It's not what people say, but what they don't that often is more telling. So how do you become super-aware of signs that are invisible or what people are not telling you? Not easy, but really key to project success!
When people ask me what I do at CA, I tell them I manage people. Then I tell them that no matter how complex a project is, it really all boils down to understanding the psychology of people. 99% of what we do during engagements is dependent on people. Therefore, understanding things from their perspective is key! Also being aware of what they are not telling you is even more crucial.
Therefore, the first thing is awareness; understanding that people won't tell you what they are thinking all the time. It is YOUR job to get them to uncover their true thoughts as quickly as possible. If you look back on your projects, you will probably note a correlation between good communication and project success vs. lack of communication and project failure.
I need to gain people's trust quickly on a project to tip the odds in my favor that we will be successful. This is the first step to getting people to be more transparent. I do this by sharing with the customer that I am their advocate. Trust me when I say that you MUST tell them this. Then I tell them that my primary goal is to achieve what they "deem" as success. (we will get to that later) and the second goal is to make sure that we adhere to the plan to reach that goal. That will ultimately be the flag that I use as my marker. All decisions will be based on that one objective.
So, why bother with all of this? Because if you want people to feel comfortable telling you what they really think - you need to tell them what you are really thinking!!! I say to the client that I expect them to share with me what they want, and if things are not to their expectations they need to voice that to me. If they don't tell me, I don't know. I also make sure that everyone understands that in order to reach the goals, we have to work together. If one side is not communicating - things fall apart. We need to become one team for the duration of this engagement. This may seem so obvious, but you absolutely must say and do the above.
Another very important aspect of the project is the project schedule. This document is THE guide/map that everyone must follow. In order to do that, we must make sure that everyone is accountable and involved and truly understands the tasks. So here it comes.....oftentimes, when you review the project schedule, people do not want to ask questions or they are not really paying attention. You need to bring them in to the conversation - engage them. Don't expect people at first to openly speak up. What I try to do is have my Architect walk through the technical tasks line by line and define what they mean. This alleviates some of the trepidation that a customer may have in asking questions. This triggers the back and forth conversation.
Another important aspect of being able to identify what people are not telling you is by understanding where that person is coming from. Each role within the project on the client side has their own agenda. It is crucial to understand each person to be able to work together and get them to engage.
For example; if you want to have a frank conversation with a technical resource on the client side about something potentially challenging or problematic; you should probably have that conversation without the stakeholders and management. Why? Because you NEED to understand their perspective. They may feel held back and not want to voice their opinion otherwise. This does not mean that you don't eventually share it with the entire team, but you start in a "safe environment."
Stakeholders - You may have people with different objectives or concerns and this is crucial to understand before you begin your project. There could be politics involved, varying personalities that will potentially impact your goal if you are not careful. BUT, if you take the time to understand where each person is coming from and then prioritize who has the most influence and/or decision-making - you will position yourself for success.
Bottom line. You must think about the psychology of the people that you will be working with. Everything matters and the more you understand about each individual, the better you are able to create a cohesive team!