Getting the Message Across

09 February, 2015

If you are of a certain age, you will remember the days when it took four years to get a telephone installed in a private house. You might also remember, when you started work first, how noisy the reception area was, as a bulky telex machine clattered away in the background. You may have had your own pigeon-hole where external mail was dropped, but also inter-office memos, because that was the way executives communicated with their staff.

Today, the situation is entirely different. Most people today are surgically bound to their mobile phones, so they can be contacted at any time and in any place. More worrying is the development of the Smartphone, which allows access to e-mail, allowing an employee to work twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. For a Project Manager, the variety of communications technology available today is quite bewildering.

One of the tools and techniques of both the Plan Communications Management and Manage Communications  processes is communication technology and the Project Management Professional (PMP)® needs to take the time to assess the variety of methods available and choose which will suit each message and each stakeholder.

Choosing the appropriate technology depends on a range of factors. According to the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), our first consideration should be the urgency of the message. Routine status reports probably do not need to be read instantly, but the triggering of a risk needs to be disseminated quickly to all affected parties.

We are then advised to be aware of the availability of particular technologies. Here in Velopi, for instance, one of our people does not have a mobile phone. This makes last minute changes of plans difficult. Similarly, using the factory’s public address system will not alert people who are off-site at present.

Ease of use is another consideration. Companies like Skype and Viber provide excellent VoIP phone services. However, to set up an account involves entering a lot of details and hard-pressed team members might not have the time or inclination to sign up. Sadly, signing up to one of these services often opens the floodgates to even more junk mail. Another limited technology is video-conferencing. At headquarters there might be the latest Cisco “Unified Presence” product, but some of the team, or some of your stakeholders, might be lucky to get access to a phone where they are.

Having a distributed or virtual team adds a great deal of obstacles to effective communication. These obstacles all centre around distance – physical, geographic distance, that rules out face-to-face contact; temporal distance, where the team is operating across time-zones; linguistic distance, where team members speak different languages and, finally, cultural distance, where an innocent term or phrase can cause deep upset. If there are language or time-zone issues, asynchronous communication, such as e-mail, often becomes your only choice.  However, communications can be enhanced by including diagrams and illustrations where possible. A picture is alleged to paint a thousand words, but its real value is that it can paint those thousand words in several languages.

Finally, as the Project Manager, you need to be aware of how sensitive the information to be communicated is. Obviously, internal, operational details like how much you are paying for raw materials should not go near the customer. Also, personal information about team members needs to be kept between the person, the Project Manager and the Human Resource people.

It is worthwhile considering each of your communication tools under these headings. The following table just shows the basic tools of phone and e-mail.

However, as you learned on your PMP® course, it is vital to understand the problem, before choosing a solution. So before exploring all the various communications technologies that are out there, consider the types of communication your project will require. By defining the needs of your messages, you will be able to select a technology easier. In other words, answer the “what” and “to whom” questions, before deciding on the “how”.

Velopi’s PMP® exam preparation courses cover communications management and the other nine knowledge areas. For more details on these courses, which are held in DUblin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, please visit our training page, or contact us directly.

By Velopi Seamus Collins

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