The cost of doing nothing
While it is a fact that the value of effective project management and impactful leadership training can be measured in dollars and days these quantitative metrics only tell a part of the story. In fact, the direct costs are only the tip of the iceberg when we consider the real costs of ineffective communications.
Studies show that organizations with mature communication processes are as much as 25% more effective in meeting original goals. On-time and within budget execution can be improved by more than 30% through effective communication. (PMI Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications (2013)
It’s easy for almost anyone in a leadership position to observe this phenomenon and understand the impact. When effective and timely communications are taking place the team knows what to do. They understand expectations and work together collaboratively to solve problems. The people encourage and help one another. Motivation, innovation, and creativity are evident and abundant as the team holds itself accountable and responsible to deadlines, values, and goals.
While this truth is obvious to all it is much easier to discuss than to implement. Organizations grow and evolve like trees with the trunk being the core values, missions and visions. Branches grow in multiple directions at varying rates depending on their circumstances and environment. Relationships with other branches and in some cases luck (not being on the side of the tree that gets struck by lightning) affect the rate and direction of growth. Smaller branches representing projects and teams each with a set of leaves to enable and facilitate the growth and productivity of those branches.
As organizations grow, mature, and evolve, communication between branches can become obscured. Without an effective communications process and protocol, communications can become strained and even scarce. In the absence of real information, people tend to fill in the gaps with obsolete data. Rumors and gossip become rampant and all of this results in declining team performance.
Effective communications are often cited as the root cause for a plethora of symptoms including low employee morale and high turnover. The ability to facilitate effective meetings, resolve interpersonal conflict, and understand how to get things done quickly and effectively in fast-paced environments is challenging, rewarding, and absolutely essential to marketplace leadership, reduced employee turn-over and excellence in execution.
And so, the cost of doing nothing? 25-50% reduction in efficiency. This means either increasing the size of the staff or risking team burnout through overwork. Using only a 10% improvement attribute, this means that for training investment of $10,000 you get back $100,000 of value for every $1 million dollars of budget. While more difficult to measure, the intangible aspects of the ROI including improved morale and reduced turnover must not be overlooked! These hidden costs can literally bring operations to a halt. There is no question about the value of implementing an effective communications process. The only question is how soon can we begin evaluating and evolving your processes to help your teams achieve new levels of excellence, engagement, and employee satisfaction?
Everybody’s talking about it…the problem. We all know what the problem is and it seems ironic that the problem that everybody is talking about is communication! Ask anyone involved in the American workplace today and they will tell you that the problem is communication. In one form or another the problem is communication or more often, the lack of it. The PMI has studied the problem with respect to project management and it turns out…the problem is us! We, the Project Management Professionals, are not communicating properly. Or efficiently. Or effectively.
One of the ways in which we are communicating poorly is by communicating too much. Why? Because when we hear that the problem is communication we inherently respond by communicating more! This seems logical to the point of obvious and yet for the most part, it is ineffective and, well… just plain wrong. By communicating too much, too often, to too many people we become completely ineffective communicators!
Communication involves the successful transfer of information. It requires message transmission, reception, comprehension, and acknowledgment. Without all of the components working properly the system fails. If your inbox is flooded with hundreds of messages how many and how much of each do you read? How carefully do you listen to your team members when you are under pressure to get something done and they interrupt you with questions? Do you stop what you’re doing? Five minutes after they leave your office can you remember what you discussed?
Project managers are struggling to keep up. Time management seems impossible and the effort feels futile because saved time quickly translates to more work! For that reason, we focus on priorities. If we want our communications to be effective they need to be the priority for the recipient! That person is carefully guarding their own time and likely to be filtering messages based on importance to them. Not its importance to YOU!
So here are five tips to get YOUR messages through!
- 1. The right information to the right people at the right time
Prioritize your messages. When emailing, save the message to draft and read it completely before sending. Read it from the perspective of the recipient and determine if your message is complete and concise. Will they understand it without all of the background information in your brain?
- 2. Be brief, be sincere, be seated
The famous quote from FDR is really about public speaking, and it applies to all communications. The briefer the better. Think about when and how your message is likely to be read. The 140-character rule is a great place to practice. Make all of your communications tweetable. The reason people don’t like long emails is that they are hard to read at red lights.
- 3. Stop, Look, Listen
This advice is typically given to prevent being run over by a train. Now the train that’s coming is some problem on your project that your team member is trying to tell you about…and you’re not going to understand it unless you do these three things when they come to talk with you. Stop what you are doing. Look at the talker…make eye contact. Listen actively, aggressively, intently. Ask questions. Make sure you understand the issue!
- 4. Don’t get your daily exercise by jumping to conclusions
As a Project Manager you are going to hear about problems. Lots of problems. Some of them are real, many of them are not. To help you decide if you need to take action, ask yourself a question…is this issue causing now, or going to cause, a performance problem for your project. While there may be action required by you, if there is a performance problem you MUST ACT quickly and decisively. You have many challenges in this position and you simply cannot afford performance problems on your team.
