When interviewing prospective project managers, I always ask, “If you had to sum up great project management in one sentence, what would it be?” A frequent answer given is some variation of “great communication.” I don’t think that’s a good answer, because it doesn’t take it far enough. Let me explain.
Every project has issues that come up. What seperates good project managers from great project managers is the extent to which they ensure issues get resolved.
Too often people use the word communication to imply a dialogue, when what they are really doing is one-directional communication. There’s an issue that is affecting the project, one-side is talking but the other side isn’t listening or isn’t responding. Voicemails are left and emails are being sent and there’s no response. No answers. No resolutions. Sometimes it’s because people are too busy and don’t know the urgency. Sometimes they’re just too afraid to deal with it (a form of procrastination). The reason doesn’t really matter, the symptoms are always the same – there’s no debate, no dialogue or no plan to deal with the issue and the clock keeps ticking.
Great project managers don’t let this happen. Individual styles vary from person to person, but the result is the same. Issues get dealt with one way or another. They realize that while it’s not always fun or comfortable, it’s easier and always less expensive to deal with an issue now rather than later.
If you’re not getting answers, hit ‘0’ and have the receptionist track the person down. Escalate it. Pause the project until the key element is figured out. One way or another make the conversation happen.
Don’t get me wrong, this all needs to be done in a respectful way. Often I hear the excuse that people are concerned about overstepping bounds, stepping on people’s toes or being too pushy. That’s the wrong paradigm. Imagine you’re a doctor and need to get the other party some important medical information regarding their health. You’re looking out for their best interests. If it were life and death, you’d find a way to make the conversation happen.
Well, it is life or death for your project. When there’s an issue on the table that affects your project, it affects all parties involved. It’s in everyone’s best interests to figure it out.
Better sooner than later.