Leadership

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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14 comments
reisen55
reisen55

Ever notice in Star Trek that when something BAD is happening to the Enterprise, Picard or Kirk instantly ask for REPORTS. Ever notice how Picard always has staff meetings (Kirk never did or we saw them so rarely) about STATUS. Regular staff meetings in an open atmosphere of trust and discussion and status reports to keep things written down are key elements of any project. Human memory is FAULTY and what we think today is not what we remember tomorrow. Any IT tech professional knows countless examples when an ASSUMPTION proved false. I never assume anymore. I make an "ass of u and me" Same for project work. Keep communication open, keep reports open and freely distributed to interested parties. Whenever I visit my clients on weekly rotation, I write up visit status reports and distribute to management. They may not read all of it, but they can never EVER complain that I do not keep them in the loop.

godzhesas
godzhesas

Daily meetings, weekly reports, effective communivation, full involvement, this sounds much like Scrum. I've recently wrote an article how manage projects using Scrum and http://www.comindwork.com

generapharm
generapharm

Not sure that I buy into this. My experience is that when things start to go wrong the level of communication goes up but the quality of execution goes down. Excessive communication, particularly group meetings, results in panic reactions and over management. Adding in the Key stakeholders will simply add to the panic level. There are better ways to deal with this. For a start I would actually concentrate on the experts who will provide the solution. I would assume that it is certain work packets that are running out of control not the whole project.

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

A major obstacle to this essential communication is an organizational culture averse to bad news. Open and honest communication on a project team is greatly hindered if there are reprisals to the bearers of bad news. The problems and issues of a project in chaos cannot be solved if everyone is afraid to report them. Foster a culture of open and honest communication by rewarding the identification of risks and issues and using problems and errors as learning opportunities as opposed to punishable offenses. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

Chief Alchemist
Chief Alchemist

While I did see the use of the word "proactive" most of these seem to be after the fact type strategies/tactics - What details (read: things that actually work) can anyone share about being proactive - What can managers/project managers instill in individuals with the project to get the project done?

masslack123
masslack123

HI I have a team where there are several team members who regularly point fingers at the pm, hassle the pm, and send out unprofessional emails with things like capitalized words, yelling at the PM in email, abusing the pm and basically doing everything but calling the PM ( who has 20 years of experience) a blithering idiot. How do you shut down people like this on a project to make the project more effective and make it a more positive experience?

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

There are so many possible answers to this question but I would like to focus on project team member values and behaviors. I believe behavior is key to the success of any individual or team and it is always the first thing I address when managing a group or project team. I will admit that this approach is far more successful when it is fostered by the enterprise as opposed to a single PM. Even so, I have seen this work when instituted in a subset of the organization. Below are the values and associated behaviors I believe are key to the success of any team. And the PM must display these values and behaviors and set an example if there is any chance of instilling them in the team. Value 1: CUSTOMERS FIRST - Keeps commitments to customers - Understands and anticipates customer needs - Understands and promotes products and services - Acts in the best interest of the enterprise Value 2: INTEGRITY - Behaves in an honest and ethical manner - Embraces diversity by treating each individual with dignity and respect - Acts in an authentic, truthful, and straightforward manner - Actions are consistent with words - Deals with conflict in a timely and constructive manner Value 3: COLLABORATION - Thinks and acts beyond one's own work group - Puts enterprise needs and goals ahead of individual objectives - Takes responsibility to help others succeed - Freely shares information - Celebrates success Value 4: ADAPTABILITY - Willingly seeks and considers new ideas, approaches and best practices - Anticipates and embraces change - Willing to challenge current practices - Overcomes obstacles to meet goals Value 5: ACCOUNTABILITY - Accepts responsibility for individual and group decisions and actions - Holds self and others responsible for achieving results - Takes initiative to solve problems personally and avoid unnecessary handoffs - Acknowledges and learns from mistakes - Takes personal responsibility for the organization's success Value 6: EXCELLENCE - Consistently strives to deliver superior results - Demonstrates a sense of urgency regarding implementation - Seeks continuous learning and improvement - Sets and achieves high standards of performance Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

generapharm
generapharm

A not unusual situation in project management. The first question to answer is, are they right, is the pm the problem. If the answer is no, then you must remove the trouble makers. The question is what is the root cause for this problem arising? Normally it is lack of education on the role of pm's within an organisation. It is essential that functional management understands the pm concept and supports it at all times. In particular look at your company-is it a strongly hierarchical one? If so you will always have this sort of problem. Obviously there are many choices but the bottom line-get rid of trouble makers.

stephane.v
stephane.v

There are multiple methodologies to resolve conflicts between person. But, in your case I would first recommend that you try to understand the source of the problem. Is it personal issues? trust issues? roles clarity issues? It does not look like the PM is uncompetent from what you are saying yet that does not mean your team does not have this feeling. When you understand better the source of the problem, it will be easier for you to resolve the conflict and refocus the team on their objectives. Meanwhile you could decide to act as a mitigator and ask your team to escalate all issues they have with the PM through you. In this case, you will be able to control people humors for team sanity. i.e. if the team complains the PM think they are doing nothing all days! you could ask how they are ensuring the PM is getting up to date progress status. If you do not see progress in conflict resolution, then you will have to go to a face-2-face meeting with all involved. If you get to that point, remember to keep people focus on the facts.

ibogorad
ibogorad

... such behavior is not acceptable? If you have no formal power as a PM, you should involve the project sponsor in getting this resolved. A good way to start if something like: " I know that both of us want to this project to succeed. Unfortunately, you and I have a problem, as it is now in jeopardy due to the reasons beyond my control. Can we discuss at your earliest convenience?" If you do have the formal power, this is a non-issue. If you are really interested in getting this resolved, contact me offline. Ilya Bogorad Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc ibogorad@bizvortex.com

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

I wish there was an easy answer to this problem, but I believe solving this type of behavior is beyond the boundaries of a single project. People behave this way only when the organization ignores, condones or enables it. I think all that an individual can do is say they will not respond to personal attacks or general statements. The PM must insist that retractors comment only on specific behaviors and speak only with facts. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

YourAverageManager
YourAverageManager

Far-better-than-average I would not print it on a tee-shirt, but nothing is stopping anyone from getting out their own markers. When I read down the list, and think back over time, we always experienced problems when people strayed from these values.

generapharm
generapharm

The sort of behavior described here is commonly seen when project management is introduced into a strong hierarchical structure. It is frequently sponsored by functional managers who see the project manager as a challenge to their authority and power. The problem can best be resolved by getting senior management to understand that they are wasting a hell of a lot of money on project management because their desire for project management is literally being sabotaged. I have been involved in introducing PM in several companies and I am convinced that the first step is not bringing in project managers. The first step must be a continued eduction process of existing functional amd middle management to understand, both intelligently and emotionally, that PM is good for them. KPI;s should be linked to this in a sensible and consistent manner. And remember-reinforcement, reinforcement, reinforcement.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

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