SPRINGBOX / Insights

Communication Styles

by Springbox, May 22, 2015

A project manager's job is to make sure the team is communicating effectively. At Springbox, we have no less than nine official communication tools at our disposal.

Communication Styles and When to Use Them

Project Managers are talking all day long. Talking to clients, talking to partners, talking to the team, talking to other PM’s, talking to the account team, or talking to themselves (or is that just me?). You might say, at the simplest level, a Project Manager’s job is to make sure the team is communicating effectively.

In the past, communication tools for business were extremely limited; let’s not forget the dreaded company memo. Thankfully, in the modern world, Project Managers have a lot of options when it comes to staying up to date with the team.

At Springbox, we have no less than nine official communication tools at our disposal:

  • Email
  • Slack (IM messaging)
  • Internal Meetings
  • Internal standups
  • Client Meetings
  • PM Tool notifications
  • One-on-One Check Ins
  • Phone Calls
  • Text Messages

We use all of these regularly, but do all these tools really make us more efficient? To help us limit the interruptions and make sure nothing slips through the cracks, we have a few unspoken ground rules and general principles on when and how to communicate internally.

The Best Tool for the Job: When is it okay to use a communication tool?

Email

Email is a tricky tool and it’s really easy and convenient to shoot off a quick email or forward along an update when you’re in a hurry. Best practice, however, is to keep all project-related updates and info out of email and in your official PM tool.

Yes:

  • Client updates
  • You have important information to pass along in a pinch (use with care!)
  • When you need to pass along lengthy email threads from clients to describe the problem*

*Even in these situations, it’d be better to drop this into a shared document and attach it to the task in your PM tool.

No:

  • General project updates
  • Check-ins to see when something is completed

Slack (instant messaging)

Slack is a new instant messaging tool similar to Hipchat and Skype. We create client-specific groups where the team may communicate and also have various company-wide channels for team building and fun.

It’s incredibly powerful and fun for sharing ideas and building company culture, but it’s a slippery slope when your light conversation turn into one-off project updates. Add to the mixture that the free version of Slack has limited memory; you should use this neat tool with care.

Yes:

  • Sharing ideas, links to interesting content
  • Building team culture
  • Quick last minute changes (i.e. - meeting cancellations or room changes)
  • Client related, but non-task related conversations

No:

  • Updates on task completion
  • Document sharing
  • Discussing changes in project scope

Internal Meetings

At Springbox, we meet often and frequently. Meetings generally fall into one of three categories: internal review, client status calls, and company-wide meetings. No one likes to be in meetings all day, though, so meetings should be scheduled with care and it’s the PM’s responsibility to make sure they’re timely and meaningful.

Yes:

  • Updating status
  • Internal Review
  • Project based-discussions
  • Reviewing client feedback as a team

No:

  • Timely discussions – needing quick responses

Internal stand-ups

Stand-ups are slightly different from Internal Reviews. If you’re working in an agile agency, a stand-up has it’s own specific guidelines and meaning. At Springbox, we use stand-ups for projects that are on a tight schedule or have teams that may be spread out.

Yes:

  • Quick 15 minute status updates
  • Issues for today and today only

No:

  • Deep dive into issues/solutions
  • Talking about anything other than blockers

Client Meetings

Client meetings can be used for a couple of different things – client status meetings, client presentations, strategic meetings, workshops, etc.

PM Tool Notifications

Here at Springbox, we use Workamajig as our tool. We notify people of task updates, task descriptions, all meeting notes, client or internal feedback, etc. We use Workamajig for any type of communication, information, or updates directly relating to the project or task.

One-on-One Check-ins

When should you schedule time with a specific member of your team? Is it a good idea to drop in on them at their desk and chat for a few minutes?

Yes:

  • You’re looking for updates from a specific person
  • Needing timely feedback or discussions
  • Protecting your relationship with the resource and don’t want a tone misconstrued over email/IM

No:

  • It’s not an urgent issue. If it can wait for the next scheduled meeting - wait.
  • The person is on a deadline.
  • You’ve already given the person another priority item.

Phone Calls

For the purpose of this article, “phone calls” means personal calls. When you find yourself wondering when it’s okay to text or call a team member’s cell phone, the answer is that you may only when you’ve exhausted all other ways to reach them or if you’re in an emergency.

Yes:

  • You’ve exhausted all other means of contacting the team member and you need an immediate answer
  • You have a previous agreement with the team member in question and they’re expecting your call
  • You’re in an emergency*

*What qualifies as an emergency will vary with every company, but follow the Golden Rule: contact others as you wish to be contacted. If it can wait, don’t call after hours, when someone is on vacation, is sick, or otherwise out of pocket.

No:

  • For general project updates
  • For questions someone else on the team who’s in the office can answer

Text Messages

The same rule for cell phone calls applies to text messages. Unless you have an established communication pattern and expectation that involves text messages to someone's personal phone, don’t do it!

Yes:

  • You are in an emergency
  • You are without access to traditional company communication tools and you’re in a pinch

No:

  • For general project updates
  • Client-specific conversations*

*As a general rule of thumb, you should never discuss private client business on non-company technology. You may trust your coworker completely, but you don’t want their phone falling into the wrong hands.

If you'd like to read more about culture and communication at Springbox, you can read about it here!