Communication: face-to-face vs. email

Through all phases of project management there must be effective communication taking place. The method of communicating is a question that deserves some attention. With the development of technology more and more project managers are moving toward a reliance on electronic communications which has several benefits.

Email and other electronic communications allow project managers to work around team members’ schedules so they can continue work without having to stop for frequent meetings to handle the details of the project. Email is instant and allows for an efficient exchange of information. In addition, communicating via email gives the sender the chance to research and think about what they will say before they say it.

Consequently, some might argue that email enables team members to “pass the buck” more easily or simply ignore an email to buy time or avoid face-to face communication. In project management this can be detrimental. While email has its place, the most effective and powerful way to interact is in person. You can’t replace looking someone in the eyes to get a handle on how the project is really progressing. Face-to-face communication also builds trust and minimizes the possibility of misunderstandings and misinterpretation.

There is a place for both in project management but it is essential to have a balance of the two. Think of using email to communicate data and exchange project information. However when discussing personnel or when making decisions that might have a substantial impact on the project, face-to-face is most likely the way to go.

Resource Leveling

One of the most difficult things in project management is making sure that work is allocated equally. The last thing a project manager wants to do is to overload one or more team members while leaving others with too little work to do. The question then is how to make sure each resource has work equivalent to the amount of time available.

First of all, make sure the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is thorough and accurate, listing all resources and activities. Next, identify the most critical tasks and allocate your best resources for that work. By starting with the most important tasks first, the chance for successful project management is more likely. Now it’s time to begin resource leveling.

Check to see how many hours is available per team member for work then determine how many hours have been allocated to each person. If the number of hours allocated is above what is available they are over-allocated. If the opposite is true then there is under-allocation.

Tasks should then be adjusted so that the number of required work hours are equivalent to the number of hours available. Once this has been accomplished the critical project resources have been leveled. Next, do the same with the non-critical tasks.

During project management it is important to closely monitor resource utilization as tasks are completed. It might be necessary to make adjustments in allocations so that the project continues to run efficiently. However, if leveling has been carefully administered, these changes should be minimal.

The Apollo Syndrome and Project Management

As project manager you do your best to put together a team of highly qualified individuals. After all, in project management you want everything to run smoothly and efficiently, right? A discovery by Dr. Meredith Belbin called the Apollo Syndrome however proves that the project manager should think twice before loading a team with highly analytical minds.

In his studies Belbin found that having too many people with a high mental abilities was, in many instances, detrimental to the teamwork process. The people studied spent much of their time trying to persuade the team to adopt their own views as well as figuring out ways to point out weaknesses in the rest of the team’s ideas. They had difficulty reaching consensus in decisions and team members focused on their own work, paying little attention to what their fellow team members were doing. Occasionally the team would pick up on the fact they were having problems, but would then overcompensate to avoid confrontation. This led to even more problems in making sound decisions.

If, during project management, you see the Apollo Syndrome happening it should be addressed immediately. First of all, ask the group what they agree on. You may not get a concrete answer in which case you should be more assertive and get them to focus on areas of agreement. A helpful project management tool is a flip-chart which can be used to record the things everyone can agree upon. This exercise should help the team realize how unimportant their disagreements are and get them working toward common goals.

Conflict Resolution in Project Management

The inevitable conflict that occurs in project management may not necessarily be a bad thing. Conflict occurs when individual goals or needs clash. One reason it is so common in project management is because projects often include people with different ideals and personalities. The term conflict generally carries a negative connotation however conflict can be constructive and serve to help to build relationships and improve team dynamics. The key is in the resolution of that conflict.

The project manager must be able to address problems while respecting individual differences. Maintaining good relationships should be a top priority. Be calm and treat one another courteously even if you are under a great deal of pressure.

Be careful not to confuse the person with the problem. Sometimes project managers believe people are just trying to be difficult when, in effect, they are making a valid argument. By listening carefully to the problem you end up debating real issues and have a better understanding of why the person has taken such a position. In addition, when you understand where the person is coming from you are better able to defend your position.

Revisit and agree on the project objectives then take a close look at the facts surrounding the situation. By working together you could find the answer lies in a third position involving compromise or in thinking outside the box. The fact that you arrived at this decision jointly will foster respect and help maintain or build a good relationship.

There are many ways to deal with conflict in project management and these are just a few ideas for turning a potentially volatile situation into one that positively impacts the project.

How to lead when you are not the manager

The task of leading a team can be daunting, especially if you are not the “official” manager of the team. Imagine being the leader of a team over which you have no real authority, yet you are being asked to ensure the project team do the necessary work to complete the project successfully. It may seem impossible on the surface but there are a few team building techniques which can help overcome this hurdle.

First of all, it is important to get all team members on board. One effective way to do this is by making sure everyone shares common goals and has shared responsibility for achieving those goals.

The team leader must also communicate effectively so that all team members have a full understanding of the goals. Communications should not be condescending in nature but instead should empower the members of the team fostering ownership and a commitment to the goals set forth.

Another useful technique is to identify specific team members who might help unify the team. Utilizing people who are self-starters will get the work started and keep the ball rolling throughout the life of the project. These people should possess leadership capabilities but also know the boundaries of authority.

Finally, it is imperitive to identify issues which could inhibit the team in reaching their goals. These issues must be addressed to remove the inhibitors so the goals of the team might be achieved.

Project management requires a certain amount of finesse. Bottom line, know your people and take full advantage of their abilities, skills and talents to get the job done.

A project plan is more than a MS Project Gantt Chart

A project plan not only outlines the specific goals and timelines for a project, it also breaks down the various tasks needed to accomplish the goal of the project. Project planning is an important part of making sure a project gets done right and within a specified time frame. There are many resources available to project managers that will help them in both planning and plan execution. Charts like the Gantt Chart (or Bar Chart in the PMI world) are helpful in establishing a deadline and marking progress toward that deadline. Most projects, however, need a more detailed project plan.

Planning methods such as The Project Management Life Cycle (by PMI) are more practical than Gantt Charts because they include important aspects of planning such as process groups which outline the tages of project development and knowledge areas which break down the process groups into areas of expertise. These methods allow project managers to better distribute their project to employees.

Risk management plans help project managers and the project team to anticipate various risks associated with their project and plan for them. Another planning necessity is a resource allocation plan. Resource allocation plans ensure that the appropriate resources are made available for each stage of the project, and are not overused in any of the beginning stages.