Communication is the most important element to project success yet it remains a challenge throughout the engagement – no matter how big or small or complex the project may be. It cannot be taken care of in isolation during the definition phase and then abandoned. Your role as controller and leader requires ongoing, unending communication - to dissolve weak links, to soothe conflicts, to report status, and to revise the schedule with tools such as Seavus’ Project Viewer.
Although primarily designed as a working document for team members, a project network diagram also serves as an aid to effective communication on all levels. For example, when discussing an upcoming schedule conflict for a team member with his or her department manager, you can use the network diagram to determine reassignment, changes in the timing of a phase, or solutions to problems. If the network diagram is too complex, it may inhibit communication rather than aid it. Because many separate tasks may be underway at the same time, anyone not accustomed to following the path of work may be confused by the diagram rather than enlightened. In these cases, creating a simplified flowchart in the top-to-bottom style familiar to most people. This is useful for explaining isolated portions of the project such as a single phase or a task within a phase.
In addition to flowcharting tasks and identifying their deadlines, the time factor itself may be expressed in flowchart form. For example, if you have an upcoming deadline for a current phase of your project, and the department manager needs a team member to meet a department deadline during the same week, working out a schedule in flowchart form may show you how to resolve the problem.
Flowcharts can often help others to visualize the complex process of project management. They can be used on many levels and in discussions of many of the communication weak links. When working with an outside resource (who might not appreciate the urgency of your deadline in a verbal discussion), the flowchart demonstrates visually that you are attempting to coordinate several efforts at the same time and that you have a series of deadlines that must be met in order to complete the project by its final deadline. The flowchart helps you to communicate a sense of urgency, which otherwise would not be possible.
The flowchart also helps outsiders appreciate the responsibility involved in managing a project. If you can simply state, “This is a tough job. I have to monitor seven people at the same time,” the job may not seem too difficult to someone who has never done it. The flowchart, however, makes the problem of project management extremely visible. If you can communicate the fact that you function very much like a conductor who must make sure that each section of the orchestra comes in at exactly the right moment, you will improve your chances for cooperation and overall teamwork - even from outside areas of responsibility.
When communicating directly with your team members, the flowchart becomes a strategic tool for overcoming schedule variances.