Chapter 7. Managing Project Communications
In this Chapter
- Discussion of the importance of effective communication in team projects
- Guidelines and tips for creating meeting notes, project schedules, and team working agreements
Communication plays a key role in allowing a group of people to function as a team with a common goal. To be effective, teams must share information by documenting plans, activities, and decisions (e.g., meeting notes, project schedules, or team agreements); or resolving problems and conflicts (e.g., writing emails or verbal communication).
Team Meeting Notes
During the course of a project, it is valuable to accurately document team meetings—the logistics (where and when they occurred, who was in attendance) and also the content (topics of discussion and decisions). This documentation benefits the team members by providing an record of project activities and documenting decisions and responsibilities—it provides a helpful benchmark to refresh memories and resolve questions or issues that arise. Meeting notes might also be provided to an external audience (supervisor, client, or instructor) to show that the team is making progress and fully engaged. Note that they may be required as part of a Progress Report.
The practice and policy of documenting decisions and discussion in meetings will follow you into the workplace. See here for a real-world example of minutes from a Minnesota Department of Transportation meeting.
Meeting notes should be written during and immediately after the meeting takes place. They will not be as accurate or useful if they are written too long after the event.
The notes should be informative of what the team discussed and what needs to be completed. Typical team meeting notes include the following elements:
- Header—date, time, method (e.g. physical location or Skype call), full names of the members who attended
- Objective statement—1-2 sentences that establish the goal or purpose of the meeting (e.g., to share findings and progress, to decide on a design, or to brainstorm)
- Completed tasks from previous week or last meeting, including:
- Bulleted list of tasks
- Person(s) assigned to each task (“task owner”)
- Short summary of status (e.g., completed and submitted on Carmen or in progress or pending group review)
- Tasks to be completed for the upcoming week, including:
- Bulleted list of tasks
- Person(s) assigned to the task (“task owner”)
- Project timeline (may be presented as a Gantt chart) indicating major milestones and deadlines
- Decisions made by group with key information about how the decisions were made (e.g., group consensus, decided by project manager)
A schedule helps the team stay on task and allocate enough time for tasks. It also allows the instructor or supervisor to see what the team has completed or needs to complete. The schedule should include the task that needs to be completed, start and finish dates, when the task is due, the teammates working on the task, and its percent completed at the end of due date.
Note, not all percent completion may be 100 percent. The team may have been unable to complete some tasks and will carry them forward. Occasionally, tasks will take longer than expected.
Two common methods for displaying the schedule are a task list and a Gantt chart. As you might guess from the name, the task list breaks the activities of a project down into a series of smaller steps and assigns deadlines and people to each task. See here for more information and an example of a task list project schedule. A Gantt chart is a visual tool for displaying what is essentially the task list. By representing each task as a segment of a line, the chart is useful for emphasizing duration of activities and relationships between activities (e.g. design needing to be complete before beginning development). There are many different software options for creating Gantt charts, but you can also create one in Excel, as shown here.
Team Working Agreement
A team working agreement is a type of contract between team members that helps set expectations and ground rules for how the team will operate. They can take various forms, but the example below shows the type you may be asked to complete in First Year Engineering at Ohio State.
When completing an agreement, include all team members in the process and use the opportunity to discuss issues that can arise during group projects. Being able to think about possible conflicts or issues and talking about them as a group can help prevent some of those problems, and it will make it easier to address conflict later on, if needed.
Sample Team Working Agreement
Team Working Agreement
Term (Example: Autumn 201X)
Creation XX/XX/XXXX; Revised XX/XX/XXXX (If revised)
1) Group Identification
Lab section # –
Table # –
Team Name (Optional) –
Team member info:
2) Primary Means of Communication and Expectations
State your team’s agreed upon various means of communication and expectations for response. (Example: All members will be expected to read emails from anyone in the group on a daily basis and respond in not more than 12 hours.)
3) Scheduling Meetings (Schedule at least one meeting as part of constructing your team agreement.)
Agreed upon means of scheduling meetings. (Example: Team will agree, at the end of each class, to set any meetings times and agenda needed before the next class and beyond if possible. Team members will take turns to send out a reminder of the meeting with an agenda within eight hours after the class.)
4) General Responsibilities for All Team Members
This element of the team working agreement is the list of rules/agreements or the contract that all members agrees to live by.
5) Specific Team Member Responsibilities/Deadlines (Optional)
This section may be used to record specific tasks or responsibilities particular team members have assumed.
6) Conflict Resolution
Each team should have an agreed-upon approach to addressing issues that may arise. For example, if a team member is not meeting deadlines, the team agrees to do X [specific action decided by the team] to address the problem before bringing the issue to a TA or professor.
7) Expectations of Faculty and GTA’s
If a team member fails to live up to this agreement, the situation may be reported to the staff, but the team will still be responsible for submitting a completed assignment. Staff will be available to meet with teams to resolve issues.
8) Team Signatures
Include signature for each student.
- Prioritize effective communication strategies in group projects to ensure that work is distributed and completed in a way that is clear, fair, and efficient.
- Carefully document decisions and tasks in meeting notes to aid memory and keep group members accountable.
- Project planning includes creating project schedules for the work and making sure the team members are in agreement about how the group will function (by completing a team working agreement, for example).
Video: How to Create a Basic Gantt Chart in Excel
Group Work: Dealing With Conflicts (The Learning & Teaching Office – Ryerson University)