Communications

We have stressed the importance of strong and effective communication both within and external to a project. We have also seen that communication skills are essential to the success of a manager and a leader. Poor communicators are likely to fail at the challenging job of running a project or a systems engineering team. It is an axiom of management that there can never be too much effective communication. It is almost always true that there is too little positive and honest communication.

Strong and well-considered communication is at the heart of building a productive team. Thus, we pause at this point to highlight some of the critical aspects of being an effective communicator. These are listed in Exhibit 6.1 and briefly discussed in what follows.

Exhibit 6.1: Essentials of an Effective Communicator

1. Listen.

2. Adopt a management by walking around (MBWA) way of being.

3. Assure participation by all team members.

4. Synthesize and integrate.

5. Meet with all key project personnel every week.

6. Insist on information ''flow-down.''

7. Hold short ''information'' meetings.

8. Communicate with boss and other project support people.

9. Talk to customer at least once a week.

10. Maintain a positive and supportive attitude.

11. Offer training for poor communicators.

12. Assure that communications is part of personnel evaluation.

As indicated in the previous chapter, listening is a crucial part of communicating. It gives respect to the person who is talking to you and conveys the message that he or she has something to say that is of value. Regarding management by walking around (MBWA), this is an informal way for the PM and CSE to obtain and convey information in an easy and nonintrusive manner. Coming to the workplace of a subordinate also suggests that the manager is comfortable with and wishes to be in contact with the ''innards'' of the project. The PM should also make sure that the more reticent of the project team are invited to participate. Otherwise, the dominant members of the team may monopolize the discussion, both formally and informally, and the more laid-back people will not put forth their ideas. Many people want to be asked what they think. A smart and sensitive PM understands that and does the asking. True communication also involves listening, absorbing what was said, integrating it with other information, and providing the results to those one is communicating with.

As another ground rule, the PM and CSE should be in touch with all key project people, not necessarily all personnel, at least once a week. MBWA is but one way to accomplish that. A short telephone call, or a short meeting, also assures that contact is continuous and productive. The flow-down of information is sometimes assumed, but often not carried out. Many PMs are surprised to find that what they convey to lead engineers stops there. Information flow-down must be assured to avoid isolation (''No one tells me anything around here'') and let people know what they need to know to be part of the team. As suggested before, not all meetings are ''decision'' meetings. A short ''information'' meeting lets team members know that you are specifically interested in keeping them informed.

Open channels of communication are also crucial with your boss and with support department personnel that have a role to play on the project. As suggested in the last chapter, it is a good idea to contact your customer every week, if only to assure that everything is on track. Communication that is negative and nonsupportive is worse than no communication at all. The PM must adopt a positive and supportive position, except under the most radical of situations. Here again, we see that type of position, for example, for sports coaches that are successful. For those with lead positions on the team that have difficulty in communicating, the PM should establish some type of training program to build skills in this most imprtant area. Finally, make sure, especially with these same lead people, that communications is part of your (at least annual) evaluation of them. This brings the point home in ways that most people understand and value.

6.3 BUILDING THE PROJECT TEAM

Team building and being part of a team are critical issues in project and systems engineering management. Teams, however, do not spontaneously appear; they must be built. As suggested before, a prerequisite to team building is to follow the communication ''rules'' identified in Exhibit 6.1. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions for building an effective team.

We see, in various parts of our lives, numerous real-world examples of team building and lack thereof. Perhaps three examples stand out and are visible, at least in part, to the population at large. One has to do with the President of this country. We can track, through impressions obtained in the newspapers, how the President has built a team and the extent to which bridges have, or have not, been built to the Congress. This is a massive teambuilding undertaking and context, and the more successful Presidents have been broad and inclusive in their interpretation of the team that must be built. Another example is that of a coach of a football team. Some coaches appear, year after year, to get the best out of the talents present in the members of the team. Indeed, one measure of the success of a team is precisely whether all team members are doing the best they can do. When this is achieved, even if the team does not win every game, there is a strong and positive sense of team effort and achievement along with strong ties and camaraderie between team members as well as the coach. Thus, team building and coaching are very similar. The effective team builder must be a good coach. Finally, most of us are part of some type of team in our work environments. We thus can observe team interactions in that context, whether we are teachers, engineers, administrators, middle managers, or members of the board of directors of a corporation.

We now identify ten specific suggestions for building a project team, as listed in Exhibit 6.2 and discussed in what follows. Following these suggestions, together with those provided in the previous chapter, will likely lead to a strong and effective team operation.

Exhibit 6.2: Suggestions for Building a Project Team

1. Develop and maintain a personal plan for team building and operation.

2. Hold both periodic and special team meetings.

3. Clarify missions, goals, and roles.

4. Run the team in a participative, possibly consensual, manner.

5. Involve the team in situation analysis and problem solving.

6. Give credit to active, positive team members and contributions.

7. Assure team efficiency and productivity.

8. Obtain feedback from team members.

9. Integrate, coordinate, facilitate, and assure information flow.

10. Maintain effective communication.

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