THE BEST ADVICE I’VE HAD, AND THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE.
A satirical look at the challenges of project and change management communications
Satire is a genre of the visual, literary, and performing arts, usually in the form of fiction and less frequently non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, often with the intent of shaming or exposing the perceived flaws of individuals, corporations, government, or society itself into improvement
When it comes to communications, meetings and documentation here is the advice I have been given….
Try not to use emails, instead post documents on Sharepoint, Teams or other platform so that everyone sees the same document and can pull information when they need it rather than have lots of emails pushed upon them. However, try to avoid people having to lookup or login to find information. People are too busy to do that, but one tool everyone uses is email or chat so that it the best way to engage people.
Try to avoid sending too many chat or email messages, perhaps a weekly update rather than lots of separate messages. However, try to keep each email short, perhaps one subject per email rather than dealing with too many things that might confuse. Better to have 3 short emails on different points than one long one, covering many issues.
Don’t send emails. Meet people. You’ll have far more success if you go and talk to someone. However people are busy and very often a problem can be fixed in a quick email rather than calling meeting. People are busy, don’t waste their time unnecessarily if an email will do.
Do not cc people on emails. If there is an action for them add them to the top-line recipients otherwise do not include them in the email. However when using email, be clear who is expected to act and what are they expected to do, and importantly make sure other relevant stakeholders are kept informed for the purposes of communication, coordination, collaboration and consensus. If a someone is being asked to do something that affects another stakeholder you really should alert that stakeholder, by copying them in on the information.
Try to avoid bureaucracy, too much paperwork, documentation, agendas and minutes. People don’t have the time or interest to read them. Instead, have face to face conversations or meetings which are better for communication and engagement. But, make sure things are written down, have a structure to meeting and clarity on decisions and actions.
Avoid meeting minutes that are simply a transcription of what was said, but instead focus on the purpose, key points, decisions and actions. Be clear about the output and outcome of the meeting. However, stick only to what was actually said, don’t try to summarise, draw conclusions, include key facts or outline next steps but instead only what was actually said, everything else just confuses people.
Often documenting business requirements, specifications, design decisions actually takes more time than the product they describe or define. Try to avoid time wasted on such things but get on with the task. However it is critical to delivery of the right product at the right price to be clear on wants, needs, expectations, costs quality and success criteria which should be written down as a baseline against which to measure success or future change. Time spent on this is seldom wasted.
Book meetings in advance so people have a focus, target or milestones to be ready for that meeting. But try an avoid having meetings booked too far in advance, indeed often it is better to wait for something to be complete and ready and then call the meeting, so as to avoid wasting people’s time with pre-arrange meetings and milestones for which they are unprepared.
It is really important to have fixed, routine meetings for governance, to review plans, problems, progress and funding. However, it does not always make sense to have the meetings at a regular interval and it may be better to delay them until there is good news or a significant milestone to report.
Do not circulate documents before meetings or have long agendas, people don’t have the time to read them. Instead, set-up the meeting and discuss the issues in the meeting with everyone there. To make most effective use of people’s time and ensure they understand the issues, have had the chance to consult and are ready to make a decision make sure you have given them all the information that they need at least a couple of days in advance of the meeting.
If you want to engage people in critical decisions you must invite them to a meeting and given them an opportunity to express their views. The path to getting things done starts with discussion, definition, decision and documentation to delivery and done. However debate isn’t helpful and it is often better to present a recommendation and seek comment, perhaps via email, than use people’s time in a discussion which may provoke more questions than answers.
*On managing and monitoring…
If people are falling behind because they are busy or stressed, put more pressure on them to perform. They must be held accountable, they must deliver. Failure is not an option. Delay is not acceptable. However, try to understand that people are doing the best that they can and demanding more of them doesn’t help, indeed it damages the relationship which is counter-productive to getting things done.
If acting as a project manager try to manage the process not the product. Leave the experts to develop the artefacts. The project manager role is to provide the resources, direction, support to get things done not to be the author or manufacturer of every item. However, it is important to be active and engaged with the problem, to own it and take responsibility for it, the content, quality, scope and delivery of it.
Keep your sponsors and stakeholders informed of plans, problems, progress and performance against agreed measures, like budget. Do not store-up issues and surprise them, but instead communicate succinctly and frequently. However, senior people are often very busy and telling them something is or may be late, expensive, or defective is simply negative and annoying. Instead own and manage the problem, be positive, and report at a future date.
Do not micromanage partners, suppliers, vendors or third-parties with details of deliverables and dates. They know what they need to do, so simply leave them to get on with their task. They are, after all, the experts in their product or service and will know best how and when to deliver this. However, it is your responsibility to ensure everything is done on-time, on-budget, to-specification with low-risk and high-communication. You must ensure everyone understands, agrees and sticks to the plan and delivers accordingly.
There is a lot of wisdom in this advice and if you follow it you will be well served.