How to Improve Projects with Communication (Part 3)

This is the final installment of three-part series. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 in our Journal. 

Finishing out a project

So now we’ve come to the end of the project – normally the last 1-3 weeks before launch and 1-2 weeks after launch. There’s a lot of exciting energy at this stage but a lot of anxiety too. That means there’s a big opportunity for your communication to make a meaningful impact. 

I often reference what psychology calls the peak-end rule. It theorizes that people remember the peak and the end of an experience more clearly than any other part.

For example, I mainly remember the end of our mortgage application. It was incredibly stressful and uncertain  Would we close on the house in time? Would the loan be ready? Was there anything we could or should do?

The silence and lack of direction sucked; I try and keep that in mind for folks launching a site as well.

don’t get lazy

As things get increasingly busy, weekly updates, clear emails, voice of customer data…everything we’ve talked about so far becomes increasingly important.

There are two other things you’ll want to pay special attention to at the end of projects.

1. Update frequency

communicate all the things, often

If your agency or business emphasizes transparency, consider actually sharing checklists and to-dos with the client. For some clients, that could be an incredibly reassuring way for them to follow alongside you. (For others, it might turn them into micromanaging monsters, so take that suggestion with a grain of salt.)

I’ve found that a few days before launch is a particularly good time to give clients a granular road map of pre-launch, launch, and what they can expect (in detail!) along the way.

For example, many non-technical clients have never heard of a propagation period. That can be a few hours to a 24 hr delay when you make a name server change. If the client isn’t tech-oriented and hasn’t heard of that, it’s really helpful for them to know about ahead of time – especially if they’re ramping up social media or marketing announcements to correspond with the site launch.

Again, be kind and knowledgeable in your communications.

Know what’s happening in their world and help them achieve success. That helps you find more business and gain more referrals.

2. End of project surveys

Do this both internally and externally. It’ll help you learn from your teammates (if you have them) and your client.

Your goal here is to break out of what Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Company, calls the “good news cocoon.” That’s when you’ve wrapped yourself in all the warm fuzzies of what went fine, without any knowledge of how you can improve. It’s a comfy, but dangerous, position to be in. 

A. Client survey template

Sending surveys to clients is – real talk – something that I’m trying to getter better at. It’s intimidating. Who wants to open the door to hear everything they did wrong?

However, I think it’s one of the best ways a team can grow. Hearing the client’s perspective on what you did well (and should repeat) and what you did wrong (and should avoid in the future, maybe) is so helpful.

actual screenshot of our client survey
specifically ask about your communication

Dig for things you may not want to hear but really need to know.

Internal survey template

This is something I’m a little bit better at; talking with the team about how the project went is way less intimidating. 

I usually pre-fill a template we have, then circulate it to my team members. Then we put a date on the calendar and chat through it.

We don’t always come away with brilliant ideas for improvements, but the conversations have been consistently rich. If you haven’t done any form of this before, I’d definitely encourage you to give it a shot.

don’t toss teammates under the bus. it’s messy, not to mention unhelpful.

If you’re a boss or level above the people you’re talking with, this first portion is really important.

Fear is one of the main reasons people don’t speak up, especially to their bosses. So make it crystal clear there’s no penalty for honest feedback and that that’s exactly what you want to hear.

circle back to your original targets
be honest, even if it hurts, which it will sometimes.
really dig in here. what can you learn?

That last screenshot is usually the richest parts of the conversation with my team.  

I’ll have pre-filled out a few big successes and hangups, then ask what I might’ve missed. From there, we run through some questions. 

I’d recommend you take these questions and make them highly specific to your project. It’s fine if a few stay general but keep in mind that vague questions usually elicit vague responses, which may not be very helpful in this context.

so. what are you going to DO about it?

Aside from fear, you know the biggest reason people don’t speak up and give honest feedback? A sense of futility.

A lot of employees feel – especially if they’re employed by you – that speaking up gets them nowhere and goes nowhere. This takeaway section? This is where you get to show them that’s not true for you.

Outline what you’ve learned from talking with your coworkers, state what you’ll do differently (or keep doing!), and then actually follow through on it.

Note: Consider asking for advice instead of feedback

If you struggle getting much out of your team or clients, try asking for advice instead of feedback.

“maybe make it more birthday, less revenge of the Grinch.”

Say something like, “I’m trying to get better. Could you give me some advice?”

People typically feel more comfortable advising than correcting.

3 more ways to level-up

A lot of you are all-stars, so I bet some of that wasn’t new.

If you want to get even better at project communications, here are three more ideas for improvement.

you aspiring ruler, you

1. Surround yourself with good communicators

If you have a choice, work on projects with other good communicators. You’ll notice things that work well and glean loads of ideas. One of our developers, Kyle, has helped me become more clear and kind in many of my emails.

2. Fill your inbox with good communicators

If you’re on a small team or run a small operation, you may not get to choose who you work with.

What you can do, though, is read some great writing.

my inbox staples. brilliant thinkers and communicators.

3. Look at other industries

Project communication isn’t a new thing. People have been trying to figure out how to communicate important information for a long time in places like the military, rescue-operations, aviation, and medicine. What can you learn from those disciplines?

One of my favorite ideas for application is the nursing’s SBAR framework.

how awesome is this?!

It’s a framework nurses use to relay important information up the command chain in critical situations. It’s not difficult to see a lot of application ideas for this in web development!

Thanks for reading! Check out the full set of slides, if you’re interested.

This concludes Part 3 of 3 of Laura Bosco’s WordCamp Birmingham ’18 talk. 

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and online readability.

Authored By

Project Manager

Laura leads team efficiency by communicating with clients, tracking hoards of details, and providing timely support. She likes challenging recipes, hedgehogs, beautiful words, and bourbon.

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