Pancho Villa’s Approach to Project Communication

Pancho Villa (1878-1923) was a revolutionary Mexican general and the subject of legends. In his time, Villa commanded the most powerful army in Latin America. Some considered him a bandit and cold-blooded killer. Others think of him as a true charismatic leader.

His leadership style provides lessons that we can apply to our work as project managers — specifically, when it comes to project communication.

Historians says because of his fear, Villa would tell one member of his troop to “watch his back,” and keep on an eye on suspicious behavior when he wasn’t alert. Legend says that in this way, Villa braided the troops — to keep them watching each other and “manage the risk” of being killed.

I have adapted a similar approach to project management. Villa knew he couldn’t supervise his troops all of the time. As we know, not everyone can be present for all meetings and working sessions during a project. Therefore, I often try to “braid” my team through a communication approach adapted from Villa’s to keep information flowing.

This communication technique reduces communication channels by holding one team member to be responsible for sharing important aspects of the project’s journey with one or two other team members. For every two people on the project team, there should be one person updating them. In my experience, I have found this kind of communication useful with small teams between 8 to 12 people.

This keeps everyone updated on the project because each team member has at least one person informing her about the project’s progress and/or situations in face-to-face conversations. This allows me to avoid extensive email use. Even In some cases, fewer meetings are required and the meeting itself becomes more productive.

What do you think? What communication technique you are currently using? Do you like the idea of “braiding” your project team? Do you think the braiding technique could apply to other project management aspects?

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