“Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The PMI recently changed its “Talent Triangle” to include Power Skills. These are the people-focused soft skills essential for project management success. According to the PMI, “ensuring teams have these skills allows them to maintain influence with a variety of stakeholders - a critical component for making change.”
Among these power skills is, unsurprisingly, communication. As you’ll know, communication is essential for working together. This is true within your own department, as well as across teams.
Consider the process of releasing a product. It requires the involvement of multiple departments. Each team will have their own insights—about project risks, customer needs, or feature flaws. When every team has visibility over the entire project, they can flexibly respond to any issues such as unresolved dependencies and project bottlenecks. And deliver a product that’s in alignment with all stakeholders’ expectations within the expected deadline.
However, sometimes project teams don’t have the opportunity to respond to risks until they are fully-fledged issues. Sometimes, resolving these problems takes too long as a result, meaning overextended deadlines and dissatisfied stakeholders. All of which could have been avoided with better communication.
How Poor Communication Impacts Your Product Delivery
Imagine you’re a Project Manager working with the development team on a new mobile app that provides XXXX. As development progresses, you receive feedback from potential users requesting a feature for XXXX. Recognizing the value of this addition, you discuss it with the development team and decide that integrating this feature will require some extra time and effort. And that this will potentially impact the original release timeline.
Consider the other departments you must keep in the loop because of this decision. Product marketing will have to amend any release dates in their content campaigns. They might also need to amend copy and design around product features and benefits.
If each department works in a silo, it can result in the following:
- Misalignment: Teams that don’t get the most up-to-date information around changes may prioritize pushing features and benefits that are no longer relevant.
- Inefficient Processes: Without accurate data, teams may duplicate tasks and waste resources, meaning the project will take longer to complete.
- Misunderstandings: Teams may not share the important context such as how the product works and when it will be ready for release.
- Limited Innovation: Teams that are too focused on their own workloads will fail to see the bigger picture—the delivery of a product that meets both customer needs and your strategic goals.
- Reduced Adaptability: Product teams missing key information won’t know about changing expectations, user experience problems, or requests. (And this impacts non-product teams who need to know the right features and benefits to sell and market.)
How to Improve Cross-Functional Communication
There is no singular answer to improving cross-functional communication. Instead, it requires a combination of strategies, tools, and practices tailored to an organization's unique needs.
Pinpoint Gaps in Communication
Think back to instances where teams have heard about a change of direction too late. Or, consider a time when crucial information slipped through the cracks. Reflect on the impact on the project and the business at large. Did you have to push delivery deadlines? Were stakeholders unhappy as a result?
Now, reflect on the impact on team members. How did it affect their capacity and workload? And what about their stress levels? Poor communication can lead to disorganized projects, which in turn can lead to increased workloads.
Make sure you extend your investigation beyond project teams. Talk to department heads, perhaps making the investigation their responsibility. After all, their teams will be more comfortable opening up to them. But if you still think they may be less than forthcoming, implement anonymous surveys so they can give feedback freely.
And, looking ahead, consider the tools at your disposal to help enhance communication. You could dedicate a channel to each project within your messaging platform. You could also use your project management software as a resource hub.
Deploy Customer Surveys
The best way to know if you’ve hit the mark with your clients is to ask them outright. You could of course do this in-person. Or, to encourage a more honest response, you could deploy customer surveys. These will give you insights into what went right, what went wrong, and what you could do better. Then, you can share what you’ve learned with your teams.
And what about feedback that seems directionless—or even untrue? While it can be difficult to solve that customer’s particular grievances, the fact they’re so unhappy still falls on your shoulders. Was there a misalignment of expectations around product requirements? Or, perhaps you saw red flags with this client from the very beginning and never should have taken their project on in the first place.
You can also apply these surveys internally. By having open feedback channels, your teams will be able to give their opinion on what went wrong and how they think it should go in future. Of course, with this option you should have conflict resolution mechanisms in place. This will be particularly helpful when the feedback isn’t great. Perhaps you could appoint a mediator for discussions. Promoting a just culture where everyone feels comfortable talking about their mistakes will make it easier for you to identify improvements.
Bad feedback is never pleasant. But all feedback is valuable. Teams can improve their approaches when they’re aware of everyone’s experience. And work together to provide the best possible product each time as a result.
Facilitate Meetings Between Product and Non-Product Teams
Catch-ups between product teams and non-product teams will align expectations and keep the project on track. You should discuss everything from development bottlenecks to changing business needs so everyone knows how the project is progressing.
Make these meetings a regular occurrence for each project, ahead of important milestones or deadlines. You can also implement cross-functional training sessions. Thrse will help teams better understand how everyone works, which should improve process efficiencies as well as communication.
That said, understand that all team members can’t attend these meetings and sessions each and every time. After all, they’ll have other work demands as well as instances of sickness and vacation time. So, appoint someone to take minutes and forward them to those parties who are unavailable. Or, better still, use software that can store all documents, that teams can access, view, and discuss whenever they need.
Improve Communication and Your Product Lifecycle
Communication can be the difference between a lifecycle that stops and starts and one that’s seamless. It can help you hone your product delivery—in terms of time and quality. And, this in turn will impact your bottom line.
Through cross-functional reviews, increased visibility over the entire lifecycle, and continual feedback, you’ll be able to reduce speed to market while maintaining a focus on quality. With this, you’ll increase customer satisfaction which can create new business opportunities. You can also carve out time for other projects, and further boost your revenue.