What you say and how you say it may have more impact than you expect. Communicating is one of your key project management tools. Just be sure you do speak up and be reasonably persistent in getting your ideas out to management and the team.
I was a “fresh out.” Fresh out of college and sitting in on my first software project management meeting. I listened hard and looked around the table at all these people with so much more knowledge and experience than I had. This was going to be a great place to learn how to really manage a software development project.
During one meeting I heard a detailed description of an issue. I thought to myself what I figured the problem was and how I would go about confirming and fixing it. I did have a few years experience programming before I went to college. In fact, I was a bit of a fanatic when it came to software. I had spent those few years before college living and breathing programming seven days a week while serving in the US Air Force. So I had experience as a programmer but not as a software manager or project manager. As I listened, I wondered what these folks knew that I didn’t know which would explain why nobody was mentioning the things I was thinking. I continued to listen hard to learn (see related: The Ultimate Project Management Tool).
At the end of the week, someone came into the project meeting and practically yelled: “we figured it out, it was ….” Holy Molly. It was what I was thinking at the beginning of the week! I knew something! Maybe I can help!?
At another meeting, after listening and formulating my own thoughts and ideas, I waited for my chance. A lull in the current discussion happened. I leaped in. I described what I thought the problem probably was and how to go about confirming it. As I spoke, everyone stopped talking, turned and looked at me. When I finished my short comment, everyone went back to talking about the current topic as if I never even said a word!
OK. I must have taken them by surprise. They don’t really know me. I’ve been quiet for weeks. Let’s try this again.
A few moments later, another opportunity came up, and so I spoke and added a bit more elaboration on my thoughts and ideas. Again, they stopped, looked at me, then went back to their discussion as if nothing had happened. I felt like I was a talking dog or something. I was an oddity to take note of when I spoke, but otherwise just noise that interrupts the conversation. This was going to be a bit harder than I thought.
Over the next week, I persisted and threw out my few thoughts as the opportunities arose. One day, I was listening to one person who was talking about something very similar to what I had mentioned earlier in the meeting. As he spoke he would surreptitiously look my way, as if to see how I would react to his words. The discussion on this matter resulted in a series of actions to be taken to help resolve the current issue. Everyone went off with their individual action items.
They used one of my ideas! Woo hoo! I may actually have something to contribute? I must actually know something useful to this high powered project management team.
Yes, I didn’t seem to get any credit for the idea. It was not obvious that it was uniquely my idea or that someone didn’t have the same idea already. It was the surreptitious looks, by more than just one person, that gave me a hint that maybe I had influenced this line of thinking.
Over time I could see a pattern. It was pretty straight forward, and I tested it out on numerous occasions (yes, I’m a bit nutty in this way). I found I had an influence that would later help put me in charge of future projects (see The Leap To Excellence – Project Management Tools).
For example, say I had ten ideas I wanted to share with the group. Ideas on how to solve problems or on what to do next. I found that if I did not share any of those ideas, then about two or three of them would occur naturally in the meeting. Someone else would bring up the idea. If I did share all ten of my ideas over the course of the meeting, then I would notice that seven or eight of my ideas would become actions of the group. Those seven or eight ideas were not necessarily associated with me. If you were to ask someone about who first came up with the idea, I don’t think that many people would point exclusively at me.
President Ronald Reagan supposedly had a plaque on his desk that read: “You can accomplish much if you don’t care who gets the credit.” Being willing to state your ideas helps them to become a reality and is a key project management tool. Don’t be discouraged if at first your ideas don’t seem to have much impact. You may have to watch closely to see the real long term impact of your words.
Do you feel your thoughts and ideas are being heard?