Here’s a brief thought exercise to begin this idea: how many times in the last year at work has someone approached you and tried to talk to you about a project without (a) providing any context on it and/or (b) assumed you had some baseline knowledge of the project/plan/idea when, in fact, you’ve never heard of it? That was an absolutely horrible sentence I just wrote, but … my answer would be “about 15-20.” That’s a lot. That’s more than once a month. We talk often about “the modern-day worker” (gag) being “comfortable with ambiguity” (vomits in mouth), but if you’re getting tossed onto/into the fray of projects with no background or context once-twice a month, that’s going to mess up your other major deliverables. It’s going to completely decimate your idea of “mise-en-place” at work.
And yet, this happens to everyone, all the time: we get looped in on things that we have no idea about, and those things are 1/2 completed, or 3/4 completed, or there’s some consultant involved, or someone’s on PTO, or whatever it is … and it’s just one of many foibles around the general idea of project management and getting things done at work.
But maybe there’s a way to fix it.
First of all, before we get into the heart of the idea here, start in this very basic place: any work project absolutely needs to begin with defining the roles of the various people.
After you do that, the next key step is to make sure everyone knows (a) who everyone else is and (b) how these other people relate to the goals of the project. Otherwise you create situations like this.
Alright, so … here’s the plan. I know you’re stressed and pressed for time and all that, but bear with me.
- Take out a piece of paper.
- Write down a title for the project (can even be shorthand).
- Next, write down the 2-3 goals that would make this project successful. (Why are you doing this? is the essence here.)
Good so far? Now the project has a title and some goals associated with it.
- Write down every department that may be impacted. Be as broad as possible. If this is something that may eventually touch the public, sales and marketing probably need to be involved, etc.
- Open a new e-mail message.
Good so far?
- Type a variation of this message:
I’m about to begin work on (Title of Project). This was assigned to me by (name of supervisor) and the goals of the project are (list 2-3 goals). I’m doing a 35-minute opener to explain the project on Wednesday (invite attached). I know everyone’s busy and some departments on here may not touch this project until it’s further along, but I wanted each department to have an idea of what’s going on in case aspects start moving quickly. Thanks in advance for your time.
Some Middle Manager, Esq.
Alright, so … this is dumb in the sense that it goes against how most people work (i.e. most people are very willing to get work heaped on them last-second, because it gives them greater cause to be put on the cross), but in a way, isn’t this logical? That way when someone comes to you in 2 months and says, “Hey, remember that targeted e-mail blast we’re trying to do?” you can say, “Oh yea, I do remember that. Some Middle Manager looped me in on that. Where’s it stand now?”
That said, I’ve been thinking managers should contextualize their e-mails more for about 5-6 years, and that ain’t any closer to happening either. So maybe this is a pipe dream.
How would you successfully open a work project?