- 5. Think now, speak later
If you pause before you speak it not only gives you time to think about your response it projects an image of intelligence. If you are in a hurry to get out of a conversation, chances are your response is formulating in your mind while the speaker is talking. This results in interference in your brain. This “noise” often prevents us from doing a good active listening job which leads to our response not being perfectly appropriate to the situation. In the words of Abraham Lincoln “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
Dave and Lisa write from Frederick, the home base for their company, Leadership Techniques, LLC. Join Lisa and Dave for their upcoming class, Collaborative Communications Strategies. Their entertaining and engaging presentation style elicits interesting interactive discussion from the attendees so that everyone can learn more effective ways of communicating both in and out of the workplace.
Effective communication is the key to success for today’s Project Manager’s. Come and discuss your challenges and discuss what is working and what is not. How are intra-generational communications fitting in to your environment? What benefits and challenges are brought forth by having baby-boomers working side-by-side with Gen X, Y, and Z? How does dialect fit in? How about flexibility? Today’s work environment is becoming increasingly flexible for individual employees which makes planning meetings very challenging indeed!
Come and help solve your communication challenges. Let’s talk about it!!
What? The Delphi technique unethical? How could that be? I first learned about this technique when studying project management. I understood it to be a method of brainstorming that encourages unbiased input from all participants. That sounds like a very ethical way to operate. The PMI (Project Management Institute), which is fundamentally founded on a code of ethics considers it to be a valid approach to creative problem solving and consensus generation.
Brainstorming may sound like a great idea to the project manager who is looking for creative solutions to perplexing problems, but they don’t always sound like a lot of fun to the participants. Although most of these sessions operate under the rules of “no value judgments” all it takes to shut someone down is to hear laughter at their quite serious suggestions. These meetings can also be encumbered by subject matter experts (read know-it-alls) who are condescending and sarcastic.
Enter the Delphi technique…named for the Oracle at Delphi who foresaw the future and was consulted before major events such as colonizing or starting wars. Very powerful indeed, she was the human voice of the god Apollo. The creators of the Delphi technique actually disliked the name because there is no magic or mystery in the technique itself. It is simply based on the assertion that group judgments are more valid than individual judgments.
The technique works by using a survey or questionnaire repeatedly and drawing all input anonymously. It can be used when face-to-face meetings are difficult or impossible to arrange, and it can be used to eliminate the potential bullying that can occur in a badly run brainstorming meeting. The purpose of repeating the questions is to remove bias, assuming that the first responses will contain the strongest biases. When the participants are exposed to the responses of the group and the process is repeated, the biases tend to be eliminated, thus resulting in consensus of the group.
So, what about the question of ethics? According to Carl Pritchard in his book ‘Risk Management, Concepts and Guidance’: “The cycle of question, response, and reiteration is repeated several times to ensure that the highest quality of information possible is extracted from the experts.” Trying to ensure that the quality of information is of the highest quality possible sounds to me like the opposite of unethical behavior.
So who considers it to be unethical and why? I came across the question of the ethics of the technique while studying for a SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) certification. What?!? A certification not from PMI? Yes folks…there is a whole world out there, but that is fodder for another day. Why does SHRM consider it to be unethical? There are many related articles available on the internet…just google ‘unethical delphi’ and you get about 50,000 hits.(1)
The gist of it is that the technique is used to reach a predetermined conclusion. In other words, to manipulate the group. It has evidently become popular within politics to give the impression that public input is actually having an impact on decisions when in reality, the decision has been made already, and the group is being guided, unknowingly, toward that end.
That does sound unethical, and to be sure maybe we should look at the definition of ‘ethical’. I think we all know and understand what is and isn’t ethical behavior. It’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. However, the actual definition of the word places it in the context of the standards of the profession.
There is an old axiom that the only difference between motivation and manipulation is intent, and I think that is the issue here. In our world of project management, we strive to act in the most ethical manner possible at all times. There are ethical ways to employ the Delphi technique and there are unethical ways to use it to manipulate data and people. Therefore, the technique itself is neither ethical nor unethical. Techniques and tools do not differentiate between right and wrong, people do!
by David B. Newman, PMP and Lisa Hammer, PMP
1. Line Up Engagements
December tends to be a time of year for review and ending projects. In fact, I long ago lost count of the number of false deadlines that were imposed because it was the month of December. “We’d like this by the end of the year” is all too common of a constraint that is not at all matched with reality. When a bottom-up schedule estimate yields a finish date of January 3, we should seriously consider making that our deadline, instead of December 31. C’mon managers…you know you’ve experienced this!
But seriously, December can also be a great time to review your appointment book and line up engagements for the New Year. These may be meetings, or pitches, lunches, breakfasts, cocktails, or golf games….but you’ve got to get out there! Making the calls now will put you in the driver’s seat as far as getting appointments. Those calendars are already filling for January, February, March and April! But right now you have an opportunity to get in the early call. Many of those calendars are looking sparse right now as your clients and potential clients think about closing out their years. So making calls now for speaking engagements and meetings gives you the advantage of a clean appointment book which removes the frequently heard obstacle of “sorry, she’s all booked up next month.”
