– Paul J Meyer
Managing Communications is a project management activity that is all about telling stakeholders what is going on in the project.
It is about collecting specific pieces of information throughout project, analyzing and sending them to the appropriate people (everyone doesn’t need to know everything), at the right time (some information is time sensitive) and using the right methods as planned in the communication management plan. This is one of the important aspects of project manager’s day-to-day work.
Effective and efficient information distribution is really the key to project success.
One of the core challenges a product manager faces is information exchange. Information is not just sent out by the project manager alone, everyone on the team needs to pass information to others. While some people are great at verbal communication at the expense of written communication skills, exactly opposite is true with some people, some are great at all forms of communication. But proper way of communication can be learned.
The project manager has a challenge of distributing the information properly by herself and also by the people in the team.
This means that if necessary she should arrange training programs for team members to learn appropriate communication skills. And she also needs to ensure that effective information distribution (giving the information using right format, to the right people, at the right time) as well as efficient information distribution (giving just the right amount of information) is done throughout the project duration.
From the exam perspective, this might very well be the simplest of the project management activity to learn. However, from implementation perspective this could easily be the hardest!
Root causes of many issues on the project can be traced to communication. Hence as a project manager if you can manage this process efficiently you can keep a LOT of problems at bay!
Aspects of effective communication
Sender-receiver communication model
We went through basic communication model as part of the Planning Project Communications post. This basic communication model is also called Sender-Receiver model. Understanding of this model is essential to foresee the kind of noise that can disrupt communications on the project.
Note that feedback is an essential part of this model. In verbal communication, feedback will include active listening – the core part of communication where you acknowledge what you are listening to, by making eye contact, nodding and rephrasing your understanding of what you heard.
Choice of communication media (email, phone, physical paper copies, tele/video conferences and so on)
This can depend on the nature of information, as well as situation. For instance, when certain sensitive information should be shared with the team to drive home a point, such information should be communicated verbally. Most of the formal communication with clients is done by emails. These kinds of rules pertaining to choice of media are part of communication management plan and must be understood by everyone on the team.
Written communication: Writing style
While the nature of information may dictate writing style (such as all design documents need to be written in formal technical writing style, all contractual information needs to be written in an formal legal language), it can sometimes depend on the recipient. Some customers prefer an informal writing style (like a conversation) and the team needs to be mindful of this fact while interacting with customers. Irrespective of the writing style one has to ensure that the essence of communication is conveyed.
Information presentation is part of effective communication and part of any project. Design documents, plans, proposals, strategies, complex problems and solutions, ideas are all presented to a group of people. Presentation can be boring or invigorating. Presenter’s body language as well as visual aids, images, fonts, the amount of textual matter – all matter to make a killer presentation.
Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.
– Paul J Meyer
These are techniques to build consensus among team on contentious issues and dealing with conflicts arising on the team.
Techniques to manage project meetings
Conducting an effective meeting is an art every project manager must learn. If not managed well meetings can kill an enormous amount of time on the project and even act as a demotivating factor for the team.
Imagine a 15-member team getting a mere 10 minute delayed start to a meeting – that is a loss of 2.5 hours of productive time! The book “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni talks about how meetings can be made effective.
Patrick writes about the need to create drama by the leader to engage the audience. Providing context and purpose to the meeting is essential to get most out of meetings.
Five tips that he provides for effective meetings are –
- Knowing the purpose of the meeting. This defines the role of the attendees.
- Clarifying the stakes up front. Realizing the implications of a bad decision made in the meeting, people will give their best shot at contributing to the meeting.
- Hooking the audience right from the beginning. Just like the famous Hollywood formula, throw in a dramatic or controversial topic in the first 10 minutes that engages the audience upfront.
- Setting aside enough time for the meeting. This will help you avoid ending the meeting without reaching a resolution.
- Provoking conflict. This is a powerful concept. Engage people in ‘ideologically emotional’ conflicts, and get best out of brainstorming.
What does it take to manage project communication?
Several project documents are to be referred to by the project manager to manage communications. Change log, cost estimates, cost forecasts, issue log, lessons learned register, risk report, quality reports are some of the project documents referenced.
