Pancho Villa's Approach to Project Communication

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Categories: Human Aspects of PM

"It is my duty to inform you that Pancho Villa is everywhere, and nowhere at the same time."
Pancho Villa,1878 - 1923

Pancho Villa (1878-1923) was a revolutionary Mexican general and the subject of legends. In his time, Villa commanded the most powerful army in Latin America. Some considered him a bandit and cold-blooded killer. Others think of him as a true charismatic leader.

His leadership style provides lessons that we can apply to our work as project managers -- specifically, when it comes to project communication.

Historians says because of his fear, Villa would tell one member of his troop to "watch his back," and keep on an eye on suspicious behavior when he wasn't alert. Legend says that in this way, Villa braided the troops -- to keep them watching each other and "manage the risk" of being killed.  

I have adapted a similar approach to project management. Villa knew he couldn't supervise his troops all of the time. As we know, not everyone can be present for all meetings and working sessions during a project. Therefore, I often try to "braid" my team through a communication approach adapted from Villa's to keep information flowing.

This communication technique reduces communication channels by holding one team member to be responsible for sharing important aspects of the project's journey with one or two other team members. For every two people on the project team, there should be one person updating them. In my experience, I have found this kind of communication useful with small teams between 8 to 12 people.

This keeps everyone updated on the project because each team member has at least one person informing her about the project's progress and/or situations in face-to-face conversations. This allows me to avoid extensive email use. Even In some cases, fewer meetings are required and the meeting itself becomes more productive.

What do you think? What communication technique you are currently using? Do you like the idea of "braiding" your project team? Do you think the braiding technique could apply to other project management aspects?

Read more about project teams.
Read more from Jorge.

Posted by Jorge Valdés Garciatorres on: November 10, 2011 11:22 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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I found this to be a very interesting article and approach to team communications. I typically am asked to be the communications manager for most of the projects I am involved in, as it is one of my core strengths. I can say I have tried to implement the braided approach but did not succeed.

My last project - a local event - is a good example. I spent the bulk of my time - often 6 to 8 hours a day - sending and replying to e-mails related to the project. Of course, we were not co-located but I still could have implemented this technique and freed up time on my end to be available for other roles I was assigned to do.

I am printing this article and adding it to my notebook of things to remember. The braided approach makes good sense and frees up your time especially on smaller teams where you often are often performing in multiple roles.

To efficiently "braid" your team you have to be a good delegator and have absolute trust that other people will get things done. I am a control freak, and I don't think this approach would work for me. Instead, I chose a rask management program ( Clarizen ) that allows collaboration and easy communication between team members. Everyone can see where the others are holding, and we can send emails, notes and even chat. This works for us, and all team members know that I am the ultimate overseer and they are responsible to report back to me.

Michele Cannone
I have to say that this article is really interesting.

I keep communicating by email and meet my virtual teams once a month and, although this is working in my low-cost budget project, I admit I miss interaction.

What do you think about the "loss" of leadership by allowing team braiding and for this not depending always on you?

Am I wrong if I say that a PM has to be the source where anybody can feed his need of information and sharing?

Charlie Interdonato
While this is an interesting approach, good "communication" is one of the most critical (and difficult) areas in business, let alone in projects.

When I managed projects I always knew more about "everything" going on in the project, then the individual team members. Now, don't misunderstand my statement. I don't mean that I literally knew more (had more expertise/experience) than anyone on the project team. Project team members certainly had their specialty, and knew more about their role, and had more skills in that area than I.
But, I was likely the one person on the project, who knew (what I needed to know) about everything going on in the project.

That being said, it was not always the case (e.g., on smaller projects). So, I believe that the "breath" of knowledge about project related activities, should lie with the PM, and the "depth" of knowledge should lie with the respective team members.

Also, one downside I see in "Pancho's" approach to communication is what I'll refer to as the "telephone game." Remember the game where one person whispers something into another person's ear, and then that person whispers what they heard into the next person's ear? And, by the time that message was received by the last person in the game (assuming there were more than 8 or so people playing), it would come out very different from the original message.

So, I think Pancho's approach could have limited use, but the team and stakeholders need to hear "one voice", and all get the same message from the same source (for important project related matters - e.g., milestone reporting; critical issues, etc.).

Syed Moiz
I like the article initiating quote very much. Information flow must be for every one with no dependency on source or point of origin.

Projects cease to progress due to lack of information and It is the prime responsibility of a good PM to ensure that team is informed.

One more aspect to information flow is to ensure that right and required information is communicated. It must "Clarify" rather than "Confuse" the team.


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