Reflections on Project Roles & Communication

This content was originally sent in an email rolling out some changes to the project roles. It was updated on 9/6/13 to better reflect how the department is currently managing projects.

Below are some thoughts and comments on responsibility and communication between project team members.

Reflections on each role

I’ve come to expect that Project Stakeholders will not be thinking about the details of what the team members will actually have to do to make a project happen. This freaks me out sometimes. But I’m learning that this is a GOOD thing. They shouldn’t be caught up in those details because their concern is whether we should be doing it at all and, if we do it, whether the proposed strategy will actually work. They are the people team members go to when they hit roadblocks they can’t get around.

The Project Manager is responsible for suggesting ideas, but even more importantly absorbing all the ideas and feedback from everyone involved. Their role is to consolidate everything they’ve received, shift through it and paint the clearest picture of where we’re going and what success looks like so that others involved in the project know what they need to know to actually make it happen.

Project Managers are both responsible for

  • Asking probing questions; seeking to understand the underlying reasons for others’ suggestions
  • Listening actively to what others are saying and asking probing questions to get to the underlying assumptions, beliefs and philosophies.
  • Returning focus to the customer’s experience whenever that topic gets lost.
  • Identifying and suggesting possible solutions, ensuring that the managers and executive’s concerns are addressed
  • Modifying solutions until consensus is reached.
  • Documenting where the discuss landed
  • Recapping discussions. Then following-up to confirm that this is in fact where the team wants to go.
  • Getting answers that other team members need.

Lost in Translation

During the transition from idea to actual project strategizing, it’s easy to have information become “lost in translation’. Sometimes this creates tension between the person that had the idea and the person who will execute on the idea. To combat this tension, I think the most effective tool in a Project Managers “tool box” is listening followed by probing questions.

What does this look like? I suggest starting with an in-person conversation where you ask questions like:

  • Did any other managers or executives express concerns that I need to factor into the plan I’m putting together?
  • What ideas were suggested and then abandoned already ? What was the reason behind deciding against it?
  • How important is this? Is this really more important than project X or Y that I’m already working on?
  • Who has been involved in the conversations to-date? (You can ask them clarifying questions as well to get a clearer picture of discussions that have already occurred.)
  • Should this include… a landing page? a video…?

Then during the answers, listen for indications that there’s more underlying information. Then ask questions like:

  • Can you explain a little more what you mean when you say…?
  • Can you define…”
  • When you say X do you really mean Y?

There may be questions that come to mind that you want to avoid asking because you’re afraid of the answer. Don’t give into the fear. Ask the question now. It’s better to know, and deal, with it now instead of later.

When you start to wrap up the discussion, recap what you’ve heard. Often when you give your recap they’ll realize that they missed a pivotal piece of information or that there is a hole somewhere in the strategy. There’s something really powerful about hearing someone else recap what you’ve said.

The goal at this point is get as clear a picture as possible of what you need to achieve. Push back in areas you don’t think are clear or that don’t make sense. Think of this as one more place where either details can get lost or where the strategy can be even better refined.

Closing Comments

If you’ve made it this far: thanks for reading! I really love this topic and I would love to dialog with you if you have questions, concerns, or just want to chat.