Archive for May, 2013

Communicating Effectively

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“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people”    

~Jim Rohn                          

Communication must be “clear, concise and focused. It helps everyone stay on target” (Laureate Education, 2009). This week’s focus is on the importance of effective communication in the workplace. While this course emphasizes the role of the project manager, this week’s topic of communication spreads out to really include all of the members of the team. Without communication, a project can quickly become chaotic influencing deadlines, roles and responsibilities, budget, and ultimately the finished product. So what is effective communication?

Dr. Stolovitch notes that “Effective communication is affected by:

  • Spirit and attitude
  • Tonality and body language
  • Timing
  • The personality of the recipient” (Laureate Education, 2009).

To test our skills in communication, we were presented the same message in three very different formats-email, voicemail, and face-to-face conversation. The task was to read and/or listen to the message and note the characteristics of each format, interpret the message, and determine which message best conveyed the meaning or delivered the message most effectively. This is what I discovered:

  •  Email relies strictly on written communication; therefore it is often hard to read the tone, personality, and attitude of the sender. Dr. Stolovitch states, “Written communication should begin with a clear purpose, state the situations, include possible solutions, and specify the form that the response is required to take” (Laureate Education, 2009). In the email example provided in this week’s resources, communication is formal, and there is  a clear concise message of urgency presented with a requested action revealing that the situation is of great importance to the sender.
  • Voicemail is a better alternative when you are wanting to follow-up on a situation or if you want to ensure a quick response. Many people may not frequently check email or may have too many emails to respond in a timely manner. Voicemail allows the sender to use their tone to stress urgency and more effectively communicate in most cases. Spirit and attitude, tone, and personality can be presented more clearly in a spoken manner than in written correspondence.
  •  In most cases, face-to-face conversation is the most effective means of communication. The greatest reason for this is the use of body language. Body language represents the attitude of the speaker. “93% of communication is not in words” (Laureate Education, 2009) but rather in the accompanying factors such as tone, body language, and attitude that more effectively tell the true meaning of the situation.
  • This week’s task was a little hard to figure out in regards to the most effective message. Instinctively, I would almost always argue that face-to-face conversation is the most beneficial. However, the email and voicemail stressed importance and urgency in the message, whereas the face-to-face message was much more conversational than I would have thought. The speaker in the face-to-face conversation was very friendly and polite, and she seemed a little more nonchalant than in the previous messages. If the intention of the communication was to come across as urgent, then the email and the voicemail were more effectively communicated than the face-to-face conversation. However, we must keep in mind that in the face-to-face conversation, the recipient has the opportunity to ask questions for clarification, the speaker can assure objectives are clear, and an agreement can be reached all in one conversation without the various updates through correspondence required when communicating through email or voicemail. Live conversations should be documented in writing to ensure even better results.

“Communication is a skill that requires the exchange of information in a way that it creates a common understanding of an idea, expectation or an opinion. And good communication means one that has achieved its goal of making your audience understand what you have tried to convey.” (Velagapudi, 2012).

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References:

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2009). Project management concerns: Communication strategies and organizational culture. [DVD]. Baltimore, MD.

Velagapudi, M. (2012, June 26). 6 tips for good communication practices in projects. Retrieved May 23, 2013, from blog.bootstraptoday.com: http://blog.bootstraptoday.com/2012/06/26/6-tips-for-good-communication-practices-in-projects/

 

Project “Post Mortem”

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“It’s important for project managers and team members to take stock at the end of a project and develop a list of lessons learned so that they don’t repeat their mistakes in the next project” (Greer, 2010)

Reflecting back on my past experience, I think of a project where I was asked to develop materials for a training class for a new sales department. Looking back now I see that I was in an Instructional Design role being assigned a Project Manager task with absolutely no skills or education to guide me. My experience was in training and developing but I did not know the ADDIE model or any PM tools that would have made the project so much easier. Instead this is what I learned:

