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People demand openness in the workplace. 87% of them, that is.
87% of workers surveyed by Kelton Global in a 2018 study admitted that they want their future company to be transparent. 80% of the respondents wanted to know more about their organization’s decision making.
No wonder then that workplace transparency is a term that’s widely discussed in most companies. Some opt for radical transparency, while others choose other ways to foster open communication.
As a project manager or a team leader you may not have a say in the company-wide policies. You are, however, in charge of a project team, so project transparency is very much within your control.
What is project transparency?
Transparency in project management is a culture of open communication and visibility within a project team. From the managerial perspective it is often a case of being honest with the team about the project and the team itself.
There are several ways in which project transparency can be cultivated in a team but the consequences are overwhelmingly positive.
Project transparency leads to better, happier teams
The link between transparency and employee engagement/happiness, has been investigated in several surveys or studies. There is data to prove that honesty indeed is an important factor determining people’s happiness at work.
When it comes to project transparency, however, we’re also talking about financial profits in that particular project. This is possible because transparency boosts productivity. Engaged employees who know what is expected of them (and why) perform better and work more efficiently. As stated by JyotiM, Tata’s IT Consultant, in her paper on Project Management and Transparency: Transparency with appropriate permissions in a project management system saves everyone on the project time and money. Does that sound like PM dream? It should!
Lack of transparency, on the other hand, can cause distrust among the team or even resentment. Project Management Institute’s reports showed time and time again that inadequate or poor communication is a major cause of project failures. There is every reason to think, then, that honesty and open communication are extremely important for project managers.
Granted, transparency is not a one-size-fit-all approach, as it differs from client to client or industry to industry. We’ve come up with a list of steps you can take in order to increase project transparency in your team.
Project manager’s guide to transparency
Make sure people understand their tasks
Sounds obvious? It might, but keep in mind that there is more to “task visibility” than a list of features to be made.
First of all, explain the project to your team. Both in terms of the technical scope, but also in terms of the business side of things. What’s the goal for that project? Who will benefit from it? What is the reason for a given feature? Answers to these questions can save you some wrong calls when estimating tasks.
Understanding the “why?”, not just the “what?”, improves your team’s engagement. That’s a good way to develop a sense of ownership.
Communicate openly and explain changes
That’s a big one. And a difficult one at the same time.
You want to be transparent and yet, there are things you’re not supposed to share. Be careful not to discuss personal or confidential information. On top of that, pay attention whether your total openness doesn’t cause speculation or gossip sessions. If you feel that something shouldn’t be disclosed to your team yet, it is likely the case. Wait till your information is confirmed or relevant and only then break it down to your team.
Other than that, you should make your team feel that they are a part of the project. And that requires you to make them aware of changes in the project.
One reason for that was already explained in the previous section – you need people to understand what they’re working on. Another one is equally important: you’re dealing with specialists here and they know what they’re doing.
If the change of requirements means that new features have to be developed, make sure that it is planned in the most efficient way. An open discussion with your engineering team may give you plenty of ideas to lessen the impact of this change and avoid the dreaded consequences of scope creep. Give your team a chance to really participate in the project and you’ll see a greater sense of “we’re in this together”.
One final note here: be transparent about your position as well. If you don’t know an answer to your team questions (or the answer cannot be disclosed yet), don’t make things up. Instead be open about your inability to provide the answer. The team will appreciate your honesty.
Provide and encourage feedback
You can’t really talk about open two-way communication without encouraging feedback.
Since you’re honest with the team, you also want them to be equally straightforward with you. Sure, you might hear some harsh words at times or even learn about a misstep in the project, but it’s still a great opportunity to address these issues early, before they turn into a major problem.
Lead by example and provide your team with constructive feedback. Don’t forget about recognition: make sure that good performance doesn’t go unnoticed. This will also strengthen your team’s engagement and accountability.
Since visibility and communication are the main factor of project transparency, it comes as no surprise that knowledge-sharing is a practice worth nurturing. The exchange of knowledge between team members can happen during standups or dedicated events.
One aspect of knowledge-sharing that is valuable yet often ignored is that teams can learn from other teams. As a project manager (or a team leader) you can collaborate with your peers to organize events during which teams share lessons learned during previous projects. Such cross-team meetings will not only provide project-related insights but also be a good team bonding opportunity.
Increase visibility with the right tools
Project transparency needs to be supported with tools that make collaboration and communication easier. For teams that work in the single room a whiteboard could be a good start. For distributed teams, however, online tools will be necessary.
In order to provide visibility into the project pipeline, use a project management app. At Teamdeck, we use JIRA to track our progress. Every team member can see what’s the status of different tasks, whether new bugs have occurred etc.
Resource scheduling and time tracking tools, such as Teamdeck, have a twofold effect on project transparency. First, team members are aware of their planned workload and assignments. At the same time, project leaders see the timesheets of their team, so they understand the actual workload of their employees. Both sides have the visibility they need to feel more comfortable with their job.
Make sure your team has access to a tool that enables regular communication. Slack is a great example here: it’s a chat tool that can also be integrated with other apps you use.
If you’re working on a product that has been already launched and has real users, you have an extra way of introducing project transparency. Take our app, Teamdeck, as an example. Even though we have dedicated team members that reply to customer questions asked via Intercom (you can try it yourself, it’s that blue icon in the corner), everyone on the team has access to the Slack channel where user feedback is posted. As a result, every team member is aware what people love about the app and what they ask for. Not only does it tick the “visibility” box, but it also makes everyone’s input much more meaningful when discussing new features and product roadmap.
Project transparency is about communicating openly and being honest as much as it is about enabling people to work efficiently. It allows you to increase people’s engagement, but also helps to eliminate productivity killers: from unclear requirements to office gossip. Build a culture of transparency in your project team and you’ll all reap the benefits of that.