I started climbing again today. Sitting on the ground stretching, my climbing shoes and my chalk bag at my side, I watched a few people prepare for their ascent. On goes the harness, then the rope gets looped in and tied off in some crazy fancy eight knot that should save your life as you plunge into the abyss. Your buddy checks you. Each buckle gets reviewed, your knot is inspected. Chalk bag, check. Additional cams, clips, check. You approach the wall.
“Is the Belay on?”
“Belaying”, replies your buddy, pulling snuggly on the rope to confirm tension.
“Climbing”, you state. But you don’t grab stone yet.
“Climb on.” Ok, it’s time to begin the ascent.
For a lot of beginning climbers, this routine feels ridiculous and a hindrance. Each step is choreographed, an intricate dance of preparation. That ritual of communication was truly annoying to me until I got dropped 18 feet on my ass. Turn out my buddy was busy with a different ritual, introducing himself to the belayer next to him (and a might beautiful belayer she was).
The point: if you have a business team, do you have a communication ritual? How about with your clients? Is consistent and reliable or are you about to get dropped on your ass?
We have 14 different projects running right now, not including sales and bidding efforts. I wrote about fear a few days ago when I mention our goal to gross a million. My biggest fear: we loose control of all the flying balls and disappointed a lot of people. So Peter & I are working on communication systems. Frankly this is not our strength. We are both highly independent. I am writing this post more to me than to you, though I figure, it will be good for both of us. So, what could we do to make the dialog explicit and manage with more planning and intention rather than firefighting?
A weekly meeting?
We tried this and I have to point fingers. Peter often resists the structure of a required meeting preferring the flow of an organic approach. It doesn’t fit with the ebbs and flows of our working patterns. During rushes it is an encumbrance, during quite times it isn’t necessary. After all, we are constantly talking. There are pros and cons of each approach. The question I keep coming back to: is the consistency of a specific regular date valuable in its own right? Could there be value in having a time in which we review and analyze the health of the business rather than just trouble shooting? Knowing it is coming, we mentally gear towards it? Jury is out. I’d love to get everyone’s opinion.
A start up and postmortem checklist for every project?
We have a project evaluation score sheet we use to decide if we want a gig.
I think this is something different. I got this suggestion 3 days ago while reading the TRW small project handbook, courtesy of my mother (thanks!). A bit more formal than I am used to as they call a small project anything with 20 or less people or grossing up to 2 million. The start up checklist would include those key steps involved in launching each project.
For Setup, the things we often cover (somewhat haphazardly):
Milestone & Detailed Schedule
Budget & Risk Management Plan
Communication / Project Management System Set-Up
Facilities / Equipment / Software / Asset Review & Acquisition
Configuration / Data Management
QA & Review
Updating Component Library
I’ll probably do a blog on this in a whole lot more detail as I dig through this workbook and learn more.
Take a business retreat.
Ok, this was one of the best ideas we have had and it has been quite practical. We stepped away from the urgent, so that in the quiet lull (like 3am) we could work on our business, not just in it. We focused on goals, on metrics to measure progress, and current issues and upcoming concerns.
USE your project management system.
A lot of us at some point or another have paid the money to get a project management system, be it basecamp, copper, redmine, active collab or any of the many options out there. The irony is that we rarely actually use them. Why? Because they are build to be used by many people, which means they were not built for you. They don’t think like you think.
When you are truly solo, that’s fine, because it can all live in your head. When you run a team though, not only does it become impossible to hold it all in your dome (which causes enormous stress), but it is detrimental to the business. You can’t have a Mac Truck person. Thats what we call it. Someone who is so valuable that if they get hit by a mac truck the business grinds to a halt. I mediated on the fact that we had a hard time using our PM system (we use copper). About 6 months ago Peter I decided it was time to stop whining about it and just USE it. If they day comes when we have a brilliant idea on how to improve things, then we can build one (we will) but waiting for that day is sheer lunacy. We seem to have to keep remaking that decision on an almost monthly basis. We are getting better and the system truly is helping communication with our remote team.
Learned Lesson: CC’ing someone doesn’t mean squat.
On a more practical note, I have learned that CC’ing someone does not mean they saw it, nor ingested it. In fact, a direct email may not have even registered. Sometimes, a conversation in passing doesn’t even click. Make sure that there is a confirmation / checkoff process on dialogs that are important. I can’t say we have figured this one out yet, though Peter’s post on not holding your breath was a good start.
We want to know: What do you do?
So you strapped on your PM system harness. Your business team and tools are on belay. Business on. The fact is that these systems of communication save lives and save businesses. No man reads mind (verdict is still out on women). As we begin to grow larger and have more projects and people, this becomes vital.
So let me ask, what are you doing to structure your communication and make it explicit? What has worked and what failed?
If you think these questions were interesting and the dialog that follows, then click here now to subscribe so you won’t miss out on the next one!