I agree that listening is really important. Listening is really about not making any assumptions on the best way to solve problems without really understanding what the problems are and what has caused them. A solution that doesn’t deal with the cause of the problem is pointless, and only by listening deeply to team members and stakeholders can you truly understand how to best organize everything and achieve a successful result.

Obviously this listening occurs when you are doing your initial analysis, but it should also occur all through the project when team members are describing the issues they are experiencing. Another good listening exercise that I like to perform at the beginning of projects is asking each team member (individually, if possible) what has worked and hasn’t worked on past projects. This gives me an idea of how they like to work, and later on when the project commences, I try to keep their feedback in mind when I am organizing tasks for each member, and communicating with them.

A few more things that I think help:

Communication:

1) Weekly meetings of representatives from all stakeholder groups. These meetings help everyone understand first hand where the project is and any problems that team members are experiencing.

2) Weekly e-mail status reports detailing successes and problems that every single stakeholder involved in the project is responsible for reading. This differs from the meeting because it targets a much wider audience–the bosses of team members, the project sponsor, and any concerned party.

3) A centralized project plan that shows order of tasks, dependencies, and resources; it should be clear to any team member and any stakeholder how changes in the project plan affect the project.

Conflict Management:

1) Clearly defined roles and responsibilities that are explained to the team and agreed upon at the beginning of the project. This helps to mitigate most of the, “I don’t know I was supposed to do that,” or “I though you were going to do that,” sort of stuff.

2) A clear change management/conflict resolution methodology that everyone understands at the beginning of the project: how are disagreements within the team handled? Who decides when agreement can’t be reached? This is absolutely necessary to prevent the project from being derailed over small but significant disagreements.

3) Temperature checks: Every week or couple of weeks during your weekly meeting ask team members how they think the project is doing, and what, if anything, can be done to make things go more smoothly; Do they need more communication or less? Do they need more control (management) or less? Do you as a project manager need to assist them in attaining resources or authority? Tweak your management tactics accordingly.

I guess that the central theme for my projects is communication. I try to create an environment where 1) everyone understands what they are supposed to do, 2) what other team members are supposed to do, and 3) what is going on with the project at all times. All of the problems I have ever had on projects stem from those three things not being clear.

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