Unlocking a Key for Project Success

By Duane Phillips, Director of Project Management, The Hydaker-Wheatlake Co.

Duane Phillips, Director of Project Management, The Hydaker-Wheatlake Co.
Duane Phillips, Director of Project Management, The Hydaker-Wheatlake Co.
On a cold and blustery night, with the rain beating against the darkened window, feeling the weight and pain of it all sink into my soul like crushing blows from a heavy weight prize fighter, asking myself the eternal question!
How did my project get so messed up?

For those who work in the project management field, this is not some off-the-wall scenario that we dream up, but rather a reality of our work and efforts when we look at a project and ask ourselves that very question. We had a great plan. We knew what the goal was and who was going to do what part. And yet we still end up sideways trying to execute a project that at the beginning seemed so simple.

So how did we get here? How is it that the most well-planned projects from some of the smartest PMs go awry?
In the PM world we often talk about the ‘Big 4’ – Safety, Cost, Schedule, Quality. But what really causes most projects to go astray? If we were to seriously consider a post-project assessment, something that we should all be doing on projects of any size, then we would come to a common conclusion that it is not in fact the phases or key attributes of project management that create project strife, but rather the mechanisms by which we employ the phases and attributes.
A quick thought on the adage of ‘on time, under budget, meets customer needs (quality)’ that we have espoused for so long. In paraphrasing the quote from long ago, ‘these are good and noble pursuits’. As project managers, we need to be focused on attaining that goal in every phase and project as a whole. Cost, schedule, and quality are critical elements of project success.
But what is the mechanism then that causes our angst? Communication.
Sounds simple? Because it is. Why then the issues? Because we don’t do it enough or well enough. Look at your projects, I would venture a guess that as high as 85% of the issues could be mitigated or minimized if we were great at communication. Not good, but great.
“It is not possible to over communicate during project execution”
Think that’s a bold statement? Are you reading this and telling yourself: “I’m a great communicator; I don’t have problems in this area”. For those of you that are thinking that here is my response ? you need to double your communications (if not more!).
And we’re living in the golden age of communications. There are more avenues and methods to communicate with others than ever before. We as project managers need to focus and establish a culture within our project teams that fosters and even demands great communication.
Why aren’t we better? I think one of the fundamental human behaviors that we exhibit is that we truly believe that we are communicating, and that when we do communicate our thoughts and ideas that we are being understood. Instead study after study tells us that if only we had communicated better we wouldn’t have had that problem, or that misunderstanding – all issues that lead to project challenges.
So how do we get better? As I talk with, train, mentor, develop, and oversee project managers across a wide spectrum within my industry focus I find that we rely too much on a single avenue of communication, and are not diversifying our communication portfolio. We need to get diverse. Some of us are phone callers, some of us are meeting people, some of us are memo and directives, some of us are hallway talkers who communicate 1-on-1 in sidebars – and too many of us rely on email.
Throughout this edition of articles we’ll be reading about the most recent trends and technologies. Why not put these to work to solve an age old problem? There are so many technological avenues and options that we can be using nowadays to improve our communication. Software programs, social media, texting, virtual meetings, websites, visual phone calls, email – and virtual instant access via cell phones. Which ones are you using? To be honest with you, if you’re answer didn’t include 6 or 7 of the 8 I’ve quickly listed – then you’re not doing enough.
Now you’ll think and ask – “but a well worded email should get my point across”. Well you can’t understand background and intentions through an email. “I had a lengthy discussion with my team on this subject” – but without written instructions or details too many things can get missed. “We have meetings all the time” – and yet miss out on some of the key 1-on-1 or small group emphasis that is needed for certain topics.
You see every method of communication has its strengths, and also its limitations. But as we diversify and increase the quantity, we are able to flood the senses of our project team with the critical information that they need to bring about project success. Use every means and methods we can find, and make technology work for you.
We have a saying in our area that is called the Rule of Ten. This states that I need to tell you something ten times before you get and understand it. Many of us laugh when we say this, as upon first hearing this we think it’s funny. But people today and our society as a whole are inundated with information at a staggering rate. My experience is that the Rule of Ten is more fact than funny fiction. The more that I provide information feedback and repetition, the better my communication results.
We recently performed a ‘project’ of storm response following Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. As a project team, we put this adage to the test. Multiple daily meetings with entire team, multiple daily team emails, individual conversations on specific tasks, virtual meetings showing what we were doing, as well as several other means to communicate throughout the organization. The result? Fantastic. I thought maybe we might have been over-doing it (despite my quote above) – but the reality was that our team felt more connected and engaged than we ever have before, and our success managing that effort showed in everything we did.
Want great project success? Be the greatest communicator that has ever lived. You won’t regret it for a moment!