Interactive Project Management: Best Practics for Communicating the Right Message Using the Right Medium at the Right Time
There are countless ways to communicate with team members and stakeholders, from email and documents to meetings and calls. An effective project manager wrangles all that can be said in any number of ways into what needs to be said and delivers it in the best way possible.
In this chapter, we’ll discuss
- What good communication looks like
- The common types of communication and what they’re good for
- Best practices
All projects require communication. What’s different about interactive projects? There’s a wide range of personalities and stakeholders involved—from the IE6-hating developer to the executive requesting “the next Facebook.” Not only that, there are opinions, requirements, restrictions, and requests coming from all of them.
All of this causes tension. Effective communication is the key to preventing and resolving the tension and misunderstandings that arise.
Using emotional intelligence to understand your team is just the beginning. Applying those observations and experiences using communication is pivotal to facilitating productive and collaborative engagement among your team.
What does good communication look like?
Practicing good communication, at every opportunity, will make a huge difference on any project. Transferring information, exchanging ideas, providing explanations, and achieving goals all rest on effective communication. As project manager, you set the stage by ensuring that communication has the following four qualities:
OPEN. Being honest about expectations, objectives, and restrictions is one of the most crucial elements of successful communication. You might have to ask a lot of questions to get a client to be open, or maybe you’ll have to reiterate the value of openness to your team. Bring back-channel conversations to the forefront and stress to your team that openness strengthens the project.
CLEAR. Understand what’s going on with your team and the client. And make sure they understand, too. Listen, ask questions, process, and think through what they’re saying. And confirm understanding with others, both clients and the internal team.
COLLABORATIVE. Collaboration requires productive, two-way communication. Both you and the client bring expertise and value to the project. They know their business; you know yours. Together you make something great. Don’t try to make your client feel like you know everything about everything, because you don’t—and neither does your team, your department, or your organization. And make sure that your client doesn’t treat you or your organization like vendors. Your team does more than simply execute clients’ ideas; it brings value and insight, an asset that your client must recognize if you’re going to work collaboratively.
THOROUGH. Communication is an invaluable tool in properly documenting and recording the life cycle of a project. Capturing the thinking and talking that happens apart from forms and documents is important in establishing a shared understanding among the team. Recognizing that a project is veering off course requires thoroughness: Read carefully, ask questions, call out red flags, and then document and communicate the changes.
The effects of good communication extend beyond the project and into the life of the product. Think about this when managing a project. From beginning to (no) end, effective communication will mean success beyond the launch date.
Setting the stage for success
Prepare the team for the kind of communication that will arise and the potential problems that communication can solve.
Welcome candid conversations
Not all news can be butterflies and rainbows. Realistically, we have to have conversations that are loaded with stress, bad news, or complex information.
Collaborating effectively with clients means tackling tough conversations. Project partnerships have to start with an early acknowledgement that these will occur and an agreement that they will be processed together. This has to go all the way to the top of the organization. As an executive or leader, it’s important to welcome these moments as an integral part of the process, not as a failure of the team.
Technology creates tension. (Think about it until you agree.1 ) This is one of the primary differences between interactive projects and any other type of project. But you can alleviate some of this tension if the reasons for it are addressed with open communication.
Openly discuss the truths about technology. This will give clients the context and knowledge they need to understand what makes interactive projects different. Here are three points that prep the team for what’s ahead:
TECHNOLOGY ALWAYS EVOLVES. Many clients are still more comfortable with traditional media. An ad campaign or a rebranding effort has a finite end, but interactive projects are different. They’re always changing: existing software is updated, new software is created, and this affects how it all works together. If you can help clients understand and anticipate this it empowers them to think in evolutionary terms. It’s no one’s fault if a new browser is introduced the day the project launches. It’s just how the interactive world works.
THE LAUNCH IS THE BEGINNING, NOT THE END. It’s very satisfying to launch a site or an app, and it’s certainly well worth celebrating, but not because it’s the end of the project or the work. Most interactive projects need to evolve. They’ll require updates to content, site architecture, code, or software. It’s like a puppy: To keep it alive you have to feed it and walk it, and it sometimes poops on the floor. Making the client aware of this and keeping it in the front of their minds will give them a better sense of the real scope of the project beyond the launch day balloon-drop.
SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. Recognizing and tempering unrealistic expectations will keep everyone happier in the long run. Technology won’t solve everyone’s problems; it may not eliminate work. Discussing this proactively before it’s a problem makes it easier to correct if it becomes a problem.