Many, if not most, project issues can be traced back to poor communication. Like an airplane with many parts, projects are an interconnected network of stakeholders attempting to accomplish a goal. If even the smallest part malfunctions, disaster can strike.
Project communications management are the tasks that are performed to ensure that the information needs of the project and its stakeholders are met. It involves the following three processes:
- Project communications planning
- Performing project communications
- Project control
Project Communications Planning
As with all areas of project management, if you don’t have a plan you’re flying without a pilot. The Communications Management Plan tells all the stakeholders how they will be communicated with, the frequency, the medium, the content, and any other communication that is necessary to achieve project success.
A Communications Management Plan contains the following information:
- Stakeholder communication requirements
Each stakeholder has their own needs and requirements which demand a unique communication strategy. These communication requirements, including the type, frequency, and method of communication, are central to the plan, and form a baseline upon which to perform project control.
- Information to the communicated
The content of the communications, including language, format, and level of detail.
- Person responsible (the sender)
There should never be any doubt who’s job it is to communicate with stakeholders. If there is bad news that needs to be shared and nobody is given the responsibility to communicate it, then it usually won’t get communicated. It doesn’t have to be the same person for every stakeholder or communication item, but the roles and responsibilities must be clear.
- Person or group who will receive the information (receiver)
Each communication item is directed at someone. A person is better than a group or department where it might get lost in the shuffle. That person should be identified along with any information regarding their needs, requirements and expectations.
- Reason for the distribution of the information
The underlying rationale for performing the communication can aid in decision making when communication needs change.
- Frequency and timing
The timing and frequency of the communication is often just as critical as the fact the communication was made in the first place. Stakeholder analysis determines how to ensure the stakeholder is informed of issues that concern them in a timely manner, otherwise it is of little or no value to them (or it will create its own problems).
- Person responsible for confidential information
Many projects have information that is sensitive (competitive secrets), offensive to someone if made public (personal information), or hidden behind freedom of information or privacy legislation, and the like. This type of information needs a central authority who must authorize its release.
- Escalation processes
In a perfect world, stakeholders are always happy with the information they receive. But unfortunately it’s not a perfect world, and procedures should be in place when a stakeholder objects to the information.
- Method for refining and updating the communications plan
When the communication happens and feedback is received about any aspect of it (style, method, etc.) the communications plan may need to be updated.
Any resources that are allocated to communication, such as budget and schedule. Many projects require things like progress updates, meetings in other cities, newsletters or other media production. All of these things come with a cost that, if not adequately accounted for, can cause undesirable project changes.
Sometimes its handy to provide some flowcharts that demonstrate the pathways of information flow.
Often there are constraints to project communication that are imposed by legislation, technology, or organizational policies.
Performing Project Communications
Once the plan is created, it must be put into practice. The engines are running and the airplane is on the runway. During the project execution phase, project communications are carried out according to the project communications plan.
To avoid unnecessary turbulence, the project communication plan identifies the medium, frequency, timing, and any other factor necessary to provide the communication necessary for each stakeholder. Most stakeholders require some form of regular communication such as progress updates, expenditure reports, meetings, and so forth. But informal, ad hoc communications such as emails, letters, and phone calls are sometimes necessary in response to predefined events, and these should also be itemized within the plan.
During the project execution phase, the project communication can take place in any number of formats, including:
- Phone conversations
- Team meetings
- Notice boards
- Newsletters, magazines or e-magazines
- Letters to staff
- Press releases
- Annual or progress reports
- Emails and intranets
- Web portals
- Focus groups
- Consultation meetings
- Face to face, formal or informal meetings with stakeholders
- Social media
Project communications can be either:
- Push communications, which are distributed by the sender to the receiving party who needs to receive the information.
- Pull communications, which are posted by the sender and allow the receiver to access the information on their own time or convenience. This is usually used for large, complex information sets, for example project reports.
- Interactive communication is a multidirectional exchange of information in real time, such as phone calls or videoconferencing.
In a perfect world, there would be no storm clouds that need to be circumnavigated. Unfortunately, sometimes stakeholders carry baggage that forces a change in flight plan. Communication with stakeholders generate project issues, which are then passed into the project change control system to put the stabilizers back on and implement corrective action.
Project control is like the instrument panel that tells the pilot what is happening at any time, giving them the information necessary to decide if a change in course is needed.
In project communications management, the project control function consists of dealing with potential changes in the communications requirements. The project communications management plan is not a static document, in fact, it is rare that projects proceed all the way through without changes to the communications requirements of their stakeholders.
For that reason, project control involves monitoring the stakeholder communications and making the appropriate changes to the plan.
Typical project control functions include earned value analysis to ensure the project is on time and budget. During predefined project control points, usually one week, the progress is determined, usually from the project management information systems and reported to senior management (or other stakeholders). In the area of project communications management, the type, style, frequency, and method of communications is assessed to ensure it is still sufficient for the recipients that they are intended for. If not, changes are made to the project communications plan, a component of the overall project management plan.
Monitoring project communications determines if the communication activities have had the desired effect of increasing or maintaining stakeholders’ support for the project. It seeks to adjust the communication strategy to maximize the desired effect. Any changes trigger a move back to the communications planning stage.
Project Communications in the PMBOK
- Plan Communications Management
- Manage Communications
- Monitor Communications
The first process occurs in the planning group, the second in the execution group, and the third in the control group. Hence, you can see that, initially, a communications management plan is created, secondly, the plan is put into action, and thirdly, the project control function seeks to measure whether the desired results are being achieved, and adjusts the plan as necessary.
Project Communications in PRINCE2
In the PRINCE2 project management system, a Communications Management Approach is created by the project manager during the Initiating a Project process. It must be approved by the Executive, Senior User, and Senior Supplier, and reviewed by Project Assurance. This ensures that the relevant stakeholders have reviewed and approved their communications requirements.
The Communications Management Approach is described in section A.5 of the PRINCE2 guide. It includes:
- Communication procedure
- Tools and Techniques
- Timing of communication activities
- Roles and responsibilities
- Stakeholder analysis
- Information needs for each party
Project Communications in the ICB
The International Project Management Association’s Individual Competence Baseline (ICB) contains 29 competence elements for project managers, of which six are relevant to project communications:
- Personal Communication (People #3)
- Relationships and Engagement (People #4)
- Leadership (People #5)
- Teamwork (People #6)
- Conflict and Crisis (People #7)
- Negotiation (People #9)
Although they are all important, the first two are mission critical to project communications management, and the most important of these is undeniably the first (Personal Communication). This element has five key competence indicators:
- Provide clear and structured information to others and verify their understanding
- Facilitate and promote open communications
- Choose communication styles and channels to meet the needs of the audience, situation and management level
- Communicate effectively with virtual teams
- Employ humor and sense of perspective when appropriate
Projects are complex machines with many interactive parts, hence communication between those parts is the key to safe arrival at the destination. Good project communication is the headwind that propels projects to new heights, from take off to touch down. Project communication management guides the navigation of the turbulence in between.
Good luck on your projects!