Few skills rival the importance of effective communication for project and senior managers. The ability to communicate ideas clearly to a diverse group of stakeholders gets you noticed as an individual contributor or team leader. The inability to communicate, either verbally or in writing, can stall your career. The Wisconsin Business Alumni Association estimates that project managers spend 70 to 80 percent of their time communicating — and I believe it.
Has Management Communication Become More Difficult?
Yes, I think communication has become more challenging, as team members work remotely and awareness of diversity must influence what you say and how you say it. When you only talk with engineers and developers, you make assumptions about their knowledge of core concepts and terminology — assumptions that no longer hold true when talking to those in other areas of the organization or stakeholders.
As corporate cultures have moved toward an era of expected transparency, customers and senior management no longer accept, "because I said so" — (IMPLIED: and I am the expert here). They want to understand. They need answers to "why" questions and that makes communication challenging.
Further, the reliance on email, texting and voice mail, rather than face-to-face meetings, reduces the nonverbal support to help others understand your communications.
PMBOK on Project Communication Management
Chapter 10 of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is solely devoted to communication management. Encompassing presenting, negotiating, writing and public speaking, PMBOK suggests (and not surprisingly) that you begin communication management with a plan. Your communication management plan should identify all project stakeholders and their information needs, including the type of information to be communicated, the level of detail needed and a preferred method of communication.
In addition to communicating project plans, status and financial information, PMBOK suggests keeping an issue log that includes causes of issues, reasoning behind corrective actions and lessons learned. A refresher from the issues log should be part of formal project reviews and training for new team members or stakeholders.
PMBOK recommends that your communication plan include a specified period or frequency for distributing information to stakeholders and communication format guidelines for staff meetings, status meetings, website-based communications and approved communication support software.
Best Practices to Improve Your Communication
Warren Buffett thinks deeply about many things in addition to making money for Berkshire Hathaway clients. One skill he is known for and has thought about is effective communication — its importance and best methods. In a "Harvard Business Review" blog post recently, the following observations on Buffett’s communication style are instructive:
- Use numbers to explain conclusions, not just by themselves on a graph or bullet list that requires to listener to figure out what they mean.
- Explain your technical terms parenthetically and informally. In their example from Buffett’s presentation, "Our $58.5 billion of insurance ‘float’ — money that doesn’t belong to us but that we hold and invest for our own benefit — cost us less than zero."
- Use analogies and metaphors. A great example is Buffett’s description of people felt after the economic collapse in 2008: "By yearend, investors of all stripes were bloodied and confused, much as if they were small birds that had strayed into a badminton game." Everyone can understand that graphic communication.
Some other communication management best practices:
- For formal reports, ask for and use suggestions from a technical writer or editor. Alternatively, use the spelling and grammar checker built into your word processor or submit documents for review from a service such as Grammarly — unless restricted by intellectual property claims.
- Ask for feedback. If the body language of the person or group you are talking with do not seem be tracking with you, ask questions or re-phrase. On the other side, learn to ask questions that improve your understanding.
- As a manager, ensure that the culture accepts and encourages honest communication – do not punish the messenger.
- Learn to summarize key ideas in your communication or when listening to others. Use the summary to check understanding.
- Sometimes it is best to let a communication set for a while – an hour or a day — before hitting the send button.