Effective communication is at the centre of successful project management. Having a culture where information exchange is constant between you, your stakeholders, and your team is an excellent way to keep everyone on the same page.
Contrary to what many believe, project managers don’t have all the answers. So to foster a culture of collaboration, you’ll need to master the art of asking thoughtful questions and encouraging your project teams to request information when they need to as well. This is especially important when you’re working with a remote team.
Here are the important questions you and your team should be aligned with to ensure project success, broken down by project phase.
Project Initiation Phase
The outcome of your initiation phase dictates the fate of your entire project. At this stage, communications should be directed towards understanding and addressing relevant issues for your stakeholders.
Q1: Who is the client, and what are we trying to help them achieve?
Look into your client’s business or organization. What are their business priorities, and what issues are they itching to solve? Understanding these things will give you a true insight into what your project’s objectives and success criteria should be.
Q2: What internal and external factors affect our client’s problem?
Do your homework and study your client’s problem comprehensively. Gather data and conduct interviews if needed. Projects rarely exist in a bubble. Diving into this early can help you manage expectations and anticipate factors that may affect your project’s effectiveness.
Project Planning Phase
Once expectations are clear, the planning phase helps ensure you and your team have all the necessary skills, resources, and knowledge to achieve them.
Q3: Do we have existing skill sets and resources that can help us with this project?
To maximize existing resources, check for projects or research your clients may have done in the past. Check existing skill sets from your team as well. Do you have seasoned members with insight and experience on certain aspects of your project? Inventorying what’s available to you can help you avoid redundant and unnecessary tasks moving forward.
Q4: What parts of the plan and estimates are we confident and not confident about?
Data points are more important than feelings, but you shouldn’t completely discount what your gut is telling you and your team. Taking the initiative to encourage transparency at this juncture builds trust in your approach, and with each other.
Q5: What is your comfort level on our planned workflow and communication channels?
Communication and alignment with your team throughout the following stages will be crucial. But before you iron out your communication plan, ensure that you get everyone’s buy-in. The last thing you want is for them to hold a grudge every time you call them in on meetings.
Q6: What are the worst-case scenarios we might have to anticipate and prepare for?
Be sure to consider contingencies when planning. Things rarely go as planned. And the bigger your project is, the more blockers are likely to show up.
Project Execution Phase
As you start doing the detailed work of project management, stay on top of new and relevant information that comes up. This will help you foresee issues and spot opportunities for improvement.
Q7: Did you encounter anything unexpected you’d like to share with the team?
Unexpected situations can either be beneficial or detrimental to your success. Encourage your team to bring new findings and experiences to light. This will help you assess how you can manage them, or use them to your advantage.
Q8: How are you feeling?
When the going gets tough, it’s normal to start zeroing in on the looming deadlines and increasing pressure. But as a project manager, you’ll need to exert a conscious effort to check on your team. Remember that you’re working with people. The success of your project is entirely dependent on them. When those around you are panicking; it’s time to be cool/calculated/measured/supportive but when things are “cruising”; it’s often a good idea to inject pace/urgency/focus to ensure key deliverables are being hit in a timely (or ‘early’) manner !.
Q9: What are your recent wins?
While it’s essential to address problems, it’s equally vital to affirm accomplishments. Recognise successful deliverables and milestones. Acknowledge team members who have done exceptional work. This can be a good incentive for them to maintain their performance and encourage others to follow suit.
Project Monitoring & Control Phase
Q10: Are we on track?
While your team is hard at work, keep track of their progress to evaluate if you’re using your time and resources wisely. Everyone will be focused on their respective roles, so it will be important for you to keep tabs on the bigger picture.
Q11: What support or additional resources do we need?
As you discover friction points in your work and processes, encourage your team to be vocal if they need additional support or resources. Odd as it may seem, asking for assistance isn’t always the first instinct. Normalizing this can go a long way in building a culture of open communication and collaboration.
Q12: How will the new requests affect the success, scope, and timeline?
Change requests usually come as situations change. Before injecting them into your plans, evaluate the effort that it will require and compare it with the impact you’re expecting it to contribute to see if it’s worth doing. It’s your job to stop scope creep.
Project Review Phase
Q13: What did we do well? What did we not do well? What can we improve?
Taking the time to regroup and evaluate how you took on your project is an excellent way to recognise accomplishments, address issues, learn from experience, and strategize for improvement.
Q14: What impact did our project contribute to our client’s goals?
Do an objective assessment of your project’s success. Did you meet all your project objectives? How did achieving them improve your client’s business and organization? Affirm your project team members’ efforts by helping them see how their work has helped an important cause.
As a project manager, making sure that your team communicates is one of your core responsibilities. Asking questions will require leadership skills, patience, tact, and humility. But done right, it can have massive effect in fostering a healthy culture that will pave the way to project management success.
Credit: HANNAH DONATO