Providing project information is one of the most important activities of project execution. You will spend a lot of time doing this work. Some sources will tell you that project communication is 90 percent of a project manager's job, yet sometimes it's not very easy to get done. You will face obstacles depending on the type of executive personalities you are dealing with. Two of the most interesting executive personalities are the Mad Hatter and the Executive Ostrich.
The Mad Hatter is the executive who is always running through the hall looking at a wristwatch and proclaiming, "I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date!" These executives are always on the go. They are often late for their meetings with you, if they haven't first cancelled on you. When you do get to talk to them, it seems like their attention is waning. And most times they cut your meetings short.
The Executive Ostrich has his or her head in the sand and won't pay any attention to bad news. Most times these executives won't even talk to you because they don't want to hear bad news. Sometimes they resemble the Mad Hatter, but their motivation isn't too much to do: It is "Just make it happen. Don't tell me any bad news."
How do you handle these two types of executive personalities? The approach is pretty much the same for both:
- Keep sending the information—You have to provide a status update, no matter what your executives say or how busy they are. You have to give the good news, the potential risks, and, if necessary, the bad news. Send them a copy of the monthly status report, if you send one out. Do so regardless of whether they read it.
- Leave sticky notes on their desk with a quick update—Try leaving a sticky note on your executives' desks about an important update if you suspect they're not reading their status reports. Be sure not to waste their time with trivial information; limit this technique to just the important things that they must know.
- Leave a 15-second voice mail—You can also try a 15-second voice mail. The Mad Hatter doesn't have time for a lengthy message, and the Executive Ostrich doesn't want bad news, so make it quick. Keep your messages brief. Practice crafting a quick message a time or two with just the most important bullets before you leave that voice mail.
- Find out how best to get them the information—Chapter 3, "How Big Is This Project?," talked about getting to know the executive's administrative assistant. You can talk to this person now about how best to get information to your executive. You might find that leaving information with the administrative assistant is the most effective means of executive communication.
Keep sending the information, regardless of the method you choose. You never want to be in the situation when something bad happens on the project and the executive says, "Why didn't you tell me?"
One of the key tools you can use in this type of a situation is a project diary. Get yourself a notebook or open a document file, and keep track of everything that happens on the project. Yes, everything. Some of the best project managers I know keep a detailed diary of every conversation, every e-mail sent, every problem, etc. The objective is to make sure that you are covered. An executive might comes back to you and say, "Why haven't you kept me informed?," but you'll have a diary describing every item you've sent.