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Stop and Read a Few Faces and Minds along the Way

One of the challenges that Project Managers encounter as they work through the project in front of them is to find the time to step away from the Gantt charts and the email for a while and actually go and talk to a few people.

The temptation to stay shuttered away in one’s office is huge – after all there is always so much to get done, and having a smartphone means never having to say you’re unavailable. This leads to a profound change in the physiology of any busy person (not just Project Managers), in which their minds stay in a state of siege, prepared mostly for reaction and seldom for interaction.

The more tightly-wound a person becomes mentally, the more important it seems to be to remain focused solely on the immediate crisis, since more esoteric activities such as conversation appear too vague and time-consuming to be of any use.

Yet there is a great deal that can be learned from human interaction. How often, for example, has an innocent side conversation or comment led to a major problem-solving eureka event? That moment when one person can say to the other, “You said something back there that suddenly made me realize…”

Human synergy is a dynamic like no other. When two people talk, learning happens in many dimensions. Consider Max and Pat. When Max speaks, Pat hears Max speak, but Max also hears what Max says and re-analyzes the words and ideas. Thus creativity happens not only through Pat’s reactions to Max’s words, but through Max’s own review, as well as the blend of energy and experience that this brings forth between them.

Many great innovators such as Steve Jobs and Sam Walton owe the success of their empires at least in part to the art of Management by Walking Around (MBWA). This seemingly time-consuming action allowed for interaction and discussion with front-line troops – the people involved in the project who saw things, experienced things, and thought of better ways of doing things. Their feedback contributed immensely to the success and relevance of a project simply by offering up a comment or suggestion in a more human way – a conversation – rather than the formalized and sterile medium of email.

Many buildings, purpose-built for creativity, such as those on the campuses of Apple, Google and Yahoo, provide ample places for people to sit and interact, such as cafeterias and staircases and open work zones, for the same reason.

MBWA also allows for a discreet reading of body language; people say more with their eyes than they do with their words; an underlying fear about a project, or simmering resentment towards a co-worker may never see daylight on a status report. The millisecond`s hesitation before answering a question might herald a more creative answer, or could be a sign of early trouble that can still be avoided.

The technology that allows us to run projects is excellent of course, and is getting so much better with the advent of collaborative workplaces and wi-fi- everything. But ultimately projects are about working with people – inspiring them, motivating them, hearing from them and relying on them. Great Project Managers learn that the art of human communication is as important as that of technological sophistication. They learn that to get things done, one must occasionally rise from behind the desk and venture out to where the other people are. Most often, the time spent doing this can be recouped over the life of a project either through enhanced efficiencies or crisis avoidance. Or both.

Tags: Project Management Productivity

Steve Prentice

Steve Prentice

Steve Prentice is an author, speaker and project manager who helps people find ways to blend talent, technology and time. As president of the consulting firm The Bristall Group, he delivers workshops in time management,…
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Authors

Susanne MadsenKayla A. RoxasMichael HatfieldRobert KellyAnya FaingershLisa AndersonLeo BabautaJoe PalkoPeter TaylorConrado Morlan, PgMP, PMPJonathan FeistElizabeth HarrinTabitha Jean NaylorDave WakemanFrancis Norman

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