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A different perspective on digital project management...get some empathy

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Alison Rood

You’re faced with a new digital project or phase and you are up against the usual constraints of time, budget and quality. You have the tools for your project set up and in place. You’ve got the budget and burndown covered with Google spreadsheets, your project plan is on a Smartsheet or MS Project, tasks have been assigned on a Real Time Board or within JIRA, you’ve set-up your online comms channel with the team and client using Basecamp or Slack, and you’ve diarised daily scrums with the team and weekly calls with the client.

Why does it feel like that still isn’t enough? Are these the only tools you need to get from the brief (if you are lucky enough to have one) to go live?

I would challenge you; that is not everything, you are missing a key vital component and that is empathy. Here are my 5 top tips for harnessing the power of empathy when managing your projects...

Start as you mean to go on

Get your team’s buy-in from the start of the project all the way to the end. Remember a DPM is nothing without their team so get to know them, develop and nurture a rapport with your team. Over time this will help build trust and stronger relationships, which in turn leads to successful project delivery time and time again.

Take a leaf from Aretha!

Get some RESPECT - value the relationships you have with the team both individually and as a whole. Create an environment of mutual respect and honesty. Be mindful of each of your team member’s contribution to the project, especially when they are under pressure. Understanding and appreciating each team member as well as their contribution means that every member of team is a valued contributor to the project.

Shut up! and listen

"We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." Epictetus

Get those active listening skills in tune, but not just verbally - also notice the non-verbal cues from your team, the body language. Non-verbal awareness helps to see the whole picture; you are able to express yourself emotionally to others, which some people find they can can relate to more easily.

It’s all in the words you say

When you do speak, learn to adapt your use of language, words, tone and gestures according to the person or team in front of you at that time. Get to know how each member of your team absorbs information. For example, with the more ‘visual’ members of your team, use language like ‘I see what you mean’, ‘I want the big picture’. This will help them assimilate information more easily, which in turn helps to reach a shared understanding.

Be in the moment

Continually assess the context of the situation you are presented with there and then, ask questions and actively listen to the responses. Contextualising helps you get everybody (team and client) on the same page and questioning cuts through unproven assumptions. This in turn can save lots of time and potentially the cost of the project delivery.

When it comes to empathy, there’s nothing soft about this skill! It takes time, effort and continual personal development for the DPM to master.

Empathy can help the DPM create a supportive, appreciative environment, built on mutual trust and respect. Team members excel in their respective skill-sets, disciplines and roles, which in turn can lead to a more polished execution of project delivery for the client, and a higher quality product or service.

People feel like they have done a great job and feel proud of being part of a team, collectively navigating the usual suspects of aggressive deadlines and forever changing priorities. Empathy: in my opinion, this is one key skill all DPM’s need.