Friday, September 28, 2007

Skill Building Exercise for Project Managers

Good verbal communication is an absolute requirement for effective project management. A Project Manager must be able to communicate with internal team members, multiple clients, project stakeholders and third-party vendors as needed. Communication can often be a difficult skill to master, but there are some very simple methods for improving this core strength. In this entry, I will share my approach on how to sharpen verbal communication using a traditional exercise - role playing. My own team has benefited from minimal group sessions where the only rule is participation. Here is how it works.

Identify common communication challenges: Over time, Project Managers will identify recurring issues across all of their projects. Each issue will require a unique verbal communication strategy to ensure a positive outcome. As a starting point, Project Managers should be coached to navigate the conversations they encounter most often. This role playing exercise will allow the Project Manager to reenact each scenario in order to practice their verbal communication skills. The session should start by discussing what specific situations people would like to focus on. These situations will form the basis of the exercise.

Role play: The group is now ready to work through scenarios they have identified. Limit role playing to two people per scenario. Each team will stage a conversation in front of the group - one person will play a Project Manager, and the other person's role will be dictated by the situation. The team must work through the scenario without commentary or intervention from the group. The goal of each scenario is for the Project Manager to achieve a successful outcome.

Feedback: Once each team is done, the rest of the group can comment on their role playing, offering additional pointers, or highlighting successful tactics used during the exercise. This approach will encourage team knowledge sharing and mentorship. The exercise also affords the team lead an opportunity to coach the project management group using real job situations.

Role playing is a simple technique that can provide great benefits to Project Managers at all skill levels. The exercise I've described can be done with minimal planning, and can be tailored to focus on specific weak areas. I would recommend repeating the exercise on a monthly basis, working through new scenarios each time. Ultimately, verbal communication is one of the most important tools in the PM arsenal. Do not underestimate the power of conversation, and how much you can gain from this simple exercise.

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