Ever Thought of Putting Your Project Team on the Witness Stand?

Your project is off to a great start. You’ve made sure everyone on the project team knows the final goal, understands their role in the project, and the team is anxious to begin. A little time passes, and it doesn’t take long before some confusion enters the project. Why? Part of the reason this occurs is because certain elements of a project are based upon assumptions and personal interpretation of the facts. You’ll start hearing statements like these:

  • “I thought I was only responsible for this portion of the task, and not all of it”
  • “I assumed we were doing it the same way we did last time”
  • “This part is 100% done, except for…”

In theory, enough information should be included in the project plan that would remove statements like the above. However, we’ll continue to hear these statements as long as people only pay partial attention and we work with new technologies where “we don’t know what we don’t know”.

Here are three steps you can do to remove ambiguity from your projects that take their cue from TV courtroom shows. Whenever you watch a courtroom scene where the attorney is cross-examining the witness, you typically hear “can you please answer the question with just a Yes or a No?”  Here’s how you can apply this principle (you can remove the contention, however) to bring Clarity to your projects:

  1. Create a list of statements you believe to be True. This is based upon your unique perspective as the Project Manager in working with all teams and stakeholders. These statements can range from how complete a task is, to ownership, to delivery dates, to how a particular part of the solution will operate, and so forth. Include whatever you think is important for the team to have an understanding that is 100% accurate at this moment in time.
  2. Pull the team together and go down the list item by item. Let everyone know that this is what you believe to be True and you are looking for a Yes or No answer to each statement.  You will begin to hear answers such as “Yes, but we need to…”, or “Yes, except for this one more thing…”, or “Yes, as far as I know…”, or “Yes, but I think someone else has to finish it up…”. Answers that include “Yes, but…” need further clarity.
  3. Make all items True. Once you’ve uncovered those areas that have the potential for confusion, make it a priority to take the steps necessary to make them True. Then, republish the list of statements with the clarified understanding.

Repeat Steps 1 – 3 throughout the project as necessary. You are obviously not putting your project team on trial, but just wanting to establish the facts. If you present the above steps with the intent of removing confusion, everyone on your team will appreciate your desire to bring clarity to the project and reduce uncertainty and misunderstandings.

The above steps have worked for me. What are some of the things you have done that help uncover potential areas of confusion and how do you drive ambiguity out of your projects?

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