Communication is a key skill for any PM (Project Manager not Prime Minister) – although these tips can apply to all types of roles. Project communication is difficult to get right. Why? Because it needs to be coherent and understood by everyone on the project team or even wider depending on the audience. Let’s have a look at the groups and types of stakeholder that a PM interacts with:
- Project team – consists of a mix of experienced and less experienced team members
- Business users – teams associated with the project but not necessarily on the team
- Stakeholders – business area managers up to executives and board levels
- Executive – Executives in other business areas
- Other project teams – teams working on different projects which may be impacted
- Technical staff – SMEs or technology teams who need to be engaged
- Suppliers – who may be impacted by your project or be part of it
- Customers – In some projects, the end user may be customers external to your organisation
Then factor in all the types of communication, e.g. status reports, weekly updates, meeting progress, issues, steering committees, wider updates, product launches, marketing etc.. You can see why it is an area that quickly gets out of hand resulting in communication that is not fit for purpose.
The importance of communication
Communication is so important to get right for so many reasons, e.g. project effectiveness, buy-in from your own team and others, keeping up morale, keeping executive engagement and belief in the project, informing everyone when things are progressing well and more importantly when they are not to keep confidence in the project.
People absorb information differently and their own experiences influence how a communication is interpreted by an individual. It’s widely accepted that people must hear a message several times, in different ways before it is understood, or interpreted as it was intended.
Following the 7 C’s of communication below, which you may have seen referenced but seldom adhered to, is a start
- Completeness – be complete in the message, not half the story
- Conciseness – fewer words are better
- Consideration – consider all people who the communication needs to reach
- Correctness – be factual and have the facts correct
- Courtesy – be polite in getting the message across
- Clarity – to achieve clarity of understanding
- Concreteness – ensure the logic of the message fits together
It is quite a challenge to get it right but if you review your communications in line with the above points, it will improve your chances of having all of the bases covered.
Other good tactics in your armoury should be a:
Communication strategy – one that has been circulated and approved – agreeing up front how communication should work and devising strategies to getting the most out of it is a valuable exercise.
Communication sub-committee – Pick some difficult people (sorry rephrase… some people who are not afraid to challenge or make their views heard) and run any communication past them to get valuable insight to how others receive the message. Using people from different areas or levels of seniority works to get an overall balanced view.
Channels – There are so many types of channels available to use that selecting the most appropriate can make a real difference to effectiveness of the message. Don’t always communicate everything via email! Can you use instant messaging, video conferencing, produce a short video, or use an internal social media channel? And think about the type of message you are delivering – good news, bad news, instruction, update – in the context of how you deliver it.
Feedback loop – Finally, review and amend your communication based on feedback, see it as an iterative process. Communication should evolve over the course of a project and, even if it is not quite right to begin with, it will get there. Communication needs to be appropriate for the culture, knowing your audience takes time and it is very likely to be different from company to company. Always be available to answer questions post any communication.
Not all items types of communication are needed or indeed required on every project. The key is using your communication toolbox, i.e. picking the correct channel for a particular type of message or group. The goal is to communicate in an engaging way, keeping it quick and easy for people to keep up to speed without too much burden.
During the past year we have seen a lot of development in communications – necessitated by home working and lack of face to face engagement – from day to day project comms to managing go-live implementations remotely. Please do get in touch if you want to talk about the approaches that we are using.