Avoiding Communication Pitfalls

Avoiding Communication PitfallsUgh, the communication pitfall.  We’ve all fallen into them.  The question is, can you get out?  Or better still, can you avoid them next time?  Here are a few common ones:

 

  1. Our product spec change discussions happened over email, and now I can’t tell what we decided on, much less find the supporting material!
  2. I seem to get cc-ed on everything: I’m so buried in email, I can’t keep up!
  3. It feels like all my time is spent updating the schedule.  And, the estimates are practically out of date by the time I get them entered!

OK, we could come up with a much longer list, but this seems like a good start.  Let’s start at the top:

1. Our product spec change discussions happened over email, and now I can’t tell what we decided on, much less find the supporting material!

Sound familiar?  Email is so convenient, we often use it for everything, but there are many better alternatives in this case.  Whether you use a Wiki, change control documentation, decision log, online document repository, or other collaboration tool,  team members should all go to the same place to get information, and the current version should be in a can’t miss location. 

The next issue is related, but even more straightforward to address:

2. I seem to get cc-ed on everything: I’m so buried in email, I can’t keep up!

People mean well when they cc-us.  (Or, maybe they’re just trying to CYA.)  Unfortunately, just because an email has been sent doesn’t mean it has been read, especially not at the level of detail most emails are written.

Adopt this rule and lighten everyone’s load: limit the initial email to direct contributors (e.g., if you are sending a thread with questions, only include people who can answer the questions on the thread).  If someone just needs to be in the know, forward the final thread to them as an FYI with a summary at the top after the topic has been resolved. 

Better still, rely less on a broadcast/push system like email and move more toward a pull system like a Wiki or other online bulletin board.

3. It feels like all my time is spent updating the schedule.  And, the estimates are practically out of date by the time I get them entered!

Oh, the frustration!  I feel your pain.  Does your team have an online project management system?  It doesn’t need to be complicated, but I highly recommend workflow systems where task owners update the status of their own tasks online. 

To pick a tool, first determine your requirements.  If low cost is important, you might want to evaluate an open source tool.  If you want to limit your administrative burden, use a tool your IT group already supports, or consider a hosted solution.  Before you go with a hosted solution, though, ask the question: What will happen to my data if the company stops supporting this tool?

I recently worked with a client who needed flexibility and the benefits of IT support.  We settled on Microsoft Sharepoint, which was supported by their IT group, and then customized it to meet their needs.

Once you’ve set up your tool, decide with your task owners how frequently status needs to be updated, and get their commitment to do so. 

This has several key benefits:

  • The information is more accurate, as it is going directly from the source to the report.
  • The schedule updating workload is distributed, meaning a small amount of a work for many people, rather than a lot of work for one project manager
  • Task owners can work updates into the rhythm of their day, rather than be interrupted when updates are requested.
  • The better tools have good alerting systems that can ping you when a problematic update happens.
  • Anyone with access to the system can see where the project stands whenever they need to know.

I hope this gave you some ideas to move forward.  If you’d like help deciding on or implementing a online project management collaboration system, let’s talk.  

If you have helpful tips of your own to share, please post a reply!  Similarly, if you’ve used a tool that you have opinions about, we’d love to hear it.

Best Wishes,

Mia Whitfield, M.M.Whitfield Consulting

p.s. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll talk about Breaking the Cycle of Micromanagement.

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