How do we communicate “PM’s Intent”?

Teamwork Yesterday I discussed the concept of “Commander’s Intent”, a commonly-used military concept whereby a commander shares his/her intention with respect to a mission so that the troops are able to adapt and respond to change without necessarily having to involve the commander. This concept can be extremely useful to provide flexibility to PMs and their teams.

How do we, as Project Managers, communicate this “Commander’s Intent”, better called, for our discussion, “Project Manager’s (PM’s) Intent”?

One obvious way is to state it: “my intent is to deliver version one of WidgetXYZ by July 1, 2007. WidgetXYZ is composed of PartA, PartB, and PartC. Team1 will develop PartA and PartB while Team2 will develop PartC. Team1 and Team2 have the flexibility to build their own internal schedules provided they meet our overall commit date of July 1. Tools and methods must come from the approved toolset.”

This accomplishes the objective of stating what the deliverable is (WidgetXYZ), including its components (PartA, PartB, and PartC); who is responsible for what portion (Team1 and Team2); when the deliverable is expected (July 1, 2007); and what flexibility each team has in how it approaches its work (approved toolset).

With a mature and experienced team, this is probably enough for them to understand what the objective and the boundaries are. Obviously, there needs to be a design for the overall product and components, but the PM has communicated the “PM’s Intent”.

In many other cases, it is better to get the entire team involved. An approach originally used with the Polaris missile system gets the entire team involved in defining the effort, including the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and due dates. The PM kicks off the meeting stating his/her view of the deliverable, high level desired schedule, and other guidelines that he/she wants to share. The team then develops a deliverables-based schedule with dates they commit to. At future sessions, the schedule is refined and status reviewed, addressing any issues. Time for discussions is made available during these face-to-face (FTF) meetings, otherwise known as “Map Days”. The PM encourages active communication between the various teams to ensure that customer teams and supplier teams are in synch with what is expected and by when. The objective is active communication that avoids disconnects.

This approach is heavily used at Intel and is well documented by Timm Esque in his book “No Surprises Project Management” which you can find at Amazon. Timm has a web site at: http://www.esqueconsulting.com/. You may be interested in reviewing his other work.

I’ve used this approach in previous efforts as well as in my current program, one that is viewed as highly successful (we are not done yet, but the approach is proving its value). The approach allows me to communicate my “PM Intent” to the teams: In every meeting, I make sure everyone knows the deliverables, its due dates, and the expectations I have of all team members (communicate, communicate, and communicate!) I’ll get into some more details in a future blog.

Jose Solera, PMP

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1 thought on “How do we communicate “PM’s Intent”?”

  1. I would add to Jose’s posting that facilitators also benefit by sharing their intent with groups they work with. I was facilitating a group one time with clear intent for the process to be followed in my mind, but I did not express that intent explicitly to the group. Later I got negative feedback about my performance, although the group functioned exactly as intentioned.

    I learned to state what I’m doing as we’re doing it; then groups are more understanding and appreciative. This simple step of stating intent is a best practice.

    Randy Englund, http://www.englundpmc.com

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