Manage and Control

09 June, 2014

It is nearly a year now since the Project Management Institute started basing the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam on the fifth edition of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). So at this stage the fourth edition of the guide is a distant memory, but people like us who had to revise all our training materials to conform to the new PMBOK® Guide are still wondering if all the changes were good ones.

Take the main change – the addition of a complete new knowledge area. Was it a worthwhile exercise to separate out the stakeholder aspects from the communications knowledge area? Has it made it easier for students to grasp the concepts, or has it just muddied the waters?

The original, combined knowledge area contained five processes – three of which have been carried over to the fifth edition. So, while “Identify Stakeholders” and “Manage Stakeholder Expectations” have moved to the new knowledge area, they are still recognizable from the fourth edition. But what of the two missing processes – “Distribute Information” and “Report Performance”? Was it wise to remove such intuitively named processes?

Perhaps it was done because, when you think about it, what sort of information do project managers want to distribute on projects? Is it not all somehow related to the performance of the project? We might want to share status reports and updates to the Change and Issue Logs. Perhaps we also want the stakeholders to review our plans, but would that not happen during the planning process group? Also, while we are in critical mood, why is “Distribute Information” in the executing process group while “Report Performance” is in monitor and control? Surely, the reporting of performance (as distinct from analysing performance and adjusting things based on that analysis) should happen during executing?

However, these are minor quibbles. The main question remains unanswered – why a new knowledge area? Surely communications is about communicating with people? Anyone “that could impact or be impacted by a decision, activity, or outcome of the project” needs to be kept up to date. In other words, the people with whom you communicate are stakeholders. Would it not have been a better option simply to rename the communications knowledge area to stakeholder management?

This idea makes sense until you look at the two planning artefacts – the communications plan and the stakeholder management plan. The communications management plan focuses on how to communicate. It is concerned with communication models, methods and technology. It explores how to get feedback from the project manager’s communications and how to reduce (or eliminate) noise from the project’s communications channels. During the project’s communications planning we might consider developing a password-protected web-site to allow access to detailed reports. We might consider a collaborative work package, such as Microsoft’s SharePoint, to allow distributed teams to work effectively together. Essentially, communications management is a bit like road building. We only have the vaguest interest in what travels on our roads, but we must ensure that the highest vehicles and the heaviest loads can get through.  The communications management plan must think along these lines too – the focus is on the medium, not the message.

The message is very much the concern of stakeholder management. Senior management will want to know the status of the project, but project team member will want access to detailed design information. Quality audit teams want to see evidence that professional processes are in place and that the work is being done in a consistent manner. Concerned residents want to know the impact of the project on their lives. If we are clear about the messages the project needs to deliver, then we can determine how to deliver them. Thus the stakeholder management plan really drives the communications management plan – providing its requirements as it were.

The order of the processes now has a pleasing symmetry as well. The five processes in the fourth edition of the PMBOK® Guide were difficult to remember. However, with the exception of “Identify Stakeholders”, the student only has to remember to “Plan”, “Manage” and “Control”. Surprisingly, this has caused a bit of confusion among our students - distinguishing between the “Manage” and “Control” processes.

The “Manage Communications” and “Manage Stakeholder Engagement” processes are the “doing” processes (which is why they are in the executing process group). If the essence of project management can be captured in the slogan: “Plan your work and work your plan”, then the “Manage” processes is where you distribute information and report performance to the relevant stakeholders using the communication channels you have set up in “Plan Communications Management”.

The “Control Communications” and “Control Stakeholder Engagement” processes involve critically assessing the plans. Are the messages getting through correctly? Are the stakeholders happy that they have exactly the information they require? The project manager needs to ensure that the communications strategy is tailored to suit this project and this set of stakeholders.  Similarly, is the project manager getting the feedback necessary to keep the project on track? Is the reporting structure on the project getting status information in a timely (and useful) fashion?

So was it wise to create a new knowledge area? On balance, it probably was. However, it is important to remember that the two areas are intrinsically linked. Always remember the initiating process “Identify Stakeholder” - that triggers both knowledge areas. Plan what and with whom you are going to communicate and then plan how you are going to get the message across. Use those communications channels to deliver the messages and to obtain feedback. But always take the time to assess both media and messages and do not be afraid to adjust the “Stakeholder Management Plan” or the “Communications Management Plan” if a better solution is needed. Just make sure you use a proper change control procedure before altering anything.

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By Velopi Seamus Collins

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