Like many people, the lockdowns have afforded me the opportunity to do a fair amount of DIY. Nothing major, but lots of little tasks that I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages. One of those was ordering and assembling a sideboard. I was talking to my wife about it when she pointed out that I was treating it like a project. She was right. And I approach almost everything as if it was a project (doesn’t everyone?). So, here I am writing about assembling furniture like a project manager.

Things were initiated with an idea. We had inherited some tea sets and ornaments last year and we had nowhere to put them. We didn’t want to keep them in boxes so we did a review of our current storage and discussed some options on how we could increase it. The obvious choice was another sideboard in the living room.

Then came the requirements. Easy bits first – dimensions and size constraints in the room and estimating the size of sideboard needed with a bit to spare (always have contingency!). Then the trickier bits like number of doors, drawers, and colour scheme, followed by ‘nice to have’ things like having legs tall enough that it was easy to hoover under.

A bit of stakeholder engagement on my part turned that ‘nice to have’ into a ‘must-have’ (even though I do all of the hoovering, just saying). It turned out that having tall legs was a constraint that made it quite tricky to meet the other requirements. After looking at literally thousands of options online over a period of weeks, we eventually found one that ticked all of the boxes (and we then double-checked our criteria just to make sure we hadn’t changed our minds on anything).

Then I read the reviews. “Good sideboard but almost impossible to assemble”; “Hired 2 different handymen and neither of them could do it”; “High quality but took days to put together”. Great.

We reconsidered our options. We had a plan B, but we actually really liked Plan A and we were quite invested in it now. With the optimism of the project manager, I was convinced I could do the assembly so we ordered it. After all, preparation is the key to success so hopefully two months of planning and researching would result in a 1-day project.

«Project Go-Live»

Screws

When the big day came, I was ready! I knew the risks and I had a plan. Any mistakes might mean I had to take it apart and start again, but I started on Saturday morning so that I could continue on Sunday if I needed too. I laid out every single piece (c300 + panel pins) and checked them against the instructions to make sure I had everything. Then I checked them again. I read through the instructions once (24 pages) and then I read them through again, while at the same time laying out all of the pieces on the floor in the order that I thought I would need to put them together.

As soon as I started I realised why the assembly was difficult; it was the dependencies. There were lots of near-identical pieces with very minor differences, e.g. a groove or a hole in a slightly different place, and the instructions weren’t always clear on which one to use. So I double-checked every instruction and I tried to visualise how the next pieces would fit together. I also tried very hard not to let my attention wander, although that was easier said than done. As most people who have been on a call with me know, I have two young, noisy, and energetic dogs who are always keen to help (in this instance by either barking at the partially assembled sideboard or chewing screwdrivers).

Six and a half hours later, via a couple of mistakes that I had to correct, I had a completed sideboard and a happy key stakeholder. One of the doors wasn’t hanging exactly right (I still need to fix that) but I was out of steam for the day. I tidied away all of my tools, put the packaging in the recycling, and sat down to relax.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article – and congratulations if you have – then you may be thinking that you spotted a lot of project management terms in there (initiation, planning, risks, dependencies, constraints, options, stakeholders, contingency) and you would be quite right. There are even a few allusions, some psychology, and a post go-live issue. And that is exactly how I thought about it and described it as I was doing it.

Because I assemble furniture like a project manager.

 

Communication is a key skill for any PM (Project Manager not Prime Minister) – although these tips can apply to all types of roles.  Project communication is difficult to get right. Why? Because it needs to be coherent and understood by everyone on the project team or even wider depending on the audience.  Let’s have a look at the groups and types of stakeholder that a PM interacts with:

  • Project team – consists of a mix of experienced and less experienced team members
  • Business users – teams associated with the project but not necessarily on the team
  • Stakeholders – business area managers up to executives and board levels
  • Executive – Executives in other business areas
  • Other project teams – teams working on different projects which may be impacted
  • Technical staff – SMEs or technology teams who need to be engaged
  • Suppliers – who may be impacted by your project or be part of it
  • Customers – In some projects, the end user may be customers external to your organisation

Then factor in all the types of communication, e.g. status reports, weekly updates, meeting progress, issues, steering committees, wider updates, product launches, marketing etc..  You can see why it is an area that quickly gets out of hand resulting in communication that is not fit for purpose.

The importance of communication

Communication is so important to get right for so many reasons, e.g. project effectiveness, buy-in from your own team and others, keeping up morale, keeping executive engagement and belief in the project, informing everyone when things are progressing well and more importantly when they are not to keep confidence in the project.

People absorb information differently and their own experiences influence how a communication is interpreted by an individual.  It’s widely accepted that people must hear a message several times, in different ways before it is understood, or interpreted as it was intended.

Following the 7 C’s of communication below, which you may have seen referenced but seldom adhered to, is a start

  • Completeness – be complete in the message, not half the story
  • Conciseness – fewer words are better
  • Consideration – consider all people who the communication needs to reach
  • Correctness – be factual and have the facts correct
  • Courtesy – be polite in getting the message across
  • Clarity – to achieve clarity of understanding
  • Concreteness – ensure the logic of the message fits together

It is quite a challenge to get it right but if you review your communications in line with the above points, it will improve your chances of having all of the bases covered.

Communication tactics

Other good tactics in your armoury should be a:

Communication strategy – one that has been circulated and approved – agreeing up front how communication should work and devising strategies to getting the most out of it is a valuable exercise.

Communication sub-committee – Pick some difficult people (sorry rephrase… some people who are not afraid to challenge or make their views heard) and run any communication past them to get valuable insight to how others receive the message.  Using people from different areas or levels of seniority works to get an overall balanced view.

Channels – There are so many types of channels available to use that selecting the most appropriate can make a real difference to effectiveness of the message. Don’t always communicate everything via email! Can you use instant messaging, video conferencing, produce a short video, or use an internal social media channel? And think about the type of message you are delivering – good news, bad news, instruction, update – in the context of how you deliver it.

Feedback loop – Finally, review and amend your communication based on feedback, see it as an iterative process.  Communication should evolve over the course of a project and, even if it is not quite right to begin with, it will get there. Communication needs to be appropriate for the culture, knowing your audience takes time and it is very likely to be different from company to company.  Always be available to answer questions post any communication.

Not all items types of communication are needed or indeed required on every project.  The key is using your communication toolbox, i.e. picking the correct channel for a particular type of message or group.  The goal is to communicate in an engaging way, keeping it quick and easy for people to keep up to speed without too much burden.

During the past year we have seen a lot of development in communications – necessitated by home working and lack of face to face engagement – from day to day project comms to managing go-live implementations remotely. Please do get in touch if you want to talk about the approaches that we are using.