail, etc. and this person standing over my cubicle rambling on about how it is my fault that she is going to be late submitting her report.  There was no two way interaction; which I would expect in a face to face conversation.  My perception of that message was: I know you are busy, but I really don’t care and you better get to my stuff first.

Yes, it is all in the interpretation.  PM’s are diplomats who make their living convincing others, who have no direct reporting relationships to them, to do what they want them to do.  Methodology and reports provide the framework for doing that; but, at the end of the day communication abilities will dictate their success.


Gillard, S., & Johansen, J. (2004). Project management communication: a systems approach. Journal of Information Science, 30(1), 23-29.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stolovich, H. (2012). Project Management Concerns: Communication Strategies and Organizational Culture. Retrieved on January 21, 2013 from tab group id = 2 18;url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_2097260_1%26url%3D

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Qualifying the Opportunity - Post Mortem

A Project Management Dashboard
A year before the start of this project, this major player in the computer industry had entered into a brand new business space; providing outsourcing of technical services.  In other words, the sales force would walk in and convince corporations that they could save money by having all their IT services outsourced.  From their computer mainframes, to their personal computers and technical support; for a fixed monthly fee representing less than what they were currently spending, companies could bring in a group of experts who would run their IT operations.  At a time when savings was in the mind of every corporation, this sounded like a very promising proposition.  In fact, market share grew impressively within the first year of business; however, profit margins were so low that the outsourcing sector was operating at a loss. 

Following several studies, it became obvious where the problem was.  The sales force was promising anything the customer wanted to buy, cheaper than the competition and promising a higher level of service; this, without looking at profit margins or the company’s capability to improve the customer’s current IT environment for a lower cost.  This process of looking at a prospective business opportunity from a feasibility and profitability perspective is called opportunity qualification.  Following the opportunity qualification process yielded a decision on whether or not a particular opportunity was worth pursuing.

 It became obvious that a worldwide sales force of 3500 employees needed to be trained in opportunity qualification.  Face to face training was off the table because of the amount of students and their geographical location.  Hence, a project was launched to develop a CBT where the sales team would learn and demonstrate their ability to qualify opportunities. 

I will always be proud of this development.  As the company needed to become profitable in this new business, all the stars were aligned for a successful project.  Sponsorship was as high as it could be, resources were committed immediately, there were designers, case experts, technical writers, application development personnel, subject matter experts and of course, an excellent project manager; me!!.  The development utilized the latest available technology to create an experiential, real life, case based experience.  The learner was a character who was placed in a situation to qualify a deal and make a final decision on whether or not to move forward in pursuing it.  The training consisted of 5 modules that utilized flash for animation and character creation, real voices to simulate conversations and an electronic coach that would evaluate progress, provide feedback and analyze decisions made by the student.  The students’ progress throughout the module was evaluated and by the end of each module, the student would have to make the right decisions at least 80% of the times in order to be allowed to move to the next module.  This was definitely one of two training programs that top the list of projects I have ever managed. 

If we look at the four phases described by Greer, 2010, the four initial phases:  determining need and feasibility, creating a project plan, creating specifications for deliverables and creating deliverables, went very smooth.  None the less,  trusting the degree of sponsorship, I made a huge mistake:  I did not consider that the audience; all sales people, would be more interested in going out to sell than spending a total of at least six hours sitting in front of the computer.  Hence, the test and implement deliverables phase did not go as well as anticipated.  In fact, it put in grave danger the results of the entire project.  In this phase, we missed the mark on the accuracy and effectiveness of our implementation strategy, on the hand off of deliverables to the audience and on our ability to obtain high quality feedback on how to improve deliverables.

Ensuring that stakeholders, including learners, are ready, willing and able to receive and implement the learning solution is an important part of the success of the project.  Consulting with the project’s audience and stakeholders is recommended by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer and Sutton, 2008 as a way of identifying and overcoming related project limitations.  If given the opportunity to do it again, I would have placed communication steps in the plan that included regular communication with the audience about the intent of the program and progress being made as well as ensuring that sponsors were advertising and promoting the training during sales, team, staff and management meetings. I would have also proposed that management provide learners adequate time off the field in order to complete the training.

The end result to this project was a management directive where all sales employees were given 30 days to complete the training or else.  Moral of the story; don’t get so excited about the development that you forget about communicating with the audience you are developing for.   
Greer, M. (2010). The project managemeent Minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley