Communication

Updated: Aug 25, 2019


" Mr. Watson, come here - I want to see you."

Alexander Graham Bell (1876)

As Professional Project Managers we spend 80% or more of our time communicating. With so much time invested in Communication, isn't it worth doing well?

Project Communications can be to you, or from you. They can be verbal or written. Media includes print and the press, photography, advertising, cinema, broadcasting (radio and television), meetings, social media. Let's look at this more closely!



After Alexander Graham Bell spoke those famous words into his telephone, Mr. Thomas Watson came and declared he heard what was said. Then Bell asked Watson to repeat the words, for confirmation of what was said. This illustrates the fundamental principle that communication requires:

  • a message sender, source, who needs to send a clear, complete, concise message.

  • a message receiver who needs to acknowledge that a message was received.

  • and a confirmation, feedback, that the message was understood as intended.

In addition, the basic communication model also includes the medium used for transmissions ( in this case a phone) and "noise on the line" (interference to good communications).


As a Professional Project Manager you have accountability for the communications on your project. All communications should flow through you or your delegate. Even if your organization has a Communications Department, you likely want to approve communications taking place. Like the hub of a wheel, this "molecule model" nicely illustrates the point.

Project Communications includes more than only messaging. Project Communication Management is the complete handling of information meaning this information needs to be:

  • Created

  • Collected

  • Distributed

  • Stored

  • Retrieved

  • Disposed

To perform good Project Communications Management you will need 3 processes:

1. Plan your Communications: What will be said,

to whom, etc. Make a Communications

Management Plan (CMP).

2. Manage the information and communications

of the information in accordance with the plan.

3. Control the Communications to ensure the

communications are working effectively. We

will deal with this process in the Monitor and

Control Section (CLICK HERE).

PLAN COMMUNICATIONS

The benefits of a good Communications Management Plan (CMP) cannot be overstated as a major contribution to the success of your project. Make this plan as early as possible in your project, to help guide communications throughout the other Steps.

The objective is to get (here's a checklist for you!):

  • The right message with the right impact

  • At the right time (also consider time zones)

  • To the right people

  • At the right place

  • Using the right medium, format and distribution method

  • With the right formality

  • Providing the right level of detail

  • Considering confidentiality

  • For the right reason

  • At the right cost

So, in planning your Communications consider the 5W + 2H: What to communicate, When to communicate, to Whom (the audience), Where, How to communicate, Why (the reason for the communication), and how much money you have available to spend on Communications.

You will want to begin (with "Who"), by reviewing your Stakeholder Register, and analyzing Stakeholder expectations (found on THIS PAGE) about communications. Communications are all about, and only about, project Stakeholders - information to them, and information from them.

Other places to look for Communications requirements are: Organization Charts (formal and informal; functional and project); RACI table; past project lessons learned; Resource Calendar (calendar showing when resources are available); list of required permits (authorities having jurisdiction). To help find all your Communications requirements consider these pairs of words: internal, external; vertical, horizontal; formal, informal; official, unofficial; and of course written and verbal. As you discover additional Stakeholders, remember to add them to your Stakeholder Register.

Important: Communications should be contained to only communicating information that contributes to the success of the project, or where a lack of communication can lead to failure. Not everyone needs all the information. People at your Governance level do not need detail, and do not want to spend their time hearing / reading about details. On the other hand, people in detailed design do not need to know about high level confidential information. Planning, Managing, and Controlling Communications takes these factors into account.

A favourite exam question is, "How many communication channels exist with N number of people. The answer is: Channels = N x (N-1)/ 2

Once you have considered Who your communications will be with, document What you will communicate and the intended impact. Also decide the "background message" you want to convey. For example:

WHO: To all employees in the Hardin Building.

WHAT: "We are shutting down e-mail for one day"

IMPACT: People should make alternate plans for the intended shut-down time. No one should be surprised. People will appreciate that we care enough to make the system better.

BACKGROUND MESSAGE: This is part of our planned maintenance to make your system more reliable, as we had earlier announced. We know what we are doing. All is well.

Consider HOW the information will be created, collected, distributed, stored, retrieved, and disposed. In describing "How to communicate", you can provide communications guidelines, and templates for reports, in your Communications Plan. You can describe your Project Management Information System (PMIS) which might include a website or a database.

Methods of Communication are broadly classified as Interactive, Push, or Pull. Keep in mind that in every communication you are either getting information, giving information, sharing information, or some combination thereof.

Interactive Method:

This method occurs between two or more parties as a dialogue, tri-alogue, and so on. There is a give-and-take element to Interactive Communications, illustrated by the 3 points given in the Alexander Graham Bell example above. There is immediate feedback.

Media used for the Interactive Method of Communications include:

Push Method:

The Push method provides one-way communications which are best used for sending information to specific receivers. Being one-way, they lack the immediate acknowledgement and confirmation of Interactive Communications. There is no assurance of immediate feedback, so some follow up is likely required.

Media used for the Push Method of Communications include:

  • Letters

  • Reports, briefings

  • Newsletters

  • Flyers

  • Memos

  • Press releases

Pull Method:

The Pull method (broadcasting) works best when you need to reach a very large audience, of non-specific receivers. Like the Push method, this method is one-way, and so lacks the immediate acknowledgement and confirmation of Interactive Communications. The Pull method depends upon receivers to seek out your information, and you have little control over who receives your information. There may be no feedback at all, requiring you to issue a survey (as example) for confirmation of understanding.

Media used for the Pull Method of Communications include:

  • Internet sites

  • Intranet sites

  • Radio, television

  • Lessons Learned files for Team Members

Which media to use? Along with the communication method (Interactive, Push, Pull), the choice of media should also consider:

  • Urgency of the need for information

  • Availability of reliable technology

  • Ease of use for the intended audience

  • Sensitivity and confidentiality of the information

  • Project environment including political climate, time zones, language barriers, national cultures

A page dedicated to your Communications Management Plan is found here.

MANAGE COMMUNICATIONS

Once the plan is in place, we need to manage our Project Communications, including (as listed above): creation, collection, distribution, storage, retrieval, and ultimate disposition of the information. You can think of this as the "doing" part of Communications. Follow your Communications Plan.

In addition I make a habit of asking myself, when I receive a new piece of information, "Who else needs to know this?" This question has served me well more times than I can remember!

For successful Project Communications remember to look for an acknowledgement of receipt and a confirmation of understanding. For Push and Pull methods this might require a follow-up survey.

As Professional Project Managers it is important to obtain information as well as to give out information. An effective Communications tool is Active Listening, described here.

The types of reports usually provided by the Project Manager to Stakeholders include performance and status reports. Performance Reports provide information about how the project is going, compared to your plans. Status Reports provide a "snap-shot" of everything at a moment of time. Both are useful. More on Written Reports is found here

Non-verbal Communications:

We spend 90% of Project Management time communicating. Of our spoken communications, up to 75% of the messaging is transmitted by the non-verbal influences of body language, tone of voice, and pitch of voice; not by the words we use. But we are too often unaware of the impact from these non-verbal influences. Take some time to learn about these influences, to increase the likelihood your audience understands the message you want to convey. You will find more help for non-verbal communications on the second page of this document.

For Communications Skills & Tips click here.

REMEMBER: Just like your auto needs oil and grease to run, "Communication is the Lubrication that makes your project run smoothly."



After planning, you will want to begin Monitoring and Controlling the outcomes of your project. CLICK HERE and follow the links to find out how to monitor and control Communications.




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