  1. “Every project must balance its functionality, staffing, cost, schedule, and quality objectives” (Wiegers, 1996), and the project manager is primarily responsible for keeping each of these tasks on track. The first step toward completing these tasks begins in the planning stage. However, even the best planning, even the most well thought-out tasks, can be affected by change. I sought the leadership of my management team. They gave me the information I was to include in the training, and I was to develop the materials. Simple? Not so much! Without planning for scheduling, the desired outcomes of the training, the budget, or others I could call on for help, the project was doomed for failure. “Scope creep” was a continuous factor in the project. Because the department was new, everyone who heard of the training had something to add until the project became more than could be achieved by deadline.
  2. It is important for the Project Manager to do a great deal of work to examine stakeholders before the project even begins. Useful tips such as “Talk to senior people whose names appear on your list of stakeholders and begin to figure out the key project roles and responsibilities, reporting relationships, etc., and complete a Responsibility/Accountability Matrix” will prepare for the PM for the kickoff meeting where he will be able to then clarify these roles and gain commitment (Greer, 2010, p. 10). In this project, stakeholders were not identified, tools and reports were not used, and a kickoff meeting never happened (at least not that I attended). If all of the parties involved had met, objectives had been discussed, responsibilities had been committed to, deadlines had been set, and everyone had a clear understanding of the goals of the project, the project might have succeeded. Without this step in the process, the project felt like chaos.
  3.  “Communicating effectively is probably the greatest challenge that people encounter during any project so it is imperative that instructional designers model and establish good communication techniques and patterns at the onset of a project” (Allen & Hardin, 2008, p. 79). Communication is a must when it comes to the success of a project. This is where I admit that I was so excited that I was given the responsibility of this project early in my career, that I did not question many of the steps in the process. I was asked to create training materials so I did so based on what I had created in the past. However, very much like Case Study 23 in our text, my objectives were not the same as those that were anticipated by the management team. The difference, though, is that the anticipated objectives were never clearly outlined verbally or otherwise.
  4.  I was a one (wo)man show—I was the project manager and instructional designer. Therefore, all final results were my responsibility, after all no one actually admits they failed to communicate the plan of action. Results are all that matter. The project did not have the desired outcome, at first. The materials were developed beautifully, however the content was not up to par. I was able to show my work to management early in the project so together we were able to change directions mid-way. In the article “The Human Factor: Making Your Process Transparent to Your Customers”, Arnold suggests, “As you present work products for approval, remind the customer of your current stage in the project, what the current work product is (and isn’t), and ask for a signature or other written approval of the work product. If, for some reason, the work product doesn’t match the customer’s expectations, the frequent checkpoints will help ensure that the project doesn’t get too far off track before the customer has the opportunity to request corrections” (Arnold, 2011).

Planning, communication, identifying stakeholders, scheduling, and accountability all play a great role in the success of a project. The better a project manager outlines each step of the plan, the better the results will be achieved. In the moment, I knew this project was not well organized. I was young in my experience with little formal education, but looking back I realize what a valuable lesson I learned. The greatest perhaps being that I do not ever want to be part of a disorganized project again. I want to know how to be better prepared for success.

“Trying to manage a project without project management is like trying to play a football game without a game plan.” ~K. Tate

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References:

Allen , S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology using effective project management practices. Journal of computing in higher education, 19(2), 72-97.

Arnold, M. (2011, April 19). The human factor: making your process transparent to your customers. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/665/the-human-factor-making-your-process-transparent-to-your-customers

Greer, M. (2010). The Project Management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! Laureate Education.

Wiegers, K. E. (1996). Creating a software engineering culture. New York: Dorset House Publishing.

Welcome

Project Management Terminology

Hello and Welcome to my Blog! This session I will shift my focus to the role of Project Manager and how this role affects Instructional Design projects. I hope everyone enjoys my posts, and I look forward to your comments and feedback.

 

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