Today lets talk about how to communicate with others at the beginning of a discovery project. The beginning of any project or program is difficult because it is the time when your leadership has the most questions and you have the fewest facts. I don’t know about you but I hate having to say “I don’t know or We’re not sure” over and over and over. To combat this I’ve taken to proactively sending out meeting minutes and update notes that lay out our task based strategy for the next one to two weeks. These notes help in two ways. First they communicate that the team is working and making progress. The Fuzzy Front End makes a lot of managers nervous because the team is out and about and there is very little evidence that actual work is being done. So by sending out notes that outline who is where and why and then following those notes up with what they learned, everyone is able to see progress. Many folks I talk with are nervous about sending out updates before the team has reached a proper conclusion. I have found that it can be much more satisfying to bring your leadership along the journey with you instead of waiting for a big reveal at the end.
So my philosophy is to tell them our plan for the week in a brief outline with names and dates. Then, I look at what I’ve written and I ask myself, if I was reading this and I wasn’t on the team what questions would I have about this plan? I then go back in and fill in a few descriptions where I think they might help others understand our strategy and direction. This method has worked well for me over the last five years. I find that my leadership feels connected and excited about the projects because they are up to date on our activities. My boss also feels good because she isn’t alone in having to communicate what the team is doing all day.
There’s something else about this type of communication that I really like a lot. It’s easy to catch quickly if the team is headed off track. When you are reading or writing the summaries you are forced to take a minute and think about the program and direction it is headed. Without these weekly updates it could be 3 months or longer before anyone even notices that the project has stalled, twisted or lost direction. By the same token it is much easier to communicate dead ends and new directions and often a full review is not necessary for these changes because everyone reading the update is familiar with the project and the decisions being made by the team.
So communicate the tasks even if they are small and seem obvious. When you look back on those notes later, as the team moves into the more concrete portions of the project you’ll have a great diary of how you discovered your direction and who was along for the ride.
Soldier On !