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Effective Communication

Effective communication is one of the greatest challenges every leader faces daily. Here are some suggestions to avoid silly mistakes that may lead to big issues.

Things are going fine, project is on track, reports are just fine and dandy. Communication is smooth and the reporting chain is not even noticed as something that could cause trouble. Congratulations, you’re living the dream. Unfortunately, dream projects are exceptions, not the standard rule. When the project is on schedule, information flow is important. When it’s getting off track, it’s vital, in every aspect. Information flow, however, is sometimes overlooked… and when things are getting off track, it’s up to you to ensure everyone is on the same page. But, besides having the information flowing, you also need to have clear who needs to receive what information and how often this information needs to be delivered.

Ideally, the information flow is settled on day one. This communication plan needs to enclose all people involved in the project, not only the team. Bear in mind to clearly state who and how often the status needs to be shared with the stakeholders, end users, managers, tech team and any other person(s) that may be impacted by the project. Also, define how this information is going to be delivered and – most important – documented. Having candid status meetings, properly documented, stating the bottlenecks and what tasks are depending on whom, might save lots of headaches further down the road.

The basics: make sure the tech team is aware of the importance of keeping the track system used up to date. It does not mean much if you’re using an Excel shared spreadsheet, a Kanban board or a ticket tracking tool like Jira, as long as everyone clearly knows how important is to keep things (and specially, blockers) documented.

Now, getting beyond the technical scope, you must understand who’s who within the project. There are basically two sides within a project, the ones who’s going to be at your side in case you fail and who’s going to blame you / your side in case things go wrong. It seems simple (even ridiculous) when things are fine… so always think about the worst case scenarios when assessing this information. If you’re not sure, feel free to openly discuss about it with your direct manager; your line manager (within your company), at least, must be on your side. If not… let’s hope things don’t get off track, or you’ll be doomed quite soon.

Also, understand the content of the information flowing. Tech team must have clear that they’re supposed to focus their contacts with any other counterpart talking about… tech details. There are cases when very talkative tech team members are willing to ‘help further users’, discussing about how the project as a whole could be improved, including some sensitive contract details. Although this person might believe that his idea is a win win proposal, he’s not supposed to enter in these kinds of detailed discussions, basically because he might not have enough contract details. Even if he had, he’s not supposed to touch base directly with users about such details. Also, there may be cases happening the other way round, when users want to understand better the tech team scenario beyond the tech details, like how things are managed, who’s assigning tasks and so on. This kind of information is above tech sensitivity, therefore tech people are not supposed to talk about this. Instead, the tech team should politely answer the client that the project or account manager is the best person to answer such questions.

Also, still on information content, constantly remember yourself (as well as your team) to assess the granularity of the information they need to deliver according to the listener. Long and very detailed information may be a waste of time for senior management, for instance. Instead, the odds are both you and your managers will get frustrated and upset at some time. You, because you’ll believe your manager just ignored your ‘so thoughtful’ mail and your manager because he either does not have time for a long, unclear and complex list of details he’s not interested in or just because he believes you don’t know how to be concise. Putting it simply: be concise.

Another common place is using lots of IT slang on a conversation with end users, which is also pointless; unless the end user itself is also IT (which is unlikely to be, or he’s not the end user), he might not be interested on your confusing expressions. Instead, do your best to understand user’s language, environment and market to offer him a clearer information.

And as a last reminder, document any agreement. Any topic discussed, any flag raised, any complaint… all must be clearly stated, documented and stored in a safe place. Quality processes usually already have processes in place to store meeting minutes, and if you didn’t hear about it, start this up. It might save your time (and even your job) depending on how bad things can get.

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