‘Project Management is 80 percent Communication’ is something we hear a lot. If it’s true, this puts Project Communications Management at the heart of your PM practice.
And, I do think there is a lot of truth in that saying. As a result, project communications and stakeholder engagement are critical skills. We already have a big guide to stakeholder management. So, here is our survey of everything you need to know about Project Communications Management.
This topic covers every aspect of the process of communicating on your projects. But we do have to be mindful about the potential for overlap with Stakeholder Engagement. Because that too involves communication.
For me, the best way to illustrate this overlap is graphically…
The illustration above also picks up on one of the key factors of project communication. It has three components. That is, three primary audience groups:
As a Project Manager, you need to ensure that you, and the project in the round, communicate effectively with all of these three constituencies.
As I always do, I have looked at how the three main proponents of a predictive project management approach handle Project Communications Management. And, in this case, the conclusion is simple to draw, and stark.
The topic of project communications is where PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide) shines out.
Why do I say above that good communication is important in the governance process? Because it is through communication – and largely, formal and informal project reporting – that:
So, with the introduction out of the way, here’s what we will cover in this article:
The PMBOK Guide suggests that there are two parts to successful communication. I’ll add a third and note that this is equally important and separate from the others. Indeed, the PMBOK Guide recognizes this, with the third of its three Project Communications Management processes:
The principal criterion for good communication – anywhere – is a good match between the:
We’ll come back to the topic of tailoring your project communication process to the type of project, towards the end of this article. Here, I want to recognize the organizational and wider context of your project.
Organizations have a culture of their own. This is a mixture of the informal styles that prevail and the formal requirements and policies in place. And on to of all of that will emerge a constantly changing political environment. The best communication takes all of this into account. And it delivers a style that does not just gets the message across effectively. But it does so in a way that leaves everyone confident in the integrity and competence of the project team.
You also need to be increasingly mindful that people on and around your project will come from a variety of cultural heritages. In an earlier article, Project manager and cross-cultural leadership expert, Samad Aidane wrote about:
Clearly, face-to-face communication, in a shared language, is best. But it’s not always possible, and there are alternatives:
There are plenty of technologies to support all of these. But, we don’t need to cover them here.
And neither is there space to cover the wider challenges of communicating with a remote team. So, here’s another article you may like to bookmark. It covers some of the challenges of communication when your team is geographically dispersed. That article is ‘Managing Remote Teams: How to Meet the Challenges’.
Part of your social and political calculation will always be the right level of formality to optimize the impact and efficacy of your communication. This can range from:
In all of these, there are a number of considerations, beyond the message itself and the medium you use. These are the meta-messages that carry information at a political and psychological level. Examples include the:
I’ll leave you to read the introductory section to Chapter 10 (p.363 in the print edition). It’s all good, basic advice. I want to pick out one of the points that it covers. It is listening that allows you to understand the other person, and what they mean. And it is understanding them that allows you to communicate effectively. As Stephen Covey says in Habit 5 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
Seek first to understand: then to be understood.The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey
My own recommendations for books to read are in the article, ‘Communication Skills for Project Managers | The Best Books’.
The PMI’s PMBOK Guide, 6th Edition sets out three Processes within the Project Communications Management knowledge area:
We’ll cover all three of these below.
This is the most thorough section of the PMBOK Guide 6th Edition. In addition to updating a full range of planning documents:
…the primary output is your Communications Management Plan.
During the Definition stage of your project, you’ll need to start work on your communication management plan. How you will manage project communications. This will form part of your wider project management plan and cover all aspect os project communications management:
Section 10.1.3.1 of the PMBOK Guide makes a helpful checklist of what to include. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 gives an equivalent table at Appendix A5.2. We also have our own Project Communication Plan template and checklist in our:
In summary, it could include:
At the heart of your Communications Management Plan is your Communication Plan, itself.
As I said above, face-to-face communication is the gold standard. But the range of possible tools, methods, and media available to you is astonishing. It covers everything from posters to hand-written notes, and email to multimedia presentations.
Some of these are best suited to communicating effectively with each of:
Selecting your medium and approach well is at the core of good communication.
The Association for Project Management’s APMBoK draws our attention to some of the more specialized forms of communication we need as project managers. The PMBOK Guide makes passing reference (in section 10.2.2.6) too:
Some of the books I recommend in the article, ‘Communication Skills for Project Managers | The Best Books’ cover these topics.
You may also like this video…
The theory here is far less important than the practice. You have a plan: work it!
We’ve written a lot about the Stakeholder engagement aspects of project communication (Around a dozen articles on different aspects). The one to start with is this one: ‘Project Stakeholder Management Knowledge Area: A Guide to Stakeholder Engagement‘.
We have also covered the topics of Project Governance: ‘What has Project Governance Ever Done for Us? [Ans: A Lot]‘.
And, for project Team Communication, I recommend: ‘Great Team Communication: The 10 Commandments‘.
You may also like this guest article, from Jeilan Devanesan, ‘Visual Communication for Better Project Results‘.
Whatever aspect of your Project Management you want to focus on, a well-structured and properly implemented Project Management Information System (PMIS) can be a huge asset. This is a single tool – or a suite of tools with tight integration – that can store, manage, and serve a large range of project information.
The usual uses that people focus on are:
But a PMIS can be a powerful project Communication Management tool too. It can:
We monitor so we can control. Project communication is one of the least predictable aspects of a project. It’s hard to see more than one or two steps into the future. So, no matter how well you plan, you will need to adjust your plans around the way people respond to your communications.
If you want to be an effective communicator, it is vital that you listen to responses and take responsibility for how others receive your messages. This means being constantly prepared to try different approaches to communicate.
And the result of that, of course is a constant round of updating your project and communications plans… And maybe also your risk and issue logs!
All of the main methodologies recognize the fundamental truth that:
The value of a methodology is in how you tailor it to the needs of your project.
This is as true with project communications management as with any other discipline. Often these days, I find people assume tailoring is all about the spectrum from:
And it is certainly true that this is important. But there is far more to tailoring that this. In determining the best way to develop your project communications management plan, you need to think about things like:
As always, I am keen to hear about your experiences, opinions, and questions. So, leave a comment below, and I shall respond to every contribution.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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