Have you ever read an email and gotten upset, thinking the person was being offensive and rude? Then, when you bring it up to a coworker, expecting them to agree, they took the email in a whole different meaning.
Communication is hard. We don’t always say what we mean. We don’t always mean what we say. Putting things in the written word is even more difficult. Whether it is an email or a project charter, stating something in words that is clear and succinct is always challenging.
What are we trying to accomplish?
When a project manager develops a statement of work or a project charter, there is usually some summary information for the team. These documents generally state the purpose of the project, the expected deliverables, and at least a high-level timeline for the work to be completed.
Once this information has been signed off by all of the critical stakeholders, the project manager will begin developing a more detailed project plan. The nature of that plan will vary depending on whether that project is agile or waterfall and many other factors.
Once a plan or a task list is in place, the project participants will provide input on durations and effort. People will agree and the project begins. Periodic status meetings will verify that the project is on track with the plan.
That’s how it should generally work on a large, organized project.
The small project
Every once in a while there is a small project with only 3 or 4 participants. Maybe it’s only a three-month duration. This is so manageable that management doesn’t see a need or a project manager. The statement of work listed out the deliverables. The team should know what to do.
Within a few weeks it is clear that the team doesn’t know what they are doing. One participant thought that he was responsible for one set of deliverables. The other thought that she was responsible for many of the same items.
Management lets the project progress a few weeks before checking in. In that first check-in, the team members are sufficiently vague about their accomplishments that the manager doesn’t realize that they’re doing dual work.
A couple of weeks later, the manager does another check-in. Here, he has an expectation of progress. But when he asks the team what they’ve accomplished according to “the plan,” they don’t know what he’s talking about.
“What plan?” they ask.
“The plan I sent you from the statement of work at the beginning of the project.”
“What was I supposed to do with that?”
Getting on the same page
No matter the size of a project, it is critical to make sure everyone understands the purpose of the project. All expected deliverables should be defined and broken down into tasks. The team should decide who will be responsible for each task and when they are expected to complete each task.
Finally, periodic status meetings should be held. In each meeting, it is important to make sure everyone knows what they were expected to complete. They should know where their status sits within the plan and what their next task is.
This can be difficult to communicate on a large project. It takes a full-time project manager to accomplish it. On smaller projects, it is often taken for granted. A manager doesn’t have time to manage the project. He assumes it is simple and the few team members will communicate and stay up to speed.
Because of this, smaller projects can have just as much probability of failure as larger ones. All projects need to be managed. Someone needs to be in charge of making sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do and when they are supposed to do it.
How many small projects have you seen fail because nobody bothered to manage it?
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