Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Project Communication in Outsourced Project Management

We all know that, in average a project manager spend more or less 90% of his or her project management time for communication. Proper and effective communication is one of the most challenging areas in project management.. How about communication in outsourced project management..? that is any PM’s nightmare unless they manage it properly from day one.
This issue is not about language, either you do nearsoursing or outsourcing, nowadays most the professionals will speak good English. But poorly managed remote communication may increase the risk of project failures drastically. All aspects of remote communication should be carefully quality managed by a project manager who is in to outsourced project management. Unfortunately this needs quite lot of experience.
Over the years I’ve seen most the PM methodologies have matured, and processes has been introduced for project management.. New tools have come to the market., but still the challenge of remote communication remains the same.. How do we overcome it ?
Recently I had a chat with one of my project managers. He told me a story about a project he has managed while working in his previous company. It’s a very small sized project developed for one of the European countries. So him being the project manager sitting in the development company in Sri Lanka has communicated with customer via 600 emails. It gave me a fright.. Are we really doing something right here?
Have you heard about “Mad email Syndrome” which is very common in outsourcing operation. These are the symptoms;.
Project Manger from Venders company writes a mail to the customer about his questions regarding some requirement.. A nice email. Customer reads the mail., thinking why these people can’t even guess some simple thing like that …then he writes a reply in Blue color as comments for each question. ( yes we need to clearly separate the answer from the question)
Now that the Vendor's project manager who waited impatiently till he get all the answers to his questions receives the mail and he goes through the blue color comments made by the customer.. after reading that he find its disapointing and the customer has not answered half the things as he expected., most the points are not elaborated., so it creates much more questions for him now. Then what he does.. ? he uses another color., mostly seen is green , write comments in green color again under each blue color comments.. send this to the customer and CC to his whole hierarchy to save his back :-) and show them that he has still not got the answers right.
Customer receives the long email which is flashing in many color comments now.. He get really worked up.. certain symbols can give him a totally a different tone to the email. He write the comments in red color now.. and send it to the vendors PM again..

This doesn’t stop here… Is this situation new to you ? Im sure if you are in to outsourcing business you may have gone through this situation many times. This chain of email communication is a very strong risk trigger of project and relationship failure between outsourcer and outsourcee.. Why such a useful tool such as email can create this much of damage?
1. When communicating through emails , the other party doesn’t see your body language. They read exactly the meaning of word to word which may sound totally different to what you meant.
2. The other party don’t hear your tone of the voice. or your giggling . Recently I saw a customer commenting something like “Remove this field! “ with “!” what is that additional “!” is for ? these may create some unnecessary issues
3. Its very common that both parties think the other party is the idiot. They put less effort to understand each other. This may totally be different if you had a face to face discussion.

So how do you quality manage this remote communication? My advice for project managers are as follows;

1. Do not have email communication over 2 loops., if it goes over always try to use Voice via skype or telephone line. Or even use some tools such as Webex. Which is really good.(video con would be the best but unfortunately most of us do not have that facility )… Hmm How about Cisco TelePresence.???. I love to experience that !! :-)
2. Always read and re read your emails before sending.. do they mean something wrong to the reader.. make sure you communicate very clearly
3. Do not send too many emails. Try to summarize possible information in one email. Have your subject lines very clear.
4. If you need only 1 question mark have one .. But not three.. When you ask “can I have these replies by before end of business today? “ has a major difference between “can I have these replied before end of business today???????????”
5. Be very clear and elaborate on required points.. try to use tables as much as possible
6. Be warned when communication is not going right.. always ask help from your supervisors before it becomes too late.
7. Have the right attitude to respect the other party . if you read the mail in negative mind., you will end up with negative results.
8. Send customer status reports frequently., leave very little room for questions. Reports should be completed.
9. Always have project budgets to meet the customer face to face at least once in your project life. That will make your project communication much easier.
10. Understand that the time customer can spend for you is limited. That’s one reason why he or she outsource the project to you. Respect the fact and always think twice before you raising the question .Because you need to get the question right at the first time .


Mahasen Bandara on 11:32 AM said...

Now; I know the post is about communication, but I couldn't help but to wonder what the heck is a PM doing sending mails on requirements.

Requirement clarification and documentation is a specialized job. It requires the person who's engaged in it to understand the business as well as the technology involved. More often than not; it's a full time job of a BA. In lieu of a full time BA; it's more suited for a senior technical person than the PM. We discussed about this briefly over here some time back.

In my opinion the problems in a PM doing requirement clarifications are:
* Most of the time they lack time/skill set needed to understand the business.
* Most of the time they lack knowledge of technical implications.
* Almost all of the time, they lack time/knowledge to properly document the requirements so that the development teams could refer.
* Almost all of the time, they have other things, which are critical, that their time is better utilized in.

So, I'm strongly in the opinion that PMs should not take the responsibilities of a BA. More often than not; a PM doing a BA job is likely to not do justice to either of the jobs. Even if the person has the right skills (which is rare), time certainly would be an issue.

BTW; Tele-Conf is great! Some of us use it all the time ;)
The best is tele-conf + a app sharing tool like office live meeting or webex. But for it to be effective, some one should document the meeting and the participants should agree upon the document in a mail communication.

Thushara Wijewardena, PMP on 11:47 PM said...

oops Mahasen.. Find PM replace with BA..

thanks.. in small projects sometimes PM has all the communication through one contact point..

Thanks for notifying it.. yes I could have writen in that way..

Shafraz Nizamdeen BSc (MIS) Hons, PMP on 11:54 PM said...

I do agree to Mahasen Bandara's Comment, but still as Thushara wrote, it is quite true in real world the PM has to play a dual role. But this is where things went wrong for many companies in our country. But we can not run away from reality.

I personally experienced this throughout my Project Management Career and sometimes I had to make my mind to adopt rather than reject.

But having a good understanding about customer service can make us move forward. So why don't we?

If you are interested take a look at my blog for a nice Mind Map. I keep this as a checklist.

Visit my blog for mind maps on Scrum, Customer Service and much more!!

Anonymous said...

Nice dispatch and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you for your information.

Anonymous said...

Well I agree but I dream the brief should have more info then it has.


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