2. Assess Staff and Provide Feedback
I know, you’re an enlightened manager and you’ve been providing feedback all year. Good job! The days of the annual performance appraisal being the sole source of feedback are long gone for most of us. Remember to take care of your best people. Rewards and end-of-year bonuses are great, but another way to nurture your best performers is by dealing with performance issues. Start the New Year with your ‘A’ team! If you’ve been procrastinating on a performance issue, the time has come to face it. As difficult as it may be to let someone go at this time of the year, it’s critically important that we remember that performance issues rarely solve themselves. Instead they grow and cause performance decay from the inside out. You risk losing the positive motivation and engagement of your best by not managing your worst. Remember, this is a time of review and renewal for the team. It’s time to set new levels of acceptance and demonstrate leadership!
3. Review Your Business Plan
Be a harsh critic of yourself. Did you meet your own expectations? If not, why not? If yes, how did you do it? Put your mistakes to work for you and turn your positive steps and lucky guesses into repeatable processes. Adjust your plan according to the reality of your enterprise environmental factors and make sure you understand what decisions will need to be made as the New Year unfolds.
4. Reconsider Your New Year’s Resolutions
Do you remember your New Year’s resolutions? Did you write them down? Can you dig out that scrap of paper? If you do remember them, how are you doing? If you’ve accomplished them, any of them, or even part of some of them…congratulations! That’s awesome!
If you didn’t accomplish them all, don’t feel badly….it’s been a busy year! When you made those resolutions you had no idea of the obstacles and opportunities that were going to become more important than those goals during this year.
And now you have 3 weeks left to accomplish one. The one. The most important one. Which of those resolutions is still important? More important than anything else? Focus on that one and make sure it still meets the conditions of a good goal…is it still attainable? For example, losing 20 pounds during the year may have been a reasonable goal. However, losing 20 pounds in 3 weeks is probably not attainable, and is certainly not a healthy goal. Not to mention no fun at all during the holiday season. So what is reasonable? Only you can decide that.
5. Set Yourself Up for Success
Once you’ve set your goal, how can you set yourself up for success? Conventional goal-setting wisdom says that you should share your goal. Your chances of success increase as your commitment becomes more firm. Writing it down improves your likelihood of success, and telling others about it improves your chances even more. However, according to Derek Silvers in a 2010 Ted Conference, new studies reveal that talking about the goal actually reduces the likelihood you will accomplish it. Our minds substitute the telling for the doing!
In other words, through the telling of it, you’ve already gained the satisfaction of attaining the goal. One way to defeat this is to keep the goal to yourself. If you really want the support of your friends, or if it’s necessary to share the goal because it affects other people, you may try to say it in a way that does not give you satisfaction. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, instead of saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year”, consider saying “I’ve really got to lose some weight, so the next time I reach for a second piece of pie, feel free to slap my hand.”
Whether you share your goals or not, the most important thing to remember is to keep trying! If you “fall off the wagon” of one goal or another, it doesn’t mean it’s time to give up and pick a different goal. It means it’s time to reexamine your priorities and set yourself up for success!
6. Pay It Forward
Pay it forward has become a popular buzz-phrase and there’s a very logical reason for that. Generosity makes you happier. Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, working on a new collaborative project with the National Institute on Mental Health and the National Institute on Aging have discovered that there is a physiological basis for the warm glow that seems often to accompany altruistic giving.
7. Manage Your Happiness
Most goals are made with the thought that when you reach them you’ll be a bit happier. The reality is that the happier you are, the more likely you are to reach your goals! One way to improve your happiness factor at this time of the year is to understand and minimize the stress associated with the holidays. Think about what really causes you distress especially in December and decide how you will cope with that this year. Will you avoid the crowds or revel in them? Will you get thoughtful gifts that are within your budget or will you decide that a bit of debt is ok? Will you be a guilt-ridden closet chocoholic or will you delight in the culinary delights that are certain to tempt you. We hope you’ll choose the least stressful path for yourself and wish you a happy, healthy, peaceful and safe…New Year!
Project managers would not be needed if everyone did exactly what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it. In that idealistic universe we would only need traffic managers to ensure that everyone knew what needed to be done.
Fortunately (at least for pm professionals) this ideal universe is as elusive as an unambiguous requirements document. Projects are executed by people and are prone to the inevitable reality of human error. Varying opinions and unjustified assumptions lead project managers to be required to study the complexities of the human spirit.
Emotional intelligence, empathy and listening skills are critical in creating and maintaining an environment that leads to collaboration, motivation, engagement and creativity.
Requirements management and communication are consistently identified in studies as the top areas to focus on in order to resolve the most common causes of project failure. The relationship between these areas is obvious and yet so often overlooked or misinterpreted. Communication is more than ensuring that a message is sent and received. Our responsibility as a project manager is to ensure that the message is understood. Application of this principle throughout the project life-cycle dramatically improves the likelihood of success.
Finally, success has to be measured not only in requirement satisfaction and performance against the baseline. We need to include as a success measure the overall engagement and satisfaction of the project team members before, during, and after the project to ensure that we are truly paying attention to our most important asset.