You have all heard this saying (or something similar). It means that you should not take retribution against the person (or people) that deliver bad news. If you ask people for a status, accept the good and the bad for what it is – information for you to make better decisions.If you want people to tell you when there are problems, you need to accept the information and work with the team on causes and solutions (hopefully the team member is proposing solutions along with the problem).

All project managers need to take this message to heart. You want to hear bad news as quickly as possible so that you have a chance to respond quickly. Issues and risks that are surfaced early allow for much more flexibility in the response. You have much less flexibility to operate if you hear about them at the last minute. However, if people bring bad news to you and you respond negatively toward the person bringing the news, it will make it much harder for other “messengers” to come forward with bad news in the future.

You Need to Report Need Less Detail as you get Higher in the Organization

If you create a Communication Management Plan for your project, the needs of all your stakeholders will be analyzed formally. But even without a formal Communication Management Plan, always keep the organizational level of your audience in mind. The organization level helps you determine the level of detail that is required in the Status Report.

For instance, your team members need information that is highly detailed and highly specific to the work they are assigned. As the project manager, you need information that covers the entire project but at a less detailed level. The manager of the project manager needs to have information summarized and delivered at a higher level. The next higher manager needs information at a higher level still. Although your project is the most important thing on your mind, to senior management it may just be one of a number of important events they are trying to keep track of.

In some organizations, this filtering is a part of the communication system. For instance, you may give a Status Report to your manager. Your manager receives your status, as well as from the other people that report to him or her. Your manager then summarizes and consolidates the information and passes a higher-level report to his manager. That manager in turn does the same thing until only very high-level information reaches the top. Therefore, senior management may just get a one-line status update on your project. In fact, if your project is on track, it may not even be mentioned at the executive level.

In other organizations, however, the status information is not summarized and passed upward. The project manager is the one that needs to communicate with multiple management levels. In that case, remember that one size of communication does not fit all. You may need to modify the communication content to each level of management. For instance, you may send a one-page report to your direct manager and your major clients showing the project status and financial situation. This may be summarized to a half-page for the next level of management and to perhaps a paragraph to the next level.

Use the Best Communication Media

When you select the various types of communication that you need for your project, also determine the best medium for delivering the information. For instance:

  • Status Reports. These do not have to be on paper. Depending on the person sending and receiving the information, the status can be communicated via voicemail, email, videoconference or other collaborative tools. Your organization may have a standard way of delivering status. If not, pick a manner of reporting that is convenient for the reader without compromising the value of the information.
  • Email. Use email for routine messages, information sharing and some marketing related messages. Spread these out so that you don’t inundate the same people over a short period of time.
  • Voicemail. Use voicemail to leave simple messages to individual people or to entire departments. Complicated or long messages are not appropriate for voicemails.

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