Thursday, January 24, 2013

Message sent does not mean message received

How can it be that you think your message is nice,
When communicating with team members on a project, there are many options available through the use of technology.  However, which method is best depends on the circumstances and can affect the clarity and results of the communication (Stolovitch, n/d).  Let’s examine three different modalities for sharing the same content.

but the response you receive is defensive?
As stated by Stolovitch (n/d), effective written communication should be more business formal
in format, stating in the first line the purpose of the communication.  This email example has an informal tone and reads as a rambling plea for a document.  The tone also conveys that the author thinks the receiver is not doing his part of the work and will hold up her project.  Clear communication of dates is vital to keeping deliverables on track (Portny, Samuel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008).  Without stating a specific time and date that the author expects the document, the receiver may feel that he has plenty of time to accomplish the task, or that the sender of the message is overreacting.  Either way, the receiver of this message may have feelings of resentment or pressure that may prevent an amicable result.

The voice message sounded more formal yet on topic than the text alone.  The speaker expressed a polite and caring tone in recognizing that the listener may have been in all day meetings before moving to the reason for the message.  The caller stated why the report was needed to complete her portion of the project, and how to get the information to her.  This message conveyed less opportunity for the receiver to react negatively because the tone of voice conveyed a non-confrontational attitude. 

The body language, posture, facial expressions, and voice tone give the face-to-face message a completely different tone from the text or voice only examples.  However, in face-to-face communication, the receiver of the message may not remember what the message was without written back-up (Stolovitch, n/d).  Stolovitch also states that in-person meetings are best for vital project segments and that ongoing communication works well via phone and email. 


From these three examples, the voice message was the most effective for the following reasons:
1.     Polite business tone was communicated
2.     The receiver of the message could take notes on the information
3.     The receiver had choice over the best time to listen to the message
The face-to-face message seemed the least effective for the following reasons:
1.     Catching a team member at their cubicle gives them no choice over time and may interrupt their workflow
2.     The verbal message may be forgotten due to other interruptions

3.     This method is not able to be saved or revisited like an email or voicemail

While there are many methods for communication with team members over project deliverables and timelines, a voice message can be a simple and direct means of conveying needed action from an individual without creating tension in the group. 

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stolovich, H. (2012). Project Management Concerns: Communication Strategies and Organizational Culture. Retrieved on January 21, 2013 from tab group id = 2 18;url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_2097260_1%26url%3D

Friday, January 18, 2013

Post Mortem Reflection on Blended Learning

Project Description:

An expectation was handed down from an associate superintendent to a district level coordinator for the implementation of blended learning in all Advanced Academic (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classrooms using Blackboard©, the district learning management system.  The AP and IB Coordinator sought assistance from the district Learning Technology department, and the executive director assigned the project to me.  Having all of the responsibility, none of the authority, and zero knowledge of project management I was able to manage a good amount of success.  But as this project is poised to go into the second iteration with all the freshmen (9th grade) teachers in the district, a post mortem reflection will provide a more successful round as the project expands to a larger group.
The project was mostly successful when measured by the number of teachers who built content in the online CMS and passed the Instructional Design and Curricular reviews.  This success was hard-won and consumed most of my life for the last 6 months.   

Factors that made the project succeed:

·      Focused support, guidance, and communication from the advanced academics coordinator.  She answered my phone calls, proof-read documents, gave sage advice on communication and dealing with people issues.
·      Saving all emails and communication records so that if a question came up concerning a particular issue, there was documentation to support the project expectations.
·      Executive staff accountability, the associate superintendent communicated the expectation to principals and held them accountable for making their teachers comply with the initiative.

What I wish I had known about Project Management :

·      Statement of Work - this document would have clarified the scope of the project, the team members involved, the risks, constraints, and objectives.  Without a written approval of the plan, I was never sure of my role, where to send project updates, or how the project would be objectively measured for success.  Because so much of the process was verbal and done amidst department and district upheaval, I was often unsure of the support I would receive from direct report which caused confusion for the teachers being directed to complete the tasks.
·      Project plan document - this would have served to diagram a flowchart of all the parts of the project.  I attempted to map out the project in terms of instructional design, but that process did not account for the other people involved in meeting the objectives.  As the project progressed, I remember feeling as if it were an octopus that continually added new tentacles.  At the onset of the project, I had an understanding of what needed to be done, but without knowing how to plan a successful project by discover my unkown-knowns, and unknown-unknowns, and developing plans to minimize the impact of them, I was thrown into a reaction situation that consumed great amounts of time and effort. 
·      Project structure breakdown – after completing the statement of work and project plan, a list of deliverables and tasks along with who was responsible for each would have clarified the roles and expectations to all stakeholders.  Without a breakdown of the structure, the project stagnated for weeks at a time.  Dates and expectations were not understood by stakeholders nor agreed upon which set up loopholes for teachers who did not want to make the change, and confused and frustrated those who wanted to comply.
·      Project schedule – defined and approved before teacher involvement, this document would have clarified the expected deadlines for compliance.  Threatening to “write teachers up” for non-compliance when the deadlines are communicated in sporadic emails and through various individuals is unprofessional and unethical.  


The entire process of Project Management would have saved time, effort, and sanity for the teachers and for me.  Gaps and unknowns would have been recognized and either clarified or provisioned for while the scope and schedule would have kept bottlenecking and project lag minimized.  


Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock
your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., &
Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.