Communicating between teams, stakeholders and individuals is vital for project success. This is especially true when requirements are constantly emerging and shifting in the agile and hybrid project environments in which we find ourselves today (Mastrogiacomo, Missonier & Bonazzi, 2014). Therefore, our communicating methods must accommodate this dynamism and agility.
Here are 3 methods of communicating that have been effective for me over the years.
1. Get out of your office and talk to people--especially when you don't need anything
I have found myself at times in the past as the "room grenade". It's an uncomfortable feeling that you get when people scatter (either physically or emotionally) because they feel like every time you come to talk to them you are going to ask them for something or to follow up on a task that is due. Chances are that they know what they have to do, and they are used to PM's telling them that they either did it wrong or that they haven't done it on time. Rather than waiting to develop a relationship during this stressful time, why not stop by someone's office on your team just to say hello, or to thank them for their work during the last phase or to complement someone on their team. With all of the electronic methods of communication we have today there still is no better way to communicate your entire message and build a relationship than a face to face interaction.
2. Remain consistent with your approach--unless it isn't working
I've had leaders and PMO's direct me to communicate a certain way, and I kept it up even though the results we wanted weren't coming. I've been in project meetings in which people claim not to know what is going on even though I've sent out dozens of progress reports on tasks, milestones and overall project status. Yes, it is up to other professionals to read emails, notifications or reports, but it's also up to us to communicate with people in the method that works for them. How do we mitigate this risk of a message not received? Ask people during the initiation phase "how would you like me to pass you project information?" You may be surprised what you get as an answer to that question. One of the engineers I work with told me "don't send me an email, I won't read it! Either do a "drive-by" my desk or Skype me with something important."
3. Don't wait until the progress report goes out to communicate!
Ultimately, we can know everything about our project--the percent complete, the CV, SV, SPI, CPI, key risks/issues--but if nobody else knows about the information or if they have a partial picture then we are failing our project teams. Project success can be achieved even with poor communication, but it's easier to be successful with stellar communication.
Mastrogiacomo, S. Missonier, S., & Bonazzi, R. (2014). Talk before it's too late: Reconsidering the role of conversation in information systems project management, Journal of Management Information Systems, 31(1), 44-78. doi: 10.2753/MIS0742-1222310103
How many of us have been in PMO meetings where the topic of risk is discussed, and there is an uncomfortable pause in the room? I believe that this pause is because we all are relatively adept at identifying risk, but after that identification we are uncertain of how to handle it. Sometimes the plan is either only partially completed or can be executed only with extreme difficulty. We tend to have trouble regarding the next steps to accomplish and grasping what it means regarding those risks/opportunities.
- Who do we talk to about them?
- At what interval do we discuss them?
- Who is responsible?
- How long should we keep them on the register? our risk matrix?...our minds?
A Matter of Perspective
Before we can talk about uncertainty management (risks and opportunities) let's review some definitions and frameworks.
Individual uncertainty in a project or program is "a specific event or condition that might have an effect on project objectives" (Standard for Risk Management, 2009, p.10)
Overall project uncertainty "represents the effect on the project as a whole." It is "more than just the sum of individual uncertainties on a project, and "represents the exposure of stakeholders to the implications of variations in project outcome(s)" (Standard for Risk Management, 2009, p.10)
In other words, each individual risk (or opportunity) is an entity for management that combine in a complex fashion to shape the overall uncertainty management framework for the project. "Framework" is also a key concept. I've studied and practiced one (or a combination of both) of these in my career.
1. Project Uncertainty Management Process (PUMP), (Chapman & Ward, 2011)
2. PMBOK Risk Management Knowledge area
The PUMP framework emphasizes an early identification of risks in the process, but what to do about them is deferred until later. During identification a tracking interval and series of metrics should be established so trends can be tracked for proper monitoring and impact analysis of risk.
The PUMP structure follows (Chapman & Ward, 2011).
The PMBOK risk management (Project Management Institute, 2017) procedure includes the following:
Pivoting from Theory to Practice
Now for the pivot--the flowchart below is a framework that has been working for me. Note that blue denotes what to KNOW and orange denotes what to DO.
