Have you ever tried to pull together a new company newsletter, blog, or interactive website only to see the whole effort flop right before your eyes? Most of us have been there. And most of us have heard some version of the “Ps”: Proper preparation prevents poor performance. In most cases, our failure stems from not being fully prepared for the task at hand.
I’d argue that success involves more than preparation, however. It’s one thing to think you understand the steps involved in the process, or the manpower and materials necessary to achieve a winner, but execution is essential. It involves the difference between knowledge and wisdom. To be truly prepared for something, you need to have deeper understanding of a process than what you could read in a manual or on a website. You need to have first-hand knowledge of it—and that only comes by actually doing the task at hand.
There are many examples that show the chasm between an intellectual understanding of something and a visceral, experiential understanding of it: the green solider who’s been taught to be a killer in boot camp, and the emotions he or she feels when forced to actually do it combat; the speaker who rehearses in front of a mirror before a presentation and then freezes when facing a packed room with hundreds of pairs of eyes focused on them; and yes, even the director of corporate communications who practices canned answers to reporters’ questions at a press conference and then stumbles over their words when the bright lights shine on them.
Let’s go back to that company newsletter. What are the steps one might take to prepare for its rollout? Determination of audience, identification of an editorial focus, a catchy name, a sharp layout, various types of content, editing and proofreading, production, distribution…all of these sound simple on the surface but involve careful and nuanced decisions. Without an understanding of what each step involves, a project manager can embrace unrealistic deadlines or impractical ideas lifted up by team members involved, or even worse: set their own deadlines and impose their own ideas with the belief that they know more than the people who do these jobs every day.
That’s why a good project manager understands every step of the process from personal experience. Impossible, you say? Maybe. But a good manager will bring a mix of skills to the table. To some of the steps they’ll bring expert knowledge. In this case, let’s say their forte is the role of editor, while their weakness is graphic design. Does the project manager have to become a graphic design expert to be successful? No. But he or she needs to understand what goes into the graphic design process. And this can only come from spending time with the graphic design staff, observing and asking questions. This manager may never be a whiz with Adobe InDesign, but they may be able to understand the basics of good design and how much time and manpower are required to accomplish a task.
Take the time to learn a little something about the whole process. By delving deeper into the proper preparation admonishment, anyone can increase their ratio of hits to misses and become a more successful communicator.