Ways to Overcome Challenges

Ways to Overcome Challenges

So what can a project manager do to overcome the challenges discussed above? Plenty.

Establish an Integrated Communication Infrastructure Early

As emphasized repeatedly, good communication does not just happen. Project managers must orchestrate it via a communication infrastructure. A communication infrastructure consists of concepts, tools, and techniques for ensuring that information is transferred both efficiently and effectively.

Project managers, if they expect efficient and effective communication to occur throughout a project life cycle, must establish a communication infrastructure as early as possible. A good approach to do that is to develop a communication plan.

A communication plan identifies the essential elements to establish and maintain communication. At a minimum, it should address the senders and receivers of messages, the desired level and format of the contents, when to generate messages, where to deliver the messages, why the need to develop messages, and how to deliver the messages.

Under no circumstances, of course, should project managers develop a communication plan in a void. They should meet with stakeholders to identify the requirements. They should not think that developing the plan is one-time affair; they need to constantly refine and update the plan to adapt to changing circumstances.

The communication plan is, however, only one aspect of establishing a communication infrastructure. The other side is establishing appropriate measures to ensure implementation of the plan.

Identifying the right communication network is an important act. There are basically a handful of network patterns. These include the circle, "Y," wheel, chain, and star. Adopting the design depends on how project managers hope to manage the flow of communication on their projects. Increasingly, the trend appears to have a project manager be more of a broker and facilitator, e.g., in the star network, and less of a controller in a chain network.

Also, project managers should consider how to handle the direction of communication. For example, how should they handle upward communication? Downward communication? Lateral communication? Formally or informally?

Project managers need to establish ground rules for employing different means of communication. These rules may or may not be included in the communication plan but are typically developed as procedures that support and implement it. The ground rules might include conducting meetings, preparing e-mail, decision-making approaches, and resolving conflict. The key is to address the ground rules early to limit problems that may appear later in the project life cycle.

Another important tool is the project repository. This repository, essentially a database, allows people access to information, ideally at the right place, time, and format. It does that by providing a convenient location to collect and disseminate information among all stakeholders.

Using automated tools, when compatible, allows the establishment of such a repository. This repository, of course, must be well planned from design and update perspectives. Once in place, of course, it must be continuously populated to ensure people can access what they need.

In addition to the repository is the development and implementation of a project web site. The web site can provide many advantages, e.g., accessing and disseminating information, giving considerable visibility to projects, allowing for ongoing update. Contents of a project web site can include schedules, action items, statistics, minutes, and forms.

The project site must be updated continuously. Failure to do so lessens its usefulness to stakeholders. It is important, therefore, to have someone on projects to serve as the web master for design and content.

A very important caveat: Neither the repository nor the web site should be developed alone. Project managers should involve stakeholders, ensuring ownership and enabling projects to provide a useful tool.

Finally, project managers need to look at the flow of information to all the stakeholders throughout the project life cycle. Indeed, the flow of information will have a very important influence on determining and designing the communication network, repository, and web site. Because information is the lifeblood of most projects, project managers need to determine its flow. They must consider the dependencies of information as it flows throughout their projects. By doing so, people will know what critical information feeds which subsequent tasks and so on. [25]

Understand an Audience's Information Requirements and Tailor Accordingly

While developing and implementing a communication infrastructure, project managers should address this issue. However, some important insights are necessary.

One major insight is to recognize that a good communicator has two main goals: to make positive contact with an audience and to be effective. Positive contact is influencing the recipient of the message. Hersey and Blanchard define communication as conveying a message that is easily understandable and acceptable. [26] Being effective is getting the desired response from a message. The best way to achieve both is to ensure that what is sent to the audience is aligned with the needs of the sender and recipient.

Knowing the requirements of an audience allows greater alignment because it helps to overcome some barriers that can easily interfere with communication. A major barrier is a person's paradigm. By knowing that paradigm, senders can couch their messages to achieve the desired level affect and effect.

To best serve an audience, project managers can identify needs across many levels. One level consists of needs common across all stakeholders. Another level has needs unique to a particular group , e.g., management or team members . Project managers need to identify specific needs and tailor their messages to each one.

Regardless of level, however, project managers must ask the fundamental questions and receive answers from the appropriate stakeholders. These questions include: What information does the stakeholder need? At what level of detail? In what format? How frequent? Over what medium? How should the information be protected e.g., confidential or proprietary? Does the stakeholder wish advance notification if there is bad news to communicate? These and other questions apply to reports and presentations.

There is, however, another point. Defining requirements is not just for hard copy documents. There are also specific audience needs at meetings. At certain types of meetings, some stakeholders will have different needs from others. For example, team members will likely have different needs than senior management at status collection meetings. Project managers must identify those needs and adapt accordingly.

Getting to know the audience's requirements makes very good sense although it is rarely done. People think it is a matter of just pumping out reports from project management software; such an approach can result in lead times, lags in information delivery, and useless detail. Defining the requirements early, however, reduces the chance of such problems and leads to less conflict throughout a project's life cycle.

Conflict resulting from poor audience analysis can be especially difficult for projects spanning different cultures. The opportunities for barriers can grow. Most of the challenges result from cultural and language barriers. For example, some messages may be more appropriate to send to some stakeholders than others. Even the use of words and body language can influence receptivity of a message. A major important step to preventing such barriers is to define audience requirements, laying the groundwork for effective communication.

Adopt a Communication Approach That Is Appropriate to a Situation

Communication requires exercising sound judgment when applying an approach or tool and sending the message. Making a sound judgment is, of course, a prime responsibility of project managers. Yet, few project managers exercise sound judgment when communicating to stakeholders. For example, many project managers broadcast messages when it might be wiser to do so in a more discreet manner. Project managers might use technology, e.g., e-mail, when a more effective approach to build rapport would be one-on-one meetings to discuss critical issues.

The medium is the message, to quote Marshall McLuhan; however, in the project environment so is the content. Project managers must constantly determine which tool, technique, and message is most appropriate.

Project managers must consider many factors: the sensitivity of the content, need to control it, people who need to know, criticality of contents, and appearance. In some cases, words are more appropriate than graphics and vice versa.

The approach towards communication depends, to some extent, on the recipient. In Successful Meetings magazine, Merna Skinner identifies four communicator types. The Director, according to Skinner, is someone who processes information rapidly and likes to get to the point. The Free Spirit is the person who has to see the picture and likes to identify various alternatives. The Humanist is someone who is a social animal who strives to satisfy everyone's needs. The Historian is detail oriented, preferring structure and precision. Each one seeks to present and process information in a certain way. [27]

Project managers must also make a decision about communicating in regards to time and place. In PM Network , Carl Singer identifies four communication modes based on time and place. For the same time and place, face-to-face meetings will likely work best. For a different time and place, e-mail and repositories may be better. For a different time and same place, a control, or war, room might be the best way to communicate. For the same time but different place, communication via e-mail might work. [28]

Project managers often judge whether to use formal or informal communication. Formal communication works best when task- related issues need to be communicated in one direction, e.g., from project manager to team member or from project manager to senior management. Informal communication works best when dealing with social issues, e.g., conflict among team members, and tends to be multidirectional, e.g., laterally and up and down the chain of command. [29]

Project managers should use judgment when communicating. The goal is not to retreat to a method to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Instead, project managers should take a flexible approach even if it feels uncomfortable. Despite the increasing role of technology in communication, the personal touch still seems to have great influence, particularly at the beginning of a project. In PM Network , Larraine Segil says that what she calls "enhanced communication" can help a team to maintain focus on what is important while at the same time maintain commitment. Enhanced communication can augment the effectiveness of other means of communication, e.g., teleconferencing and e-mail. [30]

Aggressively Remove Barriers to Communication

Much has already been said about these barriers. Plenty exist and few project managers can remove or overcome them. It is important, however, that project managers make a concerted effort to do so when communicating information is the lifeblood of projects. Tarnish the communication and the results are often tarnished as well.

Project managers need to be vigilant about ensuring that communication flows unimpeded among stakeholders. If a barrier exists, they should remove it quickly to ensure messages are received and have the desired affect and effect.

After removing barriers, the work of project managers is not over. It only begins. They must also remain attuned to how well communication occurs. The secret is to be aware of the signals from stakeholders.

There are many indicators that barriers to communication exist. Not only may the messages and information contained be dated, for example, but they may also possess incomplete or inaccurate contents. Also, the message and the contents may be unclear, lengthy, convoluted, and lack meaning.

The tragedy is that some project managers make very little effort to remove or overcome such barriers to communication. Instead, they continually think and behave in a way that inevitably leads to negative conflict, building walls rather than bridges among people. The presence of negative conflict, if mishandled, can create many barriers. This conflict can occur on an interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup level.

Project managers can take one of four approaches towards resolving negative conflict that results from poor communication. They can avoid doing anything about it; however, that approach does nothing to remove the conflict; communication barriers remain. They can take a competitive Win-Lose approach; again, that does nothing to remove conflict and may actually augment it. They can seek compromise, finding a middle ground. While compromise may reduce or eliminate negative conflict, it can easily arise once again if one party perceives the other as breaching it or gaining an advantage. They accommodate the other party but, like compromise, may only temporarily soften the conflict; it has the potential to resurface, causing even bigger barriers to communication later. Finally, and most effectively, they can deal with conflict in a collaborative manner, meaning both parties address an issue that results in a Win-Win situation. Communication often improves immediately and lasts.

Just the opposite of conflict can occur that can inhibit meaningful communication ” Groupthink, which is intense peer pressure that does not allow for dissent. Consequences are severe, including an unrealistic appraisal of situations as well as limited alternatives to driving decision making. In an effort to maintain open communication, project managers must ensure that Groupthink does not inhibit communication. They can do that by conducting brainstorming, having one-on-one sessions, and encouraging the free exchange of ideas.

Although communicating is a responsibility of all stakeholders, the reality is that project managers have the bigger share of it. They are the ones who will be ultimately responsible for achieving results. They have the onus and responsibility, therefore, to engender and sustain open communication with other people.

Take a Nonlinear Approach to Communication

Typically, many project managers think that communication flows down to the team and up to stakeholders like senior management. In a highly technological environment, the communication is more like a network with channels of communication flowing in all directions. This complex array of channels is due to the advent of digital technologies, which allows stakeholders to communicate in all directions. It is not uncommon, for example, for a team member to communicate directly with a senior manager about an issue or request information. In yesteryear, such communication was rare, not today.

The key is for project managers to understand and accept this reality, but few do so. Instead, many try to control the content and destination of messages. However, technology weakens such an endeavor. Instead, they should concentrate on setting guidelines on what to communicate under specific conditions using certain technologies. The point is that the content and delivery mode of messages can have a major impact.

An effective way to ensure that team members will follow guidelines is to have them participate in setting them and then the project manager gives visibility to inculcate ownership and accountability for all messages sent.

Listen More and Talk Less

Just about all the thinkers on communication make this point. And just about all thinkers on leadership agree. Unfortunately, few people follow this advice, reflected in the fact that it is one of the top five leadership failures. [31] This failure to listen is rampant among all levels of the chain of command, from team members up to the highest positions in the corporate hierarchy, including projects.

By listening more, project managers become better communicators for several reasons. Listening enables them to learn more about issues and problems. If done correctly, they can suspend judgment, thereby providing the ability and capability to acquire an objective viewpoint. It also allows them to identify and focus on the main issues of conversations. The mere act of listening, not hearing, helps them to build closer, meaningful relationships. Finally, with a more objective viewpoint and focus on main issues, they can deal with conflict, particularly negative conflict, more appropriately.

Listening, of course, deals with more than hearing. It also requires involving the person speaking, both in what and how something is said. What is being said pertains to content, e.g., the choice of words and phraseology . How something is said relates to the physiological behavior of a speaker, e.g., body language and inflection . Project managers must attune themselves to both to ensure knowledge of content and meaning.

To have a worthwhile listening experience, project managers should be aware of and practice different types of listening.

Active listening is doing so eagerly and consists of two parts . Part one is empathic listening, doing so with the purpose of understanding from a speaker's perspective, such as asking probing questions. Part two is reflective listening, exhibited behavior that reflects understanding of what was said, such as paraphrasing and expressing similar feelings. The opposite of active listening, of course, is passive listening, that is, not providing any feedback to the speaker.

When performing active listening, good practices for project managers include: be patient and do not interrupt, be attentive to the speaker, be nonjudgmental about what is said, focus on the speaker and the main issues, be attuned to verbal and nonverbal cues, and be considerate of both content and feelings of a speaker.

Add Passion to Communication

A major challenge in business in general and project management in particular is the overemphasis on "facts and data" and "logic." The basic premise is that by emphasizing the two, action is inevitable. The reality is that facts and data, along with logic, are justifications for action; they do not necessarily encourage people to act. What gets people to act is an emotional involvement in the outcome depicted through facts, data, and logic.

To be effective, therefore, communication must involve the emotional side of people. "How" as well as "What" is being communicated is as important for a message. As William Cohen notes in The Art of the Leader , the way a message is conveyed is as important as its contents. He encourages communicating a message in a manner that enlivens people. [32]

Quantity may not be important. Just a few words or messages that touch the emotional side can have more of an impact than messages filled with pages of facts and data that most people will not bother to absorb . The degree of passion put into the communication, of course, depends on many variables including culture, mores, history, distance, delivery mode, personal style, interpersonal relationships, audience, and overall context. All of these variables require judgment by project managers to determine the degree of passion to include in their communication.

Many project managers associate passion with giving a speech. Yet, they can also employ passion to get people to act on an issue, solve a problem, or complete their tasks. The bottom line is action, not compiling facts and data and doing long exercises of logical gymnastics.

An interesting way to generate passion in messages, particularly oral ones, is for leaders to apply storytelling to give meaning behind facts, data, and logic. Peter Giuliano stresses the need to bring "life" to presentations. The way to do so is through storytelling, which puts the content into context. He recommends that stories should be simple, have some mystique , be memorable, and pointed." [33]

Another great way to generate emotion is to give a "positive spin" to facts and data. While important to even acknowledge and communicate that facts and data may paint a negative picture, project managers will find it better to use a positive context to avoid discouraging people. For example, a schedule slide is often viewed as negative; however, it can also be postured as being positive for several reasons, e.g., an opportunity to improve performance on some tasks. It is how project managers present such facts and data that will determine emotional acceptance and the actions taken.

Keep Communication Ongoing

Good communication is something that project managers must continually nurture throughout the life cycle of projects. Without active involvement by the project managers, communication channels can quickly clog and filter or stop message flow. Communication entropy can easily arise.

Project managers, therefore, must continuously apply the principles and practices of good communication, as described above, they must also endeavor to ensure that continuous feedback occurs and that it contains positive and negative messages. More often than not, project managers will have to take the initiative to obtain that feedback. Feedback can be formal or informal, written or oral. It can also have a regular or ad hoc frequency or both. Whatever the form or frequency, feedback must contain the necessary information to satisfy its purpose.

Project managers can obtain feedback through all the typical avenues of communication, e.g., meetings, reports, one-on-one sessions. Naturally, they also must be aware of the barriers to communication by maintaining awareness of their existence and taking a proactive approach to overcome or eliminate them.

