We have learned it in our PM education: 80% of a project manager’s work is necessary communication. Unfortunately I find structures in many companies that are not supportive at all for this purpose: Silo thinking, hierarchy level autism, but also overwhelming correspondence, reporting and meetings. Especially in troubled projects (but as well in those which are going to become alike) this phenomenon is widely spread.
In time-critical projects – and actually when recovering a distressed project you almost have everything but much time – I made a good experience with provoking communication, even forcing it to happen. For this purpose I first need to state some rules for communication, such as “as direct and personal as possible first, only second via phone, and at last via email”. Many things simply are clarified much faster and without misunderstandings if you stand up, go over to your colleague, and jointly look at / talk through the issue with him. This is how you can overcome department borders without difficulty as well. And where geographical distance is prohibiting this a direct phone call, eventually supported by a screen sharing, is an effective and efficient medium. We all know endless email loops instead…
Another effective means, especially at teams which are not used to close, interdisciplinary collaboration, I have adopted from the agile world: the brief daily Stand-up meeting, at best right in the morning. It forces all involved to exchange information concentrated at least once a day. It is important that it is conducted very disciplined, moderated by the PM, and that it starts and ends punctually. A pin board or whiteboard is an effective tool to visualize and talk through the actual status of the “Sprint Backlog” in the meeting. This may be coming out a little bumpy at the beginning, but I soon received very positive feedback and results in all of my projects.
As a side effect this mostly has a good influence on the meeting culture in the project: they become less and shorter, because much has been already talked about in the “Dailies” or directly. The imperative of good preparation, discipline and punctuality often replicates here and gives security to the participants for their day planning.
The project responsibles at the executive levels should also be tightly involved by the PM with a regular meeting (Jour Fixe). And it also has proven successful to provide regular access to the “Project Plan” (mainly the schedule) to all involved to have them understand the interdependencies and maybe collaborate better.
However even with all “lean” communication we always need to follow the rule: Decisions have to be documented! No matter whether with (countersigned) meeting minutes or with a simple email “I have understood our conversation as follows…”