Communication management plan contains needs of communication (such as release notes, project artifact distribution, contract), media of communication (such as email, presentation, verbal), which type of communication should be done by which medium (for instance, all design reviews to be done in meetings, release notes to be sent by email, certain sensitive information to be communicated verbally), which stakeholders should be communicated what information, and who is responsible for sending which information.
Resource management plan has information about who is working on the project which can tell us what information they need to be communicated. It also outlines the physical resources and information related to these resources that need to be communicated.
Stakeholder engagement plan has specific needs of the stakeholders documented and how they need to be engaged through the project duration.
Project performance reports
We have seen earlier that the project data analyzed in a specific context becomes information, and the information presented in report format gives us insights about project.
Status reports, progress reports, earned value reports, burndown and burnup charts, trends and forecasts are some of the examplesof project performance reports.
These performance reports contain information about current status of various activities and project constraints against their baselines (schedule, cost, scope) and updated forecasts such as estimate at completion (EAC), estimate to complete (ETC) and to-complete performance index (TCPI).
Organizational culture and structure, ease of communication and hierarchical differences affect the way communications are managed. Any industry or government regulations on information communication also need to be managed. Project Management Information System can be a place to store, retrieve and distribute information.
Communication-related policies, templates, guidelines and processes mandated by the performing organization. Communication-related lessons learnt from other project managers in the past could be of great help for the project manager.
How is it done?
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”
– Anthony Robbin
Communication technology, models, methods
Information distribution systems
These are the means of distributing information.
- Hard-copy documents (module level design distributed to developers, letters, memo, reports, press releases)
- Electronic project management systems – databases (task tracking systems), intranet (project information, self-published tentative leave requests of members), Project management software, collaborative work management tools (such as asana.com)
- Electronic communication – phone, teleconference, video conference (virtual team remotely logging into meetings, weekly customer calls via conference number)
..are some of the distribution systems used.
Communication is done through voice, audio-visual means, and even non-verbal means.
Some of the important skills needed for communication fall in taking and providing feedback, active listening, and even non-verbal communication such as facial expression during meetings, gestures and body language.
Presentation of information through reports, diagrams, and graphs communicated to the audience in a way that they understand is essential.
This indicates collecting and distributing project performance indicators, status reports, and forecasts. These are based on the work performance reports received from various controlling processes.
The reports may act on same information but may need to be created differently based on who you are going to send these to. Reports could be textual, graphical or pre-formatted. Cost, schedule, scope, risk and quality related information will be distributed as reports, along with their forecasts.
Interpersonal and team skills
Project manager’s ability to manage meetings effectively alone can save valuable time of stakeholders and increase team’s productivity (‘velocity’ for agile projects).
Management of communication can create as well as solve conflicts, so this is another area of focus for the project manager.
The phrases and mannerisms used in one culture may mean completely different in another culture. Project manager must have the understanding of cultural nuances in order to manage team members well.
Active listening, proactive feedback, and political awareness are some of the other focus areas for the PM as far as interpersonal skills are concerned in the context of managing communications.
What does this produce?
These indicate communication activities involved in collecting, processing, reporting and distributing information throughout the project.
Some of the communication reports –
- Status of deliverables for a specific release
- Costs status and forecasts
- Personnel performance feedback reports
- Progress on schedule
- Information related to new baselines
Updating project plan and documents
Whenever any subsidiary plans are changed or baselines are updated project management plan is updated. Also, changes to issue log, project schedule, and any other documents are expected.
Many artifacts created on the project make to organizational process assets library. These include –
- various project reports describing the status, issue logs, project closure reports and so on
- presentations – proposals, plans, designs, reviews, ideas presented through the project life cycle
- project records – all correspondence, memos, minutes of meetings
- feedback from stakeholders
- lessons learned – this is critical for the benefits of other/future project managers to learn from earlier mistakes and implement proven best practices
Lack of an effective management of communication in a project can be detrimental to the success of the project.
Managing communication is part of day-to-day work for the manager and ensures that stakeholders are kept in the know, using appropriate communication methods. Seeking feedback is as important as distributing information; because feedback helps you refine communication strategy. Information overload and information starving – both are not good and should be avoided.
While Manage Communications process is conducted in the Executing process group, Monitor Communications is handled in the Monitoring and Controlling process group – which is the focus of our next lesson.