A major problem that hinders the communication effectiveness of many project managers is the tendency to use selective hearing, that is, hearing only what they want to hear. Often, this sends clear signals to messengers that can only result in bias in interpreting the content of messages. Selective hearing can result in project managers making poor decisions due to filtering data or ignoring it entirely. A good approach to overcome this selective hearing is to seek feedback from multiple sources and "play back" the messages to verify what was heard . Both approaches are excellent ways to avoid the negative impacts of selective hearing. Project managers should hear what they need to hear and not what they want to hear.

Emphasize Quality Over Quantity of Information

A major theme of this chapter is that more is not necessarily better when communicating. Too much can lead to overload for the recipient and cause oversight of important contents within a message. However, the amount of information is just one characteristic. There are also the qualitative characteristics to consider.

Timeliness is an important characteristic. Information delivered to stakeholders must be delivered in the right format at the right level of detail at the right moment to make the right decisions. Information that arrives too late is as much use as not receiving any information.

The integrity of the information is also important. Are the data contained in the message accurate? Is it "dirty," that is, is the validity of the data tarnished in some way, e.g., mixture of correct and incorrect data? Are the data cryptic, that is, not very understandable to the people receiving the message? Are they ambiguous in any way? Bad data in messages may result in making bad decisions that, in turn , means taking the wrong action to deal with a situation.

The key for project managers is to ensure that the content of the data satisfies qualitative requirements by establishing a process to collect data up front, turn it into information, and distribute it to the right audiences. At the end of the process is a product: communication. The quality of the result reflects the quality of the process producing it. [34]

It would be erroneous to think, however, that the quality of information is simply putting it in a message. To be of value, data must be correct at the point of origin. A process should emphasize accuracy, precision, timeliness, completeness, and consistency if content is to be of value to an audience. Too frequently, "bad data" are mixed with "good data," creating a fruit salad of "apples and oranges." This circumstance can lead to confusion, frustration, and loss of credibility by the recipient, with the message and its creator. Project managers, therefore, must establish a reliable process to have effective communication.

A process should go beyond defining the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a communication plan. It should also ensure that the scrubbing of data occurs at the point of origin. Project managers must, therefore, recognize early some of the challenges for collecting and processing data, e.g., receiving data from multiple sources with different values or introducing bias during the data collection. It is only through dealing with data at the point of origin that project managers can avoid the challenges of data scrubbing; converting data into information; and incorporating it in a message, e.g., a report.

Apply Good Communication Skills and Techniques

This application happens not just at the beginning of a project but throughout its life cycle. It also applies whether or not application occurs on an interpersonal level, during presentations at meetings.

Project managers need, therefore, to be cognizant of basic communication skills and techniques, to include defining the goal of a message, determining the audience, providing a logical and emotional aspect to it, selecting the most appropriate medium, and conducting follow-up to determine if the desired response occurred. Above all, project managers must recognize that the responsibility for establishing and maintaining an effective communication process rests with them.

[25] Stephen Denker, Hugh McLaughlin, Donald Steward, and Tyson Browning, Information-driven project management, PM Network , p. 50, September 2001.

[26] Paul Hersey and Kenneth H. Blanchard, Management of Organizational Behavior , 6th ed., Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1993, p. 325.

[27] Merna L. Skinner, So, talk to me, Successful Meetings , pp. 87 “88, November 2000.

[28] Carl A. Singer, Leveraging a worldwide project team, PM Network , p. 37, April 2001.

[29] Nancy Mercurio, Effective communication: getting your message across in simple terms, Federal Training Network (presentation), 2000.

[30] Larraine Segil, Global work teams : a cultural perspective, PM Network , p. 29, March 1999.

[31] Why leaders fail, Industry Week , p. 15, March 2002.

[32] William A. Cohen, The Art of the Leader , Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1990, p. 160.

[33] Peter Giuliano, Successful methods , Successful Meetings , pp. 64 “65, July 2000.

[34] Yair Wang and Richard Y. Wang, Anchoring data quality dimensions in ontological foundations, Communications of the ACM , p. 87, November 1996.

Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 169

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