I’ve been thinking a lot about communication lately, both because I’m a project manager and well…that’s what project managers are supposed to do, and because I’ve had my share of frustration with my older daughter’s preschool and their process of sharing information. It’s funny to me that professionally I try to be completely on top of information and making sure it gets to where it needs to go, but yet I can’t seem to keep anything of importance about my daughter’s school, the schedule, meetings with teachers, etc. anywhere on my radar. A few times already I’ve had to dash out to get her because she had a half day that I didn’t know about, or the after school program was canceled that day. Fortunately I’ve been able to keep straight what days she gets school lunch and what days she gets lunch from home…so I am proud to say I have not let her go hungry yet!
But, maybe it’s not so surprising that I’m easily forgetting all of the information they try to pass to me because it’s not the way that I am used to storing and accessing it. For them, everything is on paper…flyers coming home in her backpack, flyers coming in the mail, calendars getting printed in the beginning of the year that I guess will never need updating because nothing ever changes? Seems impossible to me, but I try to play along. I tack up the flyers, and put the calendar somewhere that I hope I will look at often.
Where’s the place that the most important stuff goes? On the refrigerator of course! The fridge serves as the command center of the home, or the “Information Dashboard”. There’s not enough room on the fridge to put all of the flyers and calendars and updates and whatever else they send over, and this is why things fall through the cracks.
What do I wish they would do? I wish they would go 100% electronic, emailing reminders, keeping their important dates on an online calendar that all the parents can access, keeping a blog for each class with updates and discussions. Send me the information in the way I can easily store and organize it. But, we’re far away from doing that, even though I try to push them.
But, what I can learn from all of this is the importance of streamlining the information flow to a project team. There are so many tools we can use to share information, but we don’t want to flood the group and make things unmanageable. Since I’ve started at the Horn Group I’ve been working on an information dashboard for the Interactive Services team. We’re using Basecamp as our main project/client communication tool, LiquidPlanner as a resource/task management tool, JIRA as an issue/bug tracker, and Outlook and instant messenger for other communication. We want to build one place where the group can find all of their information, and we think an excellent solution will be an iGoogle page as an "Information Dashboard".
With an iGoogle dashboard, we can have a gadget that will pull in all of the recent activity in Basecamp, a Google calendar gadget with all of our upcoming deliverable dates pulled from Basecamp, a bookmarks gadget for sharing useful and interesting links, and a status and hours report on all active projects. We also have individual task lists setup for each team member, which I manage centrally via LiquidPlanner and publish to the team members on a regular basis, and a general "What everyone is working on" list that I also manage. Since it's not all about working hard all of the time, we also setup a photo-gallery gadget with nice embarrassing pictures of the group. Long term, we'd like to have a Yammer-type communication gadget on the page, and a feed of our email inbox.
One of the basics that we all learn in Project Manager camp is that as the size of the team increases, the lines of communication multiply. The more that can be stored and shared via a central location for all team members to see the better. And with all of the web tools out there just waiting to be utilized, it seems silly to print up memos to walk around and hand to your people every morning!