Ever had one of those projects where it seemed you spent most of your time either trying to track down the right person to talk to or trying to get team members to talk to each other? How do you deal with a project team or stakeholder group that has significant communications dysfunctions?
Having struggled through this issue on a couple of projects in the past where communications problems actually threatened the project schedule, I’ve learned a few techniques that can help.
- Not sure who to copy on that email? Err on the side of inclusion to avoid hurt feelings as well as communication gaps. Leaving out that team member who doesn’t have any action items or really doesn’t seem to have a direct role in your requirements can really backfire if that person is used to being ‘in the know.’
- Be consistent. Send out a status report every week. Format your meeting invitations the same way every time. People will figure out that you’re a reliable source of information if you do this, and this will make them more likely to respond when you need information or assistance. It may help to actually build a communication plan (a quick spreadsheet works fine) to identify how, with whom, how often, and what you intend to communicate during the project. Then stick to it!
- Be thorough. Were there any action items from the team meeting? Send them to all the attendees. Were there any updates to that document? Email the updated document or link promptly and call out the updates in your email so busy team members don’t have to comb through the document to find them.
- Be compassionate. There could be a lot of different reasons for the communications challenges in the team. Maybe people are getting very little direction and support from management. Maybe they are feeling nervous about job security. Maybe they have a lot of conflicting priorities that are moving you and your requirements to the bottom of their list. Even when you’re feeling really frustrated, be patient and stay calm. You’ll set an example for the rest of the team, and they’ll remember you for your professionalism.
- Be social – if your project has a Sharepoint or other place to store project information, make sure you utilize it so that everyone can access current documents. If your project doesn’t have this, consider setting one up for the team. There are a lot of cloud resources for project teams. Just be sure these don’t violate any company data security rules.
- Don’t hesitate – escalate! No really. Don’t get caught up in endless non-productive meetings, email chains, etc. It’s a huge waste of your time and everyone else’s too. If it’s clear that you’re not getting any traction or that a team member is blocking your progress, you owe it to the project team and project sponsor to get the situation resolved as quickly as possible. You don’t have to throw anyone under the bus to do this. Wording that focuses on priorities, workload, or issue resolution is more productive than wording that focuses on people.