Hallways are for sentences, not pages.

Hallways are for sentences, not pages.

“Don’t worry, it’ll get worse.” Michael Nixon, the wisest business mentor I’ve known to-date, used to say that to me all the time. Only later did I realize this was more than a quip to lighten my mood when some big issue was discovered. What Michael was saying was that you can weather the big bumps by acknowledging you’re going to have lots of lots of them, and a key technique for success is to stay on top of the details of your project, day-in, day-out, as they develop.

Basically, he was telling me that I needed to quit whining about potholes and keep my eyes on the road.

The technique of Sentence, Paragraph, Page is one way to do just that. It’s simple: at any given time, your understanding of your project should be sufficient for you to provide a meaningful status in one of three context-appropriate lengths – a sentence, a paragraph, or a page.

The example
You pass by the Engineering director in the hallway and he asks how your project is going. Wisely choosing to provide a sentence-style status, you reply: “We’re on time for all milestones, and there’s one risk that warranted a mitigation plan, but that’s on track.”

Why it works
Guess what? 9 times out of 10, you’re going to be able to keep walking down that hall, because you’ve provided a meaningful status that was appropriate to the context. By the way, you also just demonstrated you’re attentive to the social context, which people appreciate. Remember the last time you asked someone a question in the hall, and they took way too long with their reply?

A few more details
You can see what would be next for Paragraph or Page. Just as the sentence-length update is correct for a hallway conversation, updates of paragraph length are best used in contexts like elevators and at the microwave while heating up your leftover osso bucco. Save the page-length updates for weekly status reports or the occasional sit down with project sponsors and executives.

No matter what, you should never need to sacrifice the accuracy of your information in order to keep your status brief. Everyone knows that if you understand it, you can sum it up in a sentence.