A successful project requires as smooth execution as possible with minimal misunderstandings. However, no workplace is perfect, and it is common to find misunderstandings among team members and between team members and the project manager. Before a tiny seed of misunderstanding escalates, it is a project manager’s responsibility to anticipate, avoid and mitigate them early from the beginning.

Below are five of the most common problems and five ways to handle them.

 The Problems

Problem One: Unclear responsibilities

Every team member should own their tasks, be responsible, and — even — be accountable. Clarify the expectations by defining the tasks and the reporting structure within the team. One way to do it is with the RACI chart. R stands for responsible for performing a task, A stands for accountable for the task, C stands for consulted about the task, and I stands for informed about the task and the overall project.

Problem Two: Missing deadlines

Be very clear about deadlines and their changes. Whenever possible, give earlier dates than needed, to be on the safe side. It would allow sufficient time for a thorough review and make changes whenever needed. Another strategy is by breaking into a task into several chunks and milestones so that it can be comprehensively completed within a sufficient timeframe.

Problem Three: Unclear project change procedures

Before a change occurs, be clear on the procedures for requesting the change, the review, and the approval. Create a flowchart if appropriate, create the necessary forms, and announce the procedure as early as possible before the project starts. Make the team members familiar with the procedures early on.

Problem Four: Time differences

Today, a project can span across five continents, especially about tasks that can be delivered online. Be clear about every team member’s time zone, have several clocks showing different time zones in the room, and be clear on the procedures when a task requires immediate assistance while the partnering team member is in a different time zone. Use synchronizing apps, so every team member can clearly see the milestones and the current snapshot status of the project.

Problem Five: Miscommunication and conflicts

A project manager is more than a schedule; he or she is also a mediator and a motivator. Check with team members how they are doing and how they relate to each other. It is important that they get along and communicate well. Any misunderstanding can be easily resolved with clear and respectful communication. Build morale by caring truly from the heart and letting it show.

 The Handling Strategies

Strategy One: Communicate clearly in writing and verbally

Always be clear, polite, and respectful both verbally and in writing, including in email communications. Use positive verbiage and place the project success at the top of the agenda, while appreciating team members.

Strategy Two: Be aware of points of possible misunderstanding

Be a few steps ahead regarding grasping the points of possible misunderstanding. Think like a team member. Write down a list of possible frequently asked questions, which can be used when misunderstandings happen.

Strategy Three: Write things down

Take notes when communicating with team members, the management, or other stakeholders. Don’t solely rely on our memory as it often fails, so it is better to be safe than sorry.

Strategy Four: Repeat

Repeat your communication and ask the team members to repeat what you have said. Make sure that the message is received well, even when communicating about a less urgent matter. As long as the message means something to the project, it should be repeated.

Strategy Five: Confirm

Every verbal and written communication must be confirmed. Do not delay your response, even only to confirm the acceptance of the message. That does not mean you need to be always tuned to your emails while not focusing on your real work. Batch process your emails throughout the day and respond to the ones that really require a response. Tell them that you are working on the answer and tell them how much more time you would need to complete it.

At last, misunderstandings can be reduced with the well-developed flow of clear and accountable communications. As long as the project manager is aware of the possible points of misunderstanding and handle them appropriately, a smooth project completion can be expected.

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