During the course of the project, it’s a given that the project manager will need at some time, if not on an ongoing basis, to meet with individuals who are not directly part of the project or customer team. Meaning these meetings won’t be part of your normal weekly project status meetings.
You will need to the executive who assigns the project, with other departments, and with outside resources - at the onset of your project, and possibly while the project is underway. The meetings should be short and limited, or you will spend so much time in discussion that the project will be delayed by an intended planning process.
Meetings held with outside resources and other departments should be held primarily to anticipate problems and overcome them. Your agenda for such meetings should be designed with these six goals in mind:
Express the goals of the project. Never forget the ultimate goal of your project. You may need to communicate this goal more than once and to remind outside resources of what you are trying to achieve. Keeping the goal at the forefront of your discussions helps avoid sidetracking your agenda, and is an effective way to confront problems, defuse arguments, and avoid conflict. A goal orientation keeps the discussion on track.
Explain the level of team commitment you need. You may face a confrontation with a department manager concerning the time demands on an employee. The best response is not to argue but to explain the time demands of the project. There are a number of alternatives - reassignment, schedule changes, or extended deadlines. The problem, though, should never be reduced to a struggle. You want to promote a joint effort to solve a mutual problem to everyone’s satisfaction.
Specify deadlines for phases and final completion. Avoid surprises when dealing with other departments or outside resources. If you are faced with the argument “You didn’t tell me,” either you did not communicate an upcoming deadline or, if you did, the message didn’t get through. Use your project schedule to point out detail – give them visuals through the use of a viewing tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer, if necessary.
Identify critical phases. Emphasize to outside departments and other resources which deadlines are least flexible, thus pivotal to the schedule. That way, you will improve your chances for staying on schedule throughout the project period.
Point out the likely problem areas. Don’t wait for someone else to discover problems. Anticipate them and verbalize your concern. Other managers appreciate this, and will respect your consideration. For example, you may state, “In this phase, I will depend on the employee from your department. But I think the phase comes up during your busy cycle.” As long as you and the other manager work together, you can resolve the problem before the conflicting deadlines are upon you. This does away with the scheduling problem, and improves your relationship with the other manager.
Agree on priorities for the project. Some project managers attempt to meet deadlines and create an atmosphere of teamwork and cooperation, only to face unending conflict--between team members, outside resources, and other departments. This problem often arises because the priorities of the project have never been expressed clearly.
Once you get other people to agree to your priorities, your communication task becomes much easier. In many projects, however, the perceptions of the various people and departments involved are so different that efforts are constantly in conflict with one another. For example, your priority may be to gather information needed to prepare a report, whereas another manager’s priority is to put cost-cutting measures into effect. What is the project supposed to achieve?
Leave nothing unexplained, or assumptions will fill the gaps. If you are to get any cooperation at all, it’s up to you to explain what you’re doing so that it’s understood by everyone involved.
Invite only those who are absolutely essential to the agenda. The more people in your meeting, the more difficult it will be to stay on the subject and to get anything done.
Limit the time. If your meetings run too long, you won’t achieve results. Plus, in the process you’ll bore attendees and drive them away from your initial goals of the meeting process.
Set meeting goals for yourself. Write out an agenda - not just by topics but by goals. What do you want to accomplish in your meeting? Someone should be able to read the agenda and know exactly what will be achieved.
Next, you will need to get your message across to the attendees - whether team members, department managers, executives, consultants, or other outside resources. You maintain control of the meeting by moving through the agenda and ensuring that decisions are made and actions assigned. Some projects are helped by periodic five-minute team meetings, during which the coming week’s assignments are discussed and clarified. Other meetings can be useful for resolving problems at various levels.
You will get your message across by using several aids to communication, such as:
The agenda. The agenda itself can be a powerful communication tool, if correctly designed. For example, a team member is facing a department deadline that interferes with a project deadline. You could list this agenda item as “Scheduling Conflicts,” a passive approach. But it would be better to describe it as “Resolution to Upcoming Conflict in Schedule,” thus emphasizing a solution to the problem, rather than merely raising the topic and talking about it.
Simplified flowchart. Many people have problems understanding something as complex as a network diagram. They can relate better to a top-to-bottom flowchart that isolates a period of time and a limited number of tasks or phases.
Gantt chart. To explain a scheduling problem and make it extremely visual, the Gantt chart - although not so useful for your project control effort - can be used in project meetings, if only to communicate the problem you’re facing. Use your output from a tool like Seavus’ Project Viewer to produce a Gantt chart view for the room.
Network diagram. For team meetings, the network diagram is the most effective communication tool. If you expect a problem in the near future, both the explanation and the likely solution will be made easier with the use of the network diagram.