Saturday, September 17, 2005

Typical Oversimplification

A friend pointed out that my last post seems to paint the picture of PM as simply effectively communicating project status. This isn't the picture I was going after. I know that there isn't just one thing a PM needs to do in order to be successful. A few things I can think of off the top of my head:

- Establish a network of people in the company, for support and information
- Understand the goals and objectives of the customer(s)
- Establish trust with key stakeholders (customers,bosses, project workers,...)
- Do the mandatory tasks (Sit in meetings, schedules, plans, statuses, meeting minutes...)
- Mediate disputes and drive people to make a decision
- Manage risk and issues
- Monitor budget and other key metrics that the customer(s) care about
- Sheild the workers from unnecessary busy work and political gyrations
- Understand the true state of the project and communicate it effecticely to all key stakeholders

In my opinion, this last one is the most important. Of course you have to do all the other things, but if you fail in the last one your job will be frustrating and probably unsuccessful. If I was reading this my first thought would be so what do you mean by the "true state of the project" and "communicate it effecticely to all key stakeholders". These seem awfully vague. Let me try to elaborate.

Lets assume for a bit that we had a crystal ball that knew all and would answer any question about our project we wanted to know. Stop salivating...assuming we were intelligent to ask the right questions we could determine the a good understanding of the current state of the project. In fact if we had enough time I bet we could get a complete picture of all work on the project. This is what I mean by true state of the project. Of course we don't have any crystal balls...try telling that to your customer. So what do we do. Well I think the answer is different for everyone. I like to make a mental map around which I put various bits of information from various sources. As time goes on and I find out the reliability of various sources I adjust my mental map to get a better understanding of what is going on. I never rely on just one source. There are tools I have seen that let you map information with links...I forget their name...but then I doubt I would ever use it. Others seem to have success using them though.

Now on to communicating it effecticely to all key stakeholders. Communication is an interesting thing. Different mediums work better in different situations. When you want to tell folks you are buying the first round I find email works just fine. When you want to tell some one they aren't meeting expectations I would never use email. In between it all depends. Email is great for simple questions and simple answers. It is great for reporting status to a group of people and making sure everyone that needs the basics gets them on a regualr basis. It isn't the best communciation tool for ALL communication though. Alistair Cockburn has written about the modes of communication ( It is important to use communication effectively and efficiently. Relying on just one mode (i.e. email or meetings) is bound to result in less information than is necessary to do the job. Then again I don't know I might just be wrong.

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