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Focusing conversations to increase value

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As project managers it is helpful to focus conversations on the right topics. Talking about the right topics with the right people at the right time increases our value in the eyes of the team members or stakeholders with whom we communicate. Further, it helps strengthen bonds with the people we talk to, which comes in handy during the ups and downs of a project lifecycle. 

On the other side of the coin, talking about the wrong topics wastes time, decreases our perceived value and can negatively impact relationships with critical team members or stakeholders – magnifying the impact of risks which surface over the lifecycle of a project.

Selecting the right topic for every conversation is a complex decision. There are many factors which go into selecting the right topic to discuss. It entails matching content, phrasing/syntax, audience and timing, each of which has multiple dimensions to it.  

Topics, like scope, can be thought of as existing at different hierarchical levels. Topics can be discussed in a broad, general way or in excruciating detail. 

Matching the topic level with the audience can determine whether your conversation is considered valuable or a waste of time. Thinking about the hierarchical dimension to matching topics and audience can help us pick out the right topics for the right people and improve our communication. This can lead to better project management and better project performance. 

Thinking of the hierarchical dimension of the topic/audience match has an added benefit for how we all spend our time. It can help guide whether you’re involved in conversations that are truly worth your time or whether they are better suited for someone at a different level of the organisation.


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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 10 July 2016, 11:31 AM

    The decision is complex but not too difficult if you get back to basics - why are you having the conversation in the first place? Ther is not a lot of point in wasting time in a conversation with a stakeholder unless you have an objective. If you understand the objectives (which need to be mutually beneficial) you are well on the way.  The next challenge which is central to MArk's post is pitching the conversation at the right level for the stakeholder.  I know this is covered in Mark's excellent book, it is also central to  Lynda Bourne's book 'Making Projects Work'. The only way you are ever going to get anything useful out of stakeholders is through directed communication: