Tip for BI Success: Stop Hiding Behind Email

I recently posted a discussion in the LinkedIn CIO group, stating:  “Studies show up to 93% of all communication is nonverbal. This can be further broken down to 55% through nonverbal elements like facial expressions, gestures and posture, and 38% in vocal elements like pitch, speed and volume. By communicating via email or text, you are filtering out 93% of the communication. It’s not surprising how often we deal with miscommunications caused by email. By communicating via phone, you are filtering out 55% of the communication. The only way you can get 100% communication is to be physically present with the person. I realize this is not always possible. In the event you can’t meet in person, leverage a web camera. You may not be able to see their posture, but you can definitely learn a lot by seeing their facial expressions. (Stats from Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages)”

The response was awesome, but not all responders agreed with me.  A few ripped me for taking Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research out to context; which I agree that I was using the stats to make a point and probably moved a little into the gray area.

The comments came in from around the world.  IT professionals that deal with multiple cultures and time zones defended email.  I also noticed that the responses defending email depended on the industry.  In more transaction and non-relationship based industries, email was defended.  Depending on the industry, the dependence on email varied quite a bit.

One of my favorite comments came from Christian Willoch – Manager, Internal IT at Centric, where he posted:

“I recently ran a 2-year development project where I was the Product Owner. We used Scrum as the method. The developers were in Sri Lanka and the stakeholders were in 5 different European countries.

During the project kick-off, I made clear one rule of communication: Email is *not* allowed in this project. All types of communication should be done through whatever other appropriate channel is available and is dependent on the nature of the communication (one-to-one, discussions, meetings, clarifications, information, etc.). So we extensively used tools like Skype, Yammer, Confluence (a wiki with great collaborative power), Jira (issue/story tool with same collaborative power as Confluence), phone, face2face, Cisco video conference.

I pushed it as far as I could, and it worked like a charm. Never have I run a project so efficiently from a communications point of view.

And I observed a big paradox:

In the consumer world, email is decreasing rapidly as a communication channel, replaced by other collaborative tools (ever tried to send an email to your young children? Even telefax or good old “snail mail” would get a quicker response…).

But once we move into the corporate world, email is the standard method of communication. And getting enterprises to move into more social and collaborative tools is extremely challenging.

Be aware, though. The near-future employee may not even know what email is.

Who misses the telefax? 😉

Kudos to Chris!  Scrum is designed to help improve communications.  We can discuss that in another blog.

Personally, I believe as data and analytics are changing how organizations make decisions, it's imperative that IT professionals step back from the computer and interact with the business. The effectiveness of requirements gathering will skyrocket and lead to successful projects if we improve our communication skills and learn to actively listen, which I believe is not possible with email. If we, as a group, work hard to improve our soft skills, we can lead our organizations to innovation and profitability.

So for the next week, stop and consider how you are using email.  Is it the best way to communicate?  Or could you build rapport and be more effective by picking up the phone?  Or, better yet, walk down the hall and meet in person whenever possible?

“Politics of a Project” – Project Manager Tips

“Politics of a Project” – Project Manager Tips

Ever have a project that could be of great benefit to the company, but you can’t seem to get it off the ground because of a group of unhappy people?  I like to call these folks “unhappies”.  Every company has them and they seem to be able to instigate negative behavior just by walking into a room. They are never happy unless something is their idea or they somehow get the credit, even though they are masters at dodging work. All of us wish these people would magically decide to quit; but that never happens and the likelihood of them being fired is slim to none. The unfortunate reality is that project managers have to win over unhappies or wield enough power to silence them. From my experience, the latter never happens because project managers have about as much power as the Secretary General of the United Nations. It may seem like a powerful position to be a project manager, however, you often have to work with those that are above your station or have more political power than you. You must somehow persuade people to do the right thing…hence the comparison to the United Nations. If you are interested in how to persuade these power brokers, you should read the story of Kofi Annan titled The Best Intentions.

Anyway back to the unhappies … the first step to converting an unhappy is to identify them. Most unhappies are out in the open and everyone knows them, but there are unhappies lurking in places that you would never suspect – these are the ones that are the most dangerous. A covert unhappy might do everything in their power to undermine the success of the project simply because they were not chosen as a leader. A project manager has to be a student of people watching to be able to spot the covert unhappy to be made into an ally. This might take some maneuvering or manipulation (pick whatever word makes you comfortable) but be assured that you have got to get control of the covert unhappy.

After you have identified and laid plans for converting the covert unhappy, you now have to work on fence-riders.  These are the people that can go either way on a project. They can be a project evangelist or one of the unhappies. I picked the word “evangelist” because one of its definitions is an enthusiastic advocate, which is a dream come true for a project manager. If you get to a fence-rider first and find a way to make he/she feel important, then you are well on your way to making a few “Jimmy Swaggers” – okay, minus personal life scandals.  Fence-riders may help a project manager by convincing others that the project is a good idea. Moreover, fence-riders turned project evangelist have creditability that a projects manager may lack. Project evangelists defend the project in the absence of the project manager. Conversations at lunch, the coffee maker and even in the restroom all make undercurrents; therefore; a well placed project evangelist can ensure that these undercurrents don’t turn into deadly waves.

The fact is, every company is a society of personalities. Each class within that society has a trait that can be beneficial to a project manager if they are astute enough to identify and leverage each. It may appear that this post is about how to manipulate people and move them around like chess pieces and in a way you are right. If you are really honest with yourself, you know that companies don’t always operate in a meritocracy.  How many times have you seen someone promoted over a much more deserving person? How many times have companies bypassed doing the right thing for the easy thing? I could go on and on but I won’t because what I am saying is a good project manager is a great politician and an even better tactician!