Monday, 28 March 2011

I was watching George Osborne deliver his budget speech on Wednesday, trying to be a super cool executive with my iPad propped up on my desk, happily multitasking by sorting my emails, updating a report, painting my nails and eating a cheese sandwich (that list is a powerful argument against open plan offices!)

Anyway, I was half listening/watching George at work and it reminded me of the worst type of project management meetings that I attend as a Project Sponsor. They are bad because the project manager delivers a speech, doesn't draw breath for my questions and tries to sum up each point with a sound bite as if he/she is being interviewed by Sky News.

If the project is being managed by a less experienced Project Manager then I have a degree of sympathy. Talking at someone is a sign of insecurity, not stopping for questions is driven by fear of not knowing the answers to the questions. When it's an experienced Project Manager I think it's a warning sign that they will rush through their presentation, never staying long enough on one topic for penetrating questions to be asked.

If this applies to you either as a Project Sponsor or a Project Manager my recommendations for a meaningful two way exchange of information, opinion and decisions are:

If you are the Project Manager:
- Give the progress report using milestone reporting - don't give a blow by blow account of every activity but concentrate on the results of that activity I.e. Milestones
- Keep your information factual and in a way that enables each piece of information to be compared. For example, report each milestone as on or over schedule, the reasons for this and what you are doing about it
- Check that there is agreement with your actions (don't forget that this is a chance to ask for advice and guidance)
- Identify when a milestone has been reached and closed off, in contrast to those milestones that are reached but in doing so have identified interdependencies and knock on effects to the next period of activity
- Check that there is agreement with your assessment of the interdependencies (again, don't be afraid to ask for guidance - use the experience of others to check your assumptions and your analysis of the situation)

If you are the Project Sponsor:
- Remember that aggression or impatience generally leads project managers to reduce the information they provide for fear of criticism
- Ask questions that enable you to ensure four outcomes:
o Understanding and agreement of the progress made so far
o Clear instructions on any rework or amendments that are required and the resourcing of these activities - are you prepared to delay other work in order to fix something, or will you authorize overtime, temporary staff etc?
o Agreement to the work proposed for the next period
o Clear instructions on any reductions or increases in expectations for this next period and their impact on resource plans
- Use your experience of other projects to give advice and guidance to the Project Manager

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