Maintaining good lines of communication across diverse project stakeholder groups is vital for consistent project success. As project management consultants, our team knows these communication channels need to support a range of functions, one of which is bringing red flags, risks, and other project concerns to the group’s attention.
With so many discussions and data sharing activities happening within the project team, it may be difficult to elevate priority alerts and warning signals to ensure they’re quickly recognized and addressed. Building the right information flows to enable this kind of robust risk awareness doesn’t need to be complicated, but it’s something your group should have in place for every initiative.
If your project members have missed communicating or acting on signs of early problems in the past, or if your communications around areas of risk haven’t been as healthy as you’d like, consider these tips to round out your communication strategy and improve your project warning system.
Document your warning flag communication protocols, then broadcast them widely and often. You don’t want someone to identify a project-stopping issue but not know who they should tell. Give stakeholders the information they need to ensure their concerns reach the right people and guide them on what to expect or do once they raise an issue. And remember that, even if your protocols haven’t changed since the last project, send them out to stakeholders again as part of your kickoff messaging campaign.
Maintain multiple communication pathways to encourage timely reporting of potential trouble spots. People won’t always attend standup meetings or participate in other progress discussions due to conflicting appointments, vacations, or other routine happenings. Some might not be near a computer most of the time or have easy access to core systems if they’re remote. Digital reporting platforms—available through desktop as well as mobile interfaces—are a good foundation but consider additional tools such as designating one or two people on the project team who can document concerns over the phone, through e-mail, or over chat/instant messaging and upload them to your main reporting system.
Develop a strong feedback loop to show you’re serious about exploring potential red flags. Project participants will quickly lose faith if their concerns fall into the abyss or go unheeded. Follow up with stakeholders to show them that any problems they reported were objectively analyzed and acted upon. You might also consider involving them in assessment and resolution activities if that’s appropriate, and if they have the skills, knowledge, time, and willingness to participate.
Solicit concerns, worries, and data on potential problem areas from your internal project team as well as outside partners and other collaborators. Each project contributor has their own tolerance for risk, and it’s possible that what one person sees as a minor glitch could look like a priority problem to someone else. Don’t passively hope that everyone will think the issue they identified warrants attention from the wider group—instead, actively ask if anyone has concerns they want to present for group review. This lessens the burden on busy team members to take the first step and will help catch risks that may have otherwise stayed under the radar longer than they should.
Make it okay to report problems. Some project teams have historically encountered pushback when bringing problems to light, while others might have been cautioned against announcing potentially bad news. In today’s dynamic business environment, those strategies are outdated and will only lead to more trouble. Reassure your stakeholders that they should feel comfortable expressing their concerns and emphasize that there won’t be any reprimands or punishment for speaking out.