It is very true that failing (well) is a fertile ground for improvement and personal/business enhancement. And even when you don’t explicitly fail, just recognizing something could be much better, overall, is a very good happening in the life of any business.
I have already written about planning and project management in the past, so you can safely consider this post as a follow-up, another step in the never-ending learning process if you will. One that takes into account all that’s happened around here in the latest months – all good things, no worries – to formulate some additional thoughts on how project management can be truly successful and, most of all, useful to everyone.
Let’s start from the basics.
What is a project? Well to me, a project is “people”. Simple as that, no project can exist without people behind it, otherwise it’s just some pretty writing on a piece of paper (or the electronic equivalent, if you’re modern like that).
And the best thing people can do together is to communicate. Truth is, despite social media being all around us, and everyone striving to be more communicative and open, we tend to communicate less and less in our everyday life. In fact, the biggest obstacle any project manager can face is the lack of communication: between members of the team, between clients and the team, between team and management. Many possible fail-points and each of them can potentially screw everything up for good.
Many Alternatives, Few Solutions
So what are the traditional practices when it comes down to communicating?
Email is still one of the favorite methods when it comes down to business. However, it poses the disadvantage of a lack of real engagement and a poor history management – as it’s not always very easy to navigate through the various stages and replies within a project, especially with many people involved.
I have written about the collaboration platform we use – ActiveCollab – and, while I still believe it seriously kicks ass (and you should seriously try it out), I do recognize it has some limitations regarding true communication which are more intrinsic to the concept of collaboration software itself than specifically to ActiveCollab. For example, it’s not “immediate” enough, you lose the sense of real-time, and in the long run people are less and less encouraged to use it, and tend to give up.
As in telephone calls, Skype calls and whatnot. Phone is still at the verge of the virtual pyramid of communication methods, but it’s hard to phone between several people (Skype multi-calls are extremely chaotic to me), and it’s hard to keep track of things and decisions in an efficient way.
Sure, it’s good to have some face-to-face contact with people you work with but, honestly, it’s not always comfortable to be stuck for a hour in a videocall, and the disadvantages of voice calls are not solved but even amplified.
So what’s the real solution to all these problems?
Funny enough, it’s about getting back to the basics.
Back to the Root
Let’s get around a table more often. It’s not always possible, but when that happens, a project advances SO much more than in any other way. Why?
1. Real-time engagement
People are facing each other, next to each other, they communicate in a way that’s extremely more natural than any other possible communication method.
2. Eye-to-eye contact
Watching each other in the eyes – be it team members or client-team meetings – holds a value that’s too often underestimated. Emotions, impressions, honest feedback, all those subtle “touches” that other way of communicating ideas simply cannot deliver.
3. Chill-time value
A meeting isn’t always synonymous of an uncomfortable event, it can be a way of relaxing a bit and engaging in a productive conversation, admitting you know how to hold a proper one (more on this later). Relaxing is also a very good way to be more effective and focused on what needs to be done.
The feeling of accomplishment you have when you are done with a meeting – and you do realize progress has indeed been made – is something a simple email or phone call cannot give you.
5. Quick and easy
Nothing’s simpler than just sitting around a table, talking and taking notes. A natural method to address problems and find solutions to them in the simplest way possible.
Is it all roses? Definitely not, you have to pay attention to some key points, especially…
The 4 Most Important Things to Keep an Eye On
1. Time it right, nobody likes to feel like you are wasting their time, have the topics of the meeting clearly outlined at start (better if the attenders know them in advance), stick to them unless something extremely important comes out, and assign a proper timing to each of them, making sure you respect it as much as you can.
2. Know the roles, have the right people attend the right meeting, or you will have around you just people not interested in what you say and you will lack those who truly can make the project advance as it should.
3. Keep the right mood, if the attenders are not receptive, relaxed and open-minded the meeting will go nowhere. Of course this is easy when it comes to your own team (hopefully you have an awesome team), but it’s less guaranteed when you deal with clients, so make sure you prepare them beforehand.
4. Make it resolutive, nothing frustrates people more than a meeting ending in a big fat nothing. A meeting’s ultimate goal is to make a project advance, not just to move people’s lips up and down. A meeting needs to solve problems.
Perhaps I am being too old-school here, uh? Well don’t be too sure of it, even though I have a lot of faith in the future and I keep an eye on all those tools that are currently in the works to address all the problems of traditional communication methods.
I am especially looking forward to a project led by one of Facebook’s co-founders, Dustin Moskovitz, who left it specifically to manage his new startup.
The company is called Asana, and the cooperative software solution they are currently developing really intrigued me when I first read about it:
“In managing and contributing to projects in the past (at Facebook, Google, etc.), we felt frustrated by how much time we spent trying to stay on the same page with everyone (making sure teammates have the information they need, figuring out what everyone’s working on, clarifying priorities, …) and doing “work about work” (progress report emails, meetings, …). We’ve tried email, wikis, whiteboards, Microsoft Project, Google Docs, you name it, and while these are great for lots of things, we found everything suffered from one or both of: [..]” Keep reading here
Maybe they will solve all those problems I addressed before? We’ll see, I’ll be there to check. Or do you have a better idea?