Communication: The Essential Ingredient for Good Project Management

You might expect that, as a Technology guy, I would say that tools are the essential ingredient (And I have certainly written plenty about tools!). Or as a certified PMP, you might have guessed that I would say that processes and procedures are the essentials for managing projects and people. And those of you that know I am all about people and skills would suggest that training in project management is the essential ingredient. All of these are important, of course, but let’s talk basics here. Without good communication:

  • The project can easily lose stakeholder interest, support and credibility
  • The true status of the project is not known – by anyone!
  • Project team members can’t plot the best course of action or make small decisions wisely

But, you say, I communicate regularly with my team and the stakeholder community. That may be so, but in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I have written about Communication and how it requires practice in prior posts. But I thought I should look at three of the components of effective project communications in order to make sure we are practicing the right things.

1. Transparency. How openly are you communicating? Are you hiding details or information that should be shared? Victor Lipman did a great post for Forbes on this topic http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2013/12/11/new-study-shows-transparency-isnt-just-good-ethics-its-good-business/ , sharing research that transparency equates to business ethics. The adage “no news is good news” does not apply to project management, however, one caution – transparency does not mean that you have to share every piece of dirty laundry – use judgment on how and what to communicate. So what does transparency mean to your project? It means that you:

  • Are open and honest about project status, budget, hiccups, and barriers. Don’t puff up, cover up or hide these things – it will always come back to haunt you.
  • Communicate openly about risks. I don’t mean just the big ones that you probably identified early and put on the risk register. Communicate risks that come from dealing with the day to day project – these are the likely suspects for your next issues!
  • Communicate the truth using simple language, without distorting facts or manipulating people

I think transparency also relates to another goal of good project communications—timeliness. Sharing the information about your project doesn’t do too much good if it isn’t timely. Executives often complain that they don’t get information about a project’s problems until it is too late for them to intervene or assist with problem solving. And unfortunately this can be true of the team members also – a good project team communicates with transparency and without judgment so that they can help each other when needed.

2. Team member communications and meetings. Sure, everyone has project team meetings, and they usually start well, with each team member engaged and committed to project success. However, it is often the case that as the project goes on, people may think they are too busy to make the regular meeting. Or perhaps the project manager has not structured the team meeting for success. Here are some tips to improve your team member communications and meetings.

  • Make your meetings regular, scheduled, and to the point— if you are a Scrum team you know all about crisp and focused daily scrum meetings and how they should be to the point and not wander all over. During a daily scrum, each team member answers the following three questions:
    1. What did you do yesterday?
    2. What will you do today?
    3. Are there any impediments in your way?
  • Accountability—the importance of conveying through communications with team members that they are responsible and accountable for a particular task or module (RACI chart, etc.). Do you communicate to each team member status in a meeting through something other than verbal? Use all kinds of communication vehicles – charts, lists, etc. things that can communicate who is doing what and their progress.
  • Tools – OH Yes – I had to add this in. We have such wonderful tools today for assisting us in project communications. Use them as part of your team meetings and as regular parts of your communications. A few examples are instant messaging, collaboration tools (Like SharePoint, Google apps), blogs, email, video conferencing, online web meetings and others (I wrote a more extensive post on this subject earlier)

3. Stakeholder/sponsor communication. First, know your audience. What do your stakeholders and your sponsor care about? What do they expect to hear? What is going on in the organization or industry that might affect your project? Chances are, they don’t want to hear all the individual details of the project. But they do need to know enough to help you defend it and give you their ongoing support. Don’t make the mistake of giving them too little (“it’s going great!”) or too much (all the 200 tasks you are completing).

Second, think about the message you need to convey before you open your mouth. Communications experts call this “ideation”—the overall concept and structure of your message. Your overall message might be that the project is on track, or it might be that you need to convey that you have hit a roadblock and what you are doing to move forward. Once you have the concept and basic message structure, then think about how you will convey it. If this is going to be a tough conversation or message, draft an outline. Then define the major headline. What notes or points will you make to support and explain that headline. Can you convey your message with a chart or graphic better – storyboard your message? Make sure you think about your audience and what they are wanting to hear– but don’t hide information from them – give them the facts they need.

Third, prepare to deliver the message you have planned. Does the stakeholder/sponsor expect a report or a PowerPoint slide? If so, make sure the content is presented in bite-sized chunks to improve understanding. If you’re not skilled at delivering upwards communications, rehearse or record yourself to improve the overall communication. When you deliver it, don’t let it be a 1-way conversation. Watch your stakeholder or sponsor’s body language and listen for responses that help you make sure they understand what you are saying. Be prepared to answer the logical questions that will arise. Finally, when the communication is complete, take the time to do a mental critique of how you did, how well the message you delivered was understood and received, and what you must do differently next time. You won’t hit a home run every time you communicate – but if you take the time to learn and practice – you will get better.

Do you have any tips on Communication? Please post a reply.

2 Responses to “Communication: The Essential Ingredient for Good Project Management”

  1. Project Management News Digest from PM Advisor – PM Advisor Says:

    […] Fear No Project Blog Bruce McGraw offers super advice for 3 key aspects of project communication: […]

  2. New PM Articles for the Week of April 7 – 13 | The Practicing IT Project ManagerThe Practicing IT Project Manager Says:

    […] Bruce McGraw gets back to the basics with project communication. […]


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