We don’t have to tell you that good communications make a difference in the workplace. But sometimes it’s what you don’t say that makes the most difference overall.
Your senior management team and your Project Management Office (PMO) team are constantly sending out messages about what is valued and what’s not. This is the space where integrity, credibility and communication mix and it’s important to get right if you are doing anything that relates to changing working practices, such as implementing Earned Value or moving to enterprise-grade project management tools.
This is implicit communication: the way people interpret what executives do, what resources are allocated to their projects and how they feel about the interactions they have with their colleagues. In other words, if they hear about the new PMO and all the great things it does, but don’t see any evidence of managers changing their behaviors, making more considered decisions or prioritizing resources in a more transparent way, then the credibility of that PMO takes a dive.
Aligning Explicit and Implicit Communications
You’ll create a boost in integrity if you can align what is said to what people see is happening. Whether that’s at the level of the project office as a department, or on an individual project, you need to manage the expectations of the stakeholders.
Aim for consistency between how your team act with what they say, about the project and the business overall. For example, a project stakeholder who nods in all the right places but then leaves the meeting and does nothing towards completing her actions to the point could be actively undermining the success of the project.
Sometimes you’re going to have to pick these situations off individually, such as in this case, but other times it will be more pervasive. For example, the strategic board prioritize the top five projects for the business to work on but only invest resources in three. The other two are left to struggle, despite being in the annual report as major initiatives for this financial year. The project team on those two projects aren’t going to believe that their work is truly a priority, whatever the statement to shareholders says.
Building integrity in this way will have a knock on benefit for increasing trust in the team and improving the level of engagement from staff.
Let Your Team Know What Behaviors Are Valued
Many organizations carry out performance reviews based not only on work output but also on culture and behaviors. Staff members are assessed on their tangible contribution but also how well they embody the values of the enterprise and how they support and engage their colleagues.
This is a good opportunity to specify what’s acceptable behavior. Much implicit communication happens without us being consciously aware of what we are saying (body language is a perfect example) so part of the challenge is recognizing it.
Train your team to spot inconsistencies between how they act in front of senior managers and how they talk to their teams. Is there a different story being told in each situation? It’s fine to modify language, remove jargon and focus on business benefits for the execs and double down on tech vocab for the developers, but ultimately the messages should be part of the same joined up story. If they aren’t, that’s a consistency and integrity problem that could result in both parties feeling that the project manager in the middle isn’t being honest.
Maintain Equality of Access to Tools
Another way to build credibility is to ensure equality of access to tools. In other words, it’s not only the high profile, big projects that get access to the resources of the PMO. If you’re going to maintain standards across the business, you want to get the message out that each project is valued in the same way and should have the same right to use professional project management tools to help it deliver successfully.
If you’ve got enterprise-wide project management tools, that’s relatively easy to sort out. Create user accounts and train everyone involved in project delivery. Mandate the tools where it’s appropriate to do so.
It can also help to create guidelines for what different types of project need to do. Within the PMO, establish what kind of projects need to use Earned Value, and the minimum documentation required. Set out what latitude project managers have to choose how to apply your methodologies and what aspects have to be incorporated regardless of the size or complexity of the project (we’d suggest risk management falls into this category).
Standards like these help promote an equitable approach to managing projects. If it’s not appropriate to use Monte Carlo analysis on all projects, don’t do it, but create guidelines that demonstrate the decisions are based on criteria and appropriateness, not who has the special key to get the good stuff from the PMO.
Another point on tools and processes: if you are going to mandate something, make sure that all your documentation is consistent including the measures that project sponsors use to track performance. It’s pointless assessing project managers on their consistent use of a certain measure only for your exec community to ignore that and use something else to make judgments about project performance. Project managers will soon get tired of behaving in a way that they know isn’t serving any purpose.
Your teams will notice inconsistencies, so don’t think that you can hide these away. Transparency and honesty in approach at all levels will support your project delivery through improving the credibility of your processes and the engagement of your teams.