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When I was working on my earlier project, the project management diplomatically played with the communication. There was big mess related to expectations, commitments and promises. At one point, I made it clear that they had not disclosed certain information at beginning while signing off for the project and they purposefully hide some information, sidestepped certain information, and understated certain points so that it escaped my close attention. They had promised certain things verbally which they ended up denying. Unfortunately, none of these conversations are documented. Hence at the end I don't have any proof to fight back or to go to HR or higher management. I feel that is was a very bad experience with project management.

Recently, I have joined a new project, for an altogether new client and with a new team. I had developed good rapport and communication with project management and the most critical points were documented.

The Senior Project Manager (SPM) who took me onto the project has since left the organization and been replaced. The new SPM had a one-on-one with me and set his expectations, targets and promises. After the meeting, I wrote up all the points in an email, along with his promises to me, and sent it to him as MOM. My intent was to document this communication so that there wouldn't be any confusion or issues down the line. And I clearly stated in the mail that the objective of the mail is to recheck weather I understand all the points correctly and there are not mis interpretations. And also stated at the end of the mail that he is welcome and feel free to correct if any points are not correct and add if I had missed any thing. However, the SPM seems to have taken it in a negative way and says that "I believe in the people and we have to believe in each other" and asked me to resend the email, adding some conditions related to deliverables. I did that. I believe that he has taken this whole thing in a negative way and formed a negative impression that I don't trust him, but I have done this based on my recent experience with the project management. I can not afford one more such experience.

Now my specific questions are

(1) Given the situation, what I have done wrong? How should I have handled this situation and documented the communication?
(2) Now I have got negative impression and it burned the bridges with my new super boss(Boss's boss)? How can I mitigate the impact on our work relationship and form a good relationship with him?

I have done this specifically to avoid the earlier incident. What if the person denies his promises later? What if that person claims that he had already communicated certain aspects which he didn't communicate? These things happened to me just before joining this project with my previous project management. How else I can avoid such things in this project (and future projects)?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

A project manager should never be upset about documentation of verbal communication, if they take exception to a written follow up of a verbal conversation then try to work with that project manager to find out if you had written something incorrect.

Since this is a one-sided written account of a two-sided verbal conversation, it is very likely that the other party may have had a different interpretation of the conversation and what was talked about. Most of the time this is all it is, and another meeting to resolve confusions on the written record can help the two of you communicate the things that you do not yet agree on.

If however the PM is simply taking exception of written accounts of verbal agreements with no other issues with what specifically was written, then they may have an agenda. Rats don't like to have the light shined down on them after all.

Trust really shouldn't enter the equation here. The following items are perfectly acceptable to capture on written record:

  • Deadlines
  • Targets
  • Expectations
  • Assumptions
  • Requirements
  • Prerequisites
  • Etc...

Promises are not a good thing to track because a promise requires trust in another person. We want to capture written record of agreements and facts, not promises, hopes and wishes. Perhaps this may be another reason that the PM took offense.

Another good habit to get into is taking meeting minutes. There is a good explanation of how to do meeting minutes on WikiHow.

http://www.wikihow.com/Take-Minutes

Perhaps the full formal practice of meeting minutes is a bit much, but if you take notes on conversations in a meeting and share with the members of the meeting afterwards, then there will always be a written record of motions and consensus.

All of this should be done without passion or prejudice. Only discuss facts and don't enter conversations with the PM on emotional grounds or reasoning as many corrupt PM's will try to use emotional reasoning or arguments to gain advantage over others as opposed to doing actual project management.

Keeping the information free and open for all to see prevents shadowy corners for individuals to hide under whenever stakeholders are not happy with the progress. It also protects you and you should not stop doing this because it makes people uncomfortable. It may be making them uncomfortable because they are used to hiding in shadowy corners for protection. The light is your protection, don't give it up.

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+1 and many PMs will appreciate someone taking meeting minutes. Trust and clarity are different things. –  MrFox Feb 20 '13 at 18:38

You do realize this sounds extremely defensive, right? I wonder how you phrased that you wanted to document the expectations and did you cover how this may cause additional delays but not jeopardize the project? Consider how it may take more than a few e-mails back and forth to nail down a requirement that could take days in some cases that then leads to a meeting where someone wants to say, "Hey, why is this so late?!?" that then the attention turns to you for wanting this all documented. This is part of the trade-off that in wanting that documentation are you prepared to take on this risk? I question if that was discussed or if you sent it after the meeting without it being covered beforehand. In this case, you may have blindsided him with this document that may have upset him. How would you feel if after a meeting that you suddenly got told, "Hey, you said this and that and another thing..." out of the blue? Do you see how you may be creating some mistrust by having this record and wanting to use it like a weapon? That is where I could see the trouble being formed so I'd consider reframing why you want these records. What is the good reason for having these records that creates a win/win scenario for each side rather than having it as insurance in case something goes wrong?

My suggestion for how to reconcile the relationship is to consider talking with him about how has he handled previous projects where he had these kinds of issues. Perhaps he has his own way of dealing with this that may be what the company is supposed to do. Consider the question that if someone does break a promise, what are you really going to do? Are you going to go to your boss or a company legal person and ask, "What do we do to make this person uphold their promise?" That does seem like a reasonable course of action and then what? While you may have had the headache of things not working out before, I question how well have you considered what you are doing now will actually fix this if other people don't necessarily play by the same rules as you do.

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"Hey, why is this so late?!?" that then the attention turns to you for wanting this all documented. This is part of the trade-off that in wanting that documentation are you prepared to take on this risk? It is a better risk though because it is a risk you can control by working harder to meet the agreed deadline. The alternative is that you are at the mercy of the PM who can make up expectations as they go along, and then no matter how hard you work, you can still fail and any failure will likely always be your fault. –  maple_shaft Feb 20 '13 at 18:06

I found there two main types of people while my carrier: First there are those who do this contracts/documentation/... and direct orders or are managed by theese.

And then there are people (especially from the older generation) in our country we would call "with handshake quality". It means that they make better contracts signed by handshake than a 100 page contract with fines for every possible misbehavior. They would do everything to keep their word or when they can't they would give you 100 times worth because otherwise it would be dishonor for whole life. So promising something towards them and breaking your word would be very bad and they will never trust you again and will have big consequencies on future contracts (if there even will be any). For those the integrity and trustworthiness of people is very important. Their motto is "Why should I trust a 100 page contract when I can't trust the contract partner or his word."

There are seldom people with just only one of theese sides, but you will see that a person is mostly one of these sides.

For the second type it might be embarrassing if you don't seem to trust his word and have every little detail documented/in a contract. Or there might be the case that this person really isn't that exact with his words or had written promises which backfired because they were interpreted another way later in their disfavor.

So it mostly depends on the type of person the other is and it requires very much experience to distinguish those types especially when you meet them the first time. This is, why many project manager make a nice coming together at project start when the team members don't know each other.

For this time you can explain your bad experience and maybe shorten the document to only the main expectations, targets, and promises and only about 2-3 words (not too detailed) for each like "10% higher ROI", "better teamwork".

For the next projects, ...: earn experience. Or do it in one way and ignore the other type. Or try guessing. If you are new, you will make mistakes.

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