In order to increase the chances of successful strategic execution, it is essential that the PMO leader can communicate up as well as down – or to be more precise, tactical progress up to the executive leadership and strategic goals down to the project managers.
Cultural barriers and a lack of tailoring the communication according to the recipient are some of the challenges PMO leaders and senior project managers face in this area.
Effective communication starts with awareness and empathy – this means taking time to understand the context of a situation, to become familiar with an audience’s pain points and priorities, and to ensure that everyone’s on the same page.
Executives look to PMO leaders for information on a variety of initiatives, ranging from the performance of individual projects or programmes, to entire portfolios and other deliverables such as curriculums, tools and training.
No matter what the subject matter is, one of the key challenges for PMO leaders is adapting and tailoring the communication style to suit the individual preference of the receiver, from factors such as written or verbal, formal or casual updates, time, frequency and language.
But even once the preferred style is known, the communication is not going to be as effective if knowledge of what it all means for the business remains unknown.
This requires a high level of situational awareness, but unfortunately, fear can sometimes inhibit this – particularly if there is a potential backlash for communicating in the wrong way, or sharing negative information, which might result in the withholding of critical information that could have serious implications down the line.
Communicating down to the project teams helps facilitate their work as well as supporting the individual team members.
This requires the same situational awareness as above but also requires knowing what all the different moving pieces are, how they fit together and what each person’s role is in making that happen.
It also involves relaying the organisation’s strategy down to the members of the project teams and – most importantly – linking the strategy to what each team member is doing so the team members know the extent to which they contributing to the strategy.
How to become effective
To ensure effective communication there needs to be regular reiteration of the strategy at all meetings, highlighting the importance of what everyone is doing.
One of the biggest communication pitfalls can be avoided by being proactive. Hiding status reports or business-critical information in emails that get buried in people’s inboxes will just leave issues to go unchecked.
Project managers need to be aware of what is going on – and also be able to solicit information from their team members so that they can communicate back to project leaders.
One way of doing this is to share information in informal sessions, ideally face to face but if not then using Skype or instant messenger. Other communication tools and project tracking software is another option.
By creating casual touch points, more information can flow. In the process, this will ensure an environment of open communication so that it doesn’t all pass through hierarchical reporting and formal status meetings.
The good news is that effective communication is skill that can be easily developed, once a stronger sense of awareness about the project teams and the organisation, its culture and specific situations has been cultivated.
Proactively seeking feedback will help with this understanding, while training will really hone this skill. Training focused on strategic execution, leadership and communication will also accelerate project performance and team dynamics – an investment worth making for the benefit it will not only deliver to the project team, the project and PMO leaders but also the organisation as a whole.
For more on how to ensure tactical progress is communicated up to executives and strategy down to tactical players read: Lost in Translation: How to Communicate Up and Down to Deliver on Strategic Objectives.