For the majority of project personnel, in every project, on a hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis, you will find yourself communicating up to one manager or another. You will need to communicate either the project status or the status of your part of the project to your managers or even your managers managers. At these times, regardless of whether you are in an international project or a small, single location one, it is good to have some understanding of the kind of information, format of that information and level of detail you will need to provide to satisfy their needs.
Regardless of their proximity to you, no two managers expectations will be alike. Some will demand fine detail on everything on the project, others will require this level of data for only specific areas such as financial performance, schedule, risk profile etc, while only seeking high level data for the balance. While other managers may only require a high level report and expect you to report any issues on an exception basis, so, if everything other than one part of the project is on schedule, they will expect you to tell them that and then explain why you believe the problem area is off track and what the plan is to recover.
Key Issues When Communicating Up In Your Project
Where things can start to get complicated with international reporting is in the language of the report, the method of delivery and the size of the audience to whom it will be delivered.
- With language – does your project have a common language? If so, how proficient with that language are you and your manager? If you are presenting your report to a manager with similar language skills to yourself, you should be on reasonably firm ground since you will both have a similar level of understanding. However, if your manager has lesser language skills to yours, you need to be careful to structure your message in ways they can understand readily. There is no point in leaving your manager with the impression that you are simply trying to impress or belittle him through your linguistic skills, nor in writing a report that is so complex it is impossible to read. Likewise, if your language skills are lower than your manager, be careful that you actually understand what you are saying and that your manager gets all of the message he is looking for, in these situations it may help to have a colleague proof read your report or present at the meeting to act as an interpreter.
- Method of delivery – how are you going to present your report? The most common methods would be either in writing, via email, or via a telephone conversation. All methods can be relatively simple to conduct, but each comes with its own potential hidden traps. A written report delivered across a distance must be well crafted and easy to understand as it may well be the only regular information the manager receives. A written report in this circumstance may well be your only opportunity to ensure your manager gets everything he expects, nothing more, nothing less. For written reports, I would recommend agreeing a template ahead of time and sticking to the template as closely as possible for as long as the template is appropriate for the phase of the project. Telephone discussions have their own series of potential pitfalls, they are often conducted at odd hours of the day, and the nature of the telephone is that participants often fail to take the conversation as seriously as a face to face meeting or written report, again, here it is vital to have an agreed agenda and to stick to it.
- Size of the audience – The size of audience can have an enormous impact on the way the data is to be delivered. Here it is important to understand who is in the audience, their role in the project organisation chart, their interest and support for the project and their requirements for the data you are delivering. This can be a complex political activity, but you need to know if your audience is there to support your project or to attack you or your project, either to make their own project seem better or simply to score points. You also need to work out who needs the information and who is just along for the ride. Once you know who you are really talking to, focus your message to suit the needs of the people who need the information. Again, the issues of language and method of delivery influence the message, and it is important to tailor your message to the language skills of those present, and possibly even meet separately with some members who need specific points explaining one on one.
If you have to travel to attend the meeting, try to arrive a day or two before the meeting so that you are fresh and relaxed before the meeting takes place. This early arrival may also give you a chance to get a sense of the support for and perceptions of your project, to meet with your line manager and to make adjustments to the way you deliver your report.
There are few things more likely to undermine management confidence in a project manager than having him seem tired and unconcerned during a meeting. This, unfortunately, can be the perceived result of jet lag and travel fatigue. Arriving early can also give you an opportunity to network with colleagues and other project personnel in your managers location, this networking can reap enormous benefits in the long term.
When trying to understand the personalities of the international meeting participants, I would recommend doing so by considering their positions on the power distance, individual V’s collective, uncertainty avoidance/acceptance, masculinity and long term orientation scales described by Hofstede, these insights can be incredibly helpful in getting the right message across to your audience.
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Do you have experiences with communicating up in a project team you have been a part of that you would like to share? If so, we would love to hear from you.
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