Making your mark

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

cover image sml 210x300 Making your markReal-life stories of other people’s projects always make good reading. Who doesn’t like to hear how other people do their job (and pinch all their ideas for making your projects more effective!)? My new book, Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World (2nd Edition) is published this month, and it’s full of case studies and examples from project managers around the world. Some are of things where the project went well, some are examples of where things didn’t go so well so that you can learn from their mistakes!

Here’s a case study from the first edition, on the topic of getting your message across. This project manager shares her experience of talking about her project in a creative way.

‘Our director had a project day,’ Catalina Marcos says. ‘He wanted the project managers to each present what they were working on. By the time my bit came round, he’d already sat through 15 short presentations.’

Marcos had predicted her director would be tired of looking through printouts of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. She decided to put her project updates across differently. So she turned to Microsoft Word and the huge range of standard templates available online. For one project, she created a three-fold brochure. ‘I only had to design the cover. The rest of the text I copied and pasted from the project brief and other documents,’ she explains. The other project Marcos was working on had been in difficulty for some time. ‘I summarised the current position, risks and outstanding decisions at the top of a landscape sheet of paper, and underneath created a timeline to visually show the project history, including all the false starts and delays,’ she says. ‘Setting it out like that was much more effective than several paragraphs explaining why we were where we were, and also highlighted the decisions I needed him to take and the reasons I needed an answer quickly.’

Marcos believes that presenting the information like this took no more time than pulling together a presentation on slides. ‘I just thought about what I would want if it had been me sitting through all those updates. It gave our director a break from the same format, and hopefully a reason to remember me and my projects.’

There are a whole host of ways to get your message across when you work on projects, and this is just one example of a non-software related way to share information about your project with your team and stakeholders. Using the reporting features of your project management software is another, or giving them direct access to products like DropMind so that they can see mind-mapping diagrams first-hand and understand how the ideas evolved and how decisions were made.

The best thing to do with all forms of communication is to make sure that they are tailored to the audience. In the example from the book, something that was different from everyone else was the best approach. However, if you are working with a range of stakeholders and they are in turn working on a number of projects, you could find it a lot easier to standardise your reporting across all the project managers. Then the stakeholders will only have to learn to interpret one set of reports.

Of course, presentations are different and you have a lot more leeway to prepare these creatively, depending on what you want to share with your audience. Presenting in a creative way is often a good way to make your presentation stand out. You could talk to the other people presenting to ensure that your material does not overlap with theirs and that your presentation style is complementary.

What tips or examples about communicating on your project do you have to share? Let us know in the comments.

Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World (2nd Edition) by Elizabeth Harrin is published by BCS Books this month (May 2013). This case study is from the first edition and is reused with permission.

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