Rhythms define how we interact within our companies. Rhythm implies we have a sense of when something is supposed to happen and how often. Rhythm is immensely important to our project and portfolio communication processes.
The rhythm of the business
My successful clients all have a defined update cycle and a rough calendar of when specific events are to occur in each cycle. When I was at Microsoft, management called these cyclic events “forcing functions” as they forced the organization’s behavior to converge on a checkpoint or a date. Once the cycle is repeated a sufficient number of times, it becomes a habit. Positive habits lead the company to success and persist without management oversight. This “rhythm of the business” also improves the quality of information collected in the cycle.
Harmonizing the data
Information quality is key for the cycle to add value. Synchronizing at a specific point in time ensures that you have comparable project data. Otherwise, you are comparing a cacophony of data updated at different times. While this discrepancy may not sound like a big deal, imagine the time wasted tracking down an issue that was already resolved?
Major communication flows
Project and portfolio communication has three primary communication flows.
- Between the project team and project manager where progress and issue status are communicated
- Between the Project Manager and the company’s management, be it project management office, direct manager, or other interested parties like Finance. The project manager summarizes the team updates and present the relevant synopsis to management. The project manager receives input from management as to what actions are necessary to either maintain the current plan or to bring the current plan back into line.
- Between the project manager and the resource managers for project team members, where resource needs are communicated and availability is negotiated.
The communication has to occur in a timely manner, while action is still possible and relevant. The data presented must be consistent and at the appropriate level of granularity for enabling decisions. Lastly, the data should be structured so that it is clearly answering the required questions of a specific communication flow.
An example performance
This example details a weekly update cycle and the thought process as to how it came to be. The cycle should
- Provide timely information for status and work re-planning meetings.
- Support a two week planning look ahead process.
The Information Beats
In this example, the majority of management meetings occur on Tuesday and Wednesday. Therefore, information has to flow at specific times (or beats) for everything to be in place. Project updates must be processed by close of business Monday so that the data is ready for any supporting business intelligence visualizations.
All team status updates should be received by close of business Friday for project updates to be processed on Monday. This weekly closeout ensures update consistency from a time perspective.
Work re-planning exercises for the following week should occur between the management updates on Tuesday and the team status updates on Friday. This enables the project teams to know what to work on when they come in on Monday.
This leads to the following schedule.
- Project Managers process status updates
- Relevant data sources for business intelligence are updated
- Management receives and provides feedback on status updates
- Project Managers meet with Resource Managers and Team to review last week’s progress, this week’s new issues, and review next week’s expectations
- Adjust work plans for next two weeks with focus on next week’s activities
- Team provides final status updates on current week’s work
Note, this cycle does not replace the ad hoc communication that goes on constantly during the projects. What it does do is smooth out the symphony of the formal communication flow.
Rehearsal of good techniques leads to better performance
The end goal of implementing an information cycle as described is to create effective organizational habits. The more you rehearse these techniques, the more ingrained it becomes and leads to self-sufficiency. The end result is that everyone on the project team sees their participation in the update cycle valued and needed, leading to better transparency.
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