1. Bring up uncertainty management at the very beginning of the process. Uncertainty should be part of the decision space during the project evaluation phase. If your organization has a steering committee or a portfolio management group consider bringing in high level risks during the decision process to pair with the schedule, cost, benefits realization and organizational change factors. This is where the first high level uncertainties should be recorded in your PMIS. These are individual elements (we call them cases) which will be continually monitored throughout the project (assuming it becomes a project). They can fruit into issues and maintain the pedigree of the original risk. We also attach these uncertainties to major tasks in the WBS. Our PMIS allows us to use "tags" for easy sorting and review so we tag them as #risk, #opp. This action makes it really handy to go back later and retrieve all the #risk and #opp across your programs/portfolios for lessons learned.
2. Perform a qualitative assessment of the uncertainties with the project team
Once the steering committee says "go" and your project is in the planning phase, it's time to involve others in the planning. During planning sessions encourage as many different people with disparate skill sets on the project team to "weigh in" on the uncertainties. Their perspectives regarding what the risk/opportunity will mean for scope, cost or schedule will be different than yours, and this will create a healthy debate among the team. This debate also enhances the chances that the entire team will take ownership of these cases and manage them proactively. Note: I believe that the PM should always maintain ownership of each uncertainty on the project, but there can be other contributors that bring subject matter expertise to the table to enrich the management of these uncertainties. After the team meets to discuss update the rankings according to probability and impact in your PMIS.
3. Complete a quantitative analysis on the top 3 - 5 uncertainty cases on the project
If you have a team dedicated to risk and that can devote the time, by all means flesh out all of the quantitative measures for each risk you can. However, our team is small, and we must be judicious regarding our time. I have found that the 80% rule of thumb works here too. Twenty percent of the uncertainties will consume eighty percent of your time. Therefore, make it count--work as a team to quantify the cost or schedule impact that the uncertainty will have on the project. Remember, opportunities will have a positive affect on cost/schedule. There are many templates that go over some ways to accomplish this.
4. Update and maintain uncertainties and try your best to keep them from fruiting into issues
Risks are items of interest that may happen in the future. An issue is a risk that has become reality. These must be dealt with now! Sometimes issues seem to "pop up". This happens to all of us, but that doesn't mean that the risk wasn't there--it just means that it went unrecognized and that the team didn't know how to or that they should prepare for the eventuality. I argue that the more we can standardize the uncertainty management framework, the less likely these unrecognized issues will arise.
I believe that as project professionals it is our job to manage uncertainty. Business opportunity is not without this uncertainty, and strategic leaders are aiming to make informed decisions regarding which new ventures, change initiatives, and markets in which to enter. With this framework both before and after project initiation, we can assist our organizations in this endeavor.
Thank you as always for reading and I welcome your comments around this topic.
Chapman, C. & Ward, S. (2011). Project risk management: Processes, insights and techniques (3rd ed.). West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Project Management Institute (2017). Guide to the Project Management Body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—6th Edition. Newtown Square. PA. 2017. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards/Standards-Library-of-PMI-Global-Standards.aspx
Project Management Institute (2009). Practice standard for risk management. Newtown Square, PA 2009. Retrieved from https://www.pmi.org/pmbok-guide-standards/framework/practice-standard-project-risk-management
I play chess with my kids. They are 8 and 9 years old, and then they play with each other. I like to think that they take the concepts that I teach and then practice them on their own. One of the concepts I review with them is the "pivot".
This is a two-fold concept.
First: There needs to be an understanding of what your opponent is trying to do in theory. Then you need to transfer that thought in the practice of what you're going to do about it.
Second: There has to be a shift from a defensive action when your opponent attacks you to deflecting that defensely and "counter-moving" to put your opponent in duress.
This is challenging for the grade school minds that are my pupils.
What does chess with kids have to do with Project Management? In our work lives few of us concentrate on a pivot as a way to put others in duress so let's concentrate on the first point above. Throughout my career there has been a concept that has been at least as equally challenging for me. The concept of a pivot from what "the book" (PMBOK 6th edition) and the practice of what will work in organizations is one of the concepts that I have found to be vital for success as a project manager. The PMBOK is a set of guidelines that are a framework which will apply to most projects most of the time. However, the application of that framework involves the following:
1. A sound change management strategy
2. Mastery of team dynamics--people make process work
3. An appeal to organizational constructs, limitations & organizational values
This series will be dedicated to how we can translate what we KNOW into helping others DO to accomplish project objectives, obtain success criteria and be fully engaged emotionally, intellectual and with a servant's heart with our project teams. Please let me know what you think and what topics may be of interest to you. I never thought I'd be doing this, but I guess I'm making a pivot myself.
Project Management Institute (2018). Guide to the project management body of