CXO

Communication is the key to controlling project chaos

Bill Stronge suggests steps to take during a chaotic project to calm the waters. He also offers advice on how to prevent a future project from spinning out of control.

There comes a time in every IT project when things don't go as planned. If you're lucky, you can quickly and effortlessly get through these hurdles with proper planning and execution. In many cases though, it isn't that simple. Your team may get caught up in a tidal wave of confusion and turmoil as you try to make sense of all the information.

I've been the project manager on chaotic projects, and I've learned that communication is the key to having better control of the situation. Here are a few steps that you can take during the project, as well as a tip for how to prevent a future project from spinning out of control.

1:1 Communication

In many cases, increasing the level communication is one of the greatest areas of opportunity for a chaotic project team.

One-on-one meetings

If possible, spend time with each team member at least once a week in an effort to keep up to date on tasks and issues. These meetings are also a time to proactively communicate any changes as they occur.

Daily/weekly team updates

I find that getting everyone on the project team together on a regular basis helps keep team dynamics and priorities aligned. When things get hectic, I like to have a 15-minute meeting every morning to regroup on what occurred the prior day; we also ensure everyone is in sync about which tasks need to be completed that day. In addition, it's an open forum for the team to express any concerns they are feeling about the project or to reach out for help in a particular area if necessary.

Status reports

Project sponsors and the key stakeholder will likely be very interested to know what's going on, and they'll look to you for timely updates on your project's progress. While it's common to have a weekly check in during the course of the project, you may be asked for a daily update on key issues. Try coming up with a standard template they can follow that outlines any key performance indicators of the project, as well as any of the critical path items that will most likely impact your project. Daily status reports allow project sponsors and the key stakeholder to be in the loop on your progress without inundating them with all the details. These reports ensure that everyone is on the same page throughout the project.

Post mortem

When the project is finally over and you start to feel a tremendous weight being lifted off your shoulder, it's time to regroup with the team and review what went awry. Be careful that the process doesn't turn into a finger-pointing exercise as team members try to deflect blame. At this point, you should try to identify solutions to put in place so that future projects do not succumb to the same issues that you encountered.

Summary

When you need to manage a crisis, you also have to juggle the responsibility of keeping team members focused on the tasks at hand; if you don't, it is amazing how hectic things can get. If you take the time to focus on these key areas of communication during your project, it will help you "right the ship" in most storms and hopefully leave you in a better position for next time.

Additional resources about managing project chaos

Bill Stronge is a PMP certified Project Manager with a Global CPG organization currently focusing on eBusiness projects. During his 14+ years, he has worked on enterprise-wide applications in both a developer and architect role, as well as a project manager leading teams of various sizes. He can be reached for questions at wstronge@hotmail.com.

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