Tag Archives: Project Management

Leadership and Communication: The Details Matter

One of the challenges of leadership and, in fact, communication in general, is understanding the level of detail required relative to each situation.

Lead In, Lead On and CoachStation: Communication

Depending on the need, it can be necessary to discuss in-depth the content for a piece of work; what role someone else is to play in the task; seek input into potential solutions and other relevant details. Knowing when this detail is going to add value and not detract from the message or subsequent actions can be the difference between a successful outcome or not. One of the risks is that you as the leader, either do not seek enough input from others and/or confuse the situation as a result of too much information.

I was recently involved in a project that had many layers to it. There were various roles, as you would expect, however the Project Manager (PM) and Project Sponsor were unable to come to grips with their roles to achieve a successful outcome. The PM worked at an ‘arms-length’ with both critical project team members and contributors and the Sponsor was also quite removed as a result. The decision-making process was slow at best and often times non-existent. This flowed into other areas of the project including the testing team and vendor support. Ultimately the project missed several important deadlines over many months and was delayed.

On occasion, it is important to note when it comes to communication and an appropriate level of detail and engagement, less is more!

Without oversimplifying what was a complex project, much of this could have been resolved through clearer communication channels, better-defined roles and improved structure. All of this would have been improved through greater clarity regarding the detail at the beginning of and at various stages of the project. Being able to answer key questions and revisiting them throughout the project can assist in reducing the risk and meet the milestones along the way.

  • What role does each person play?
  • How are the stakeholders to be involved and kept up to date?
  • Has each expert been engaged at the right level and time?
  • Have the end-users and SME’s been involved?
  • How much jurisdiction does the PM have?
  • Who are the key vendor contacts?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for keeping the project on track?
  • What is the role of the Steering Committee and Working Group?

At face value the answer to these questions may seem relatively simple. In reality, the issues that occurred in this project are quite common throughout most organisations in my experience. Leading through a major project, with the right format and level of detail understood by all involved, is difficult. In fact, it can be quite daunting!

Much of this confusion, fear and doubt can be overcome by seeking clarity and involving the project team at the right level. Overlapping and ill-defined roles; political maneuvering; ineffective leadership; poor communication; poor role selection; limited capability of key personnel in key roles; and a loose project plan are all contributors to a reduced outcome. Clarity in tasks, a communication plan/strategy and ultimately a reduction of these issues overall provides a much stronger baseline to work from and minimises the risk of project over-runs and missed deadlines. Understanding the necessary details and seeking clarity early in the project is key. Maintaining an appropriate level of clarity and direction throughout the project timeline also matters.

In leadership generally, the same inputs and questions listed above can be applied to many situations and team cultures. Too much or too little detail and/or a resultant lack of clarity and understanding for each role, position and person within your team is unlikely to add value to meeting goals and objectives. The risk of employee dissatisfaction, turnover and a lack of engagement is also often the result. Enabling your team to provide input into their roles and that of their broader team is critical. As the leader, ensure that clarity exists to the most appropriate degree possible. This does not remove all risk, however is a key piece of the leadership puzzle and as in the example detailed, the alternative can be a very messy and expensive option otherwise.

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People and Process: Aligned or Loggerheads?

I often wonder what it is about processes that many managers have a need to see as entirely separate from their people.

Similarly to my previously documented thoughts regarding the key differences between leaders and managers, the ‘need’ to focus solely on the process is often due to the conscious or unconscious decision to concentrate time and energy on the simpler or more controllable part of the equation. Unfortunately for those leaders with this mindset, unless you are in a pure process driven environment (which is rarer than many people think unless/until robots take over our world!), this leaves out the core reason why
these processes often fail – a focus on our people!

People, Process & Culture

The ability to bring individuals and team members into the process is key to project success or meaningful outcomes. Engaging the people and teams involved, communicating the context and being specific about why the process exists or change is required, will often be the deciding factor between process success and failure. Rarely will a process in itself be the difference – it requires input, management and control of and with your people.

If we are not clear about what role our team member’s play in the overall project then the entire process change will likely fail.

This is a regular occurrence within the project and business world, where much of the planning and time is dedicated to setting up the ‘right’ program and lean elements that will provide the most effective structure or process. It is too often assumed that with cursory levels of communication and a base understanding that employees will simply fall into line and grasp the key elements.

These core elements may well be understood however buy-in, context and discretionary effort are almost always limited or compromised when an individual does not participate in the early project planning cycle and/or has little ownership or accountability into inputs or outcomes.

Interestingly, during the post-implementation discussions and review some managers often look back at these (failed!!?) outcomes and wonder why the process failed, without even considering the broader picture and what part their decisions and narrow focus initially may have contributed.

Effective leaders ensure that they seek to understand both the planned outcomes and how their people are going to influence and drive all of the elements within the process to achieve that outcome. This type of thinking provides a more solid platform to ultimate success.

Often the phases and stages are not clearly distinguishable…so, thinking of people and process as intertwined but with different inputs may assist in removing the barriers for change.

Our people are the all-encompassing link that will ensure true success and sustained change!

Steve Riddle: CoachStation

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Filed under Leadership