I can’t imagine life as a PM if I didn’t like coffee!
One of the key skills every PM should have – in fact needs to have – is to be personable and approachable to all stakeholders and to all members on your team. An excellent technique to help reinforce that perception is the impromptu coffee meeting.
You shouldn’t underestimate the power of taking someone off-site, buying them a coffee and just letting them talk. You get to know what the real problems and roadblocks are, how they are dealing with stress, what’s working and what they think could be done better.
Some people will open up more than others, but generally speaking, you’re far more likely to get open and honest feedback in a relaxed environment like a coffee shop than if you pull them into a meeting room… and for any PM, the sooner you become aware of a brewing problem, the sooner you can take action to mitigate it.
I had a project where my team was pushing hard for nearly three months towards a hard deadline. We had a team of 12, about half of them lived inter-state and had to fly-in, fly-out each week. There were 2 or 3 key people where I knew most of the productivity was going to come from – keeping them happy and making sure their needs were met was crucial to hitting that deadline. Daily coffee runs gave them a chance to just get out of the office and breathe for a second. It gave them a chance to vent about any issues they were having – both about the pace we were working at and frustrations they had with any of the other team members. Being open and honest is critical. Listening is critical. As the PM, your job is to buy the coffee, let them talk, listen and follow up and take action where appropriate.
It doesn’t have to be coffee… I’m sure there are plenty of other drinks you can substitute – tea, juice – whatever, I’m sure they’ll all work just fine. Experiment. Find something a little exotic or fancy that you can use as a talking point to help lighten the mood when you need it.
You’re not going to find a question about coffee on any of the PM certification exams, but this highlights one of the big differences between certification and experience. Project Management is mostly about people. Frameworks and methodologies are important to help maintain structure and to give certainty to the project road map, but when you get right down to it – none of that matters if you don’t look out for the people in your team or if you don’t maintain your relationship with your stakeholders.
Drink coffee. Drink it often. Listen.