3.2 Communicating with the project team and other stakeholders
In project management, the quality of communication can make the difference between achieving your objectives and falling short of them. Projects often fail not because of problems with the work itself, but because the people involved are not working together effectively.
Project managers communicate in diverse ways: face-to-face or by telephone, in written and electronic forms, through presentations and reports. The purpose of communication is primarily to explain to others what has been achieved so far and what remains to be completed, and to listen and respond to the needs and views of others concerned with the project.
Example 6: Listening to the needs of stakeholders
I had an example of the importance of active listening in the context of a critical cultural-change project I managed for BT Cellnet which involved a mobile switching centre. The users in the new mobile switching centre were not content with the supply of a microwave cooking facility for the new building. People worked at weekends, late at night or during call-outs. They had indicated that they preferred to have a conventional cooker so they could prepare food such as pies, non-frozen meals and vegetables to provide a proper meal.
I set up a meeting with the users to ascertain the reasons why they wanted this facility, what the consequences were if I did not provide what they wanted and to look for alternative options that satisfied all parties.
During this meeting the users stated their requirements clearly and precisely. They felt very strongly about not being able to prepare food in the way that they wished to prepare food. A microwave was not an acceptable alternative to a conventional cooker. If they were not supplied with a conventional cooker, staff would no longer be prepared to work longer hours or show goodwill towards working by exception such as attending call-outs or staying longer at work to resolve urgent issues. They did not wish to discuss any other alternative.
I did not capture the views of the users. I heard what the users were saying during this meeting but I did not actively listen to them and act on what was said. I missed out on vital information (the reasons why users felt that this was the most important requirement to them and why other requirements did not matter so much to them).
Yes, in the end I decided to replace the microwave cookers with conventional cookers to meet the requirements of the users. The users in this particular part of the country were used to cooking real meals. I did not discuss the importance to them in detail, and therefore, did not understand. It did not matter what else I provided them – the cooker was more important than facilities. They felt so strongly about this that they said that I could reduce their desk space but provide the cooker!
By installing a heat/smoke detector and automatic shut off facilities, I was able to compromise and provide the cooker and I had a very happy user community, with a lot of flexibility thrown in.
In this example, the need to maintain full cooking facilities for the staff was seen as highly important. When staff regularly work outside normal hours, the social environment can contribute considerably to the identity and independence of the team. For example, in Fire Service facilities, fire fighters need to have accommodation for long periods of duty, and the cooking and dining arrangements are recognised as contributing to the maintenance of the team. Cooking and eating together have often been seen as a way of building strong cohesion.
Building a project team is a continuing process that needs to be constantly worked at. The project team may be drawn from a variety of different departments within your organisation, or from different agencies, and may be very diverse in knowledge, skills and experience. Effective team working in a multi-disciplinary context can be hindered by lack of understanding of each other's roles.