Project Communications Management

11 April, 2016

If you work in a very small organization, it is likely that everyone in the place will know about your project – most likely, every employee will have some contribution to make to it. However, as the organization grows, your project becomes less visible and that can be a problem.

For example, two projects may find that they need to develop a particular type of bracket to locate a sub-system in their products. If they are unaware of the other project, two teams could use up resources duplicating the same effort. Even worse, one project could be finished and the bracket could there ready to use.

Because projects are change agents, they will have an impact. Because people generally do not like change, or indeed surprises, your project could meet resistance if introduced to an unsuspecting audience.

Project Managers need to be aware of these issues and make sure all stakeholders are aware of what is going on. In other words, they need to communicate. The Project Management Institute estimates that a typical Project Manager spends between 75% and 90% of the time communicating, so serious attention needs to be given to Project Communications Management.

As with all the knowledge areas in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), we need to plan our communications.  What this entails is working out, for each of our stakeholders, what is the most effective (and efficient) way of getting the message to them.

We need to decide what the message should be. Some audiences are interested in technical details – such as the Earned Value figures for the week – while others are only interested in the business outcomes. Internal stakeholders will have a different information requirement to external ones. Senior management within the organization may want assurance that their resources are being used well, while residents near the site of your wind farm project may be more concerned with environmental impact. In other words, we need to be clear from the outset WHAT we are trying to communicate.

Once we have established that, we need to consider presentation. Some people like long-winded reports, detailing every aspect of the project’s adventures to date. Others prefer dashboard-style summaries that show at a glance if the project needs attention or not. Some stakeholders like getting a weekly e-mail report, while other want to visit a project web-page occasionally to see the current status. In other cases, a face-to-face meeting is appropriate and in particular projects – ones that affect the public for instance – the Project Manager may need to appear on radio and television to outline how the project is getting on.

Having defined WHAT we want to communicate and HOW we will present it, the next step is to look at communication technology. If you have a distributed team, you may consider video conferencing or various social media to enhance inter-team communication.  Instead of written reports, or even face-to-face meetings, the Project Manager might consider recording a status presentation video and placing that on the project’s web-page.

Before deciding on an approach, Project Managers need to understand the various models of communication. Essentially these are one-way and two-way. One way communication can be appropriate, but it is better to aim for two-way channels, because feedback is crucial. Just because no one is saying anything does not necessarily mean that they are happy with the project.

This leads to the decision to use pull, push or interactive communication methods. Pull is where we put information out there and the stakeholders access it as and when they choose. Push is where we give the message to them – email would be the typical example – and interactive is where we send and receive in the one engagement.

Finally, we have to give a thought for volume – too much communication is as bad as too little. A phone call once a month may be appreciated, but a call every day becomes a nuisance. The Project Manager needs to respect stakeholders' time.

This work forms our plan and when the project is ready to go, the Project Manager needs to execute this plan. This is called Manage Communications. During the Execution phase of the project, the Project Manager must ensure that the stakeholders receive appropriate information in the format they prefer, as laid down in the plan

But is the plan working? This is the question Control Communication asks. A famous story is told of a Project Manager who accidentally forwarded his shopping list instead of the weekly report. When no one noticed his error, he realized that this particular communications approach was not working. It is in the interests of effective communications control that Project Managers should engage in some sort of two-way communication with each stakeholder during the project. Their feedback will enable us to tweak the Communications Management Plan for better results.

Do not forget to go through the change control process when updating the plan however.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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