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Project Management Communication: Developing a Plan (Part 2 Of 3)

Written By: Alex Hankewicz
Published On: April 14 2008

Frequently when project teams convene to discuss post-project reviews, project team members feel that if communication had been better, the project would have gone smoother. The reason communication in project management is crucial is because it can impact a project’s success, and it is very important that project managers use the right types of communication during a project.

Types of Project Management Communication

The issues project managers (PMs) have to communicate about on a regular basis include

1. buy-in and acceptance of major project decisions and milestones
2. acquiring resources and managing budgets
3. providing status reports on project schedule and deliverables
4. providing classroom training and preparing user guides
5. negotiations with third-party software vendors
6. presentations to project sponsors and stakeholders
7. mapping current processes and validating their findings
8. development of process models and managing project documentation
9. kickoff meetings
10. executive reports
11. presentations
12. financial reports
13. issue logs
14. risk logs
15. change request logs
16. role-responsibility matrix
17. project organization chart

Given the nature of the communication models above, it is clear that listening is of equal importance to asking the correct questions and validating observations. Some of the challenges that project teams face can be attributed to the short-term nature of the projects themselves. These challenges may include working with individuals that the team has never worked with before, or working with individuals from other business units or from other geographic locations, where cultural differences can surface.

Tools and Techniques to Facilitate Communication

To overcome some of the challenges mentioned above, the following unique delivery methods and tools can be established in a short time frame.

1. Establishing a Project Managment Team Web Site

This is where all project-related documentation, including forms and templates, can reside and be accessed by project team members. The type of information to post on the web site includes team members’ names, title, photo, and if possible, a brief bio. Other items to include are the scope of the project, the charter work breakdown schedule (charter WBS), and the various phases of the project life cycle, including deliverables, milestones, and responsible parties. Project templates, an organizational change management plan, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and quality assurance (QA) documents and schedule should also be made available on the web site.

2. Frequency and Types of Meetings

The type of meeting will dictate its frequency as well as the location of key individuals and team members. Meetings that should be held daily include the review meeting, where team members compare results on assigned tasks. This type of meeting should have a scripted agenda and allow enough time for details and round table Q&A. On occasion, individuals can break off into smaller meetings to continue a discussion.

Another type of daily meeting is the updates made to project sponsors, where issues that require escalation (additional resources) can be discussed. More formal meetings with executive management can occur on a weekly or monthly basis. Project team members’ day-to-day work requires a decentralized, less micro-managed approach to permit the flexibility and latitude needed to obtain information that drives issues forward.

3. Additional Examples of Project Management Communication

Internal newsletters help to generate enthusiasm and awareness of a project. Visiting other divisions that have already rolled out projects is another way to build awareness and to plan activities for subsequent rollout locations. Press releases sent to industrial or trade magazines can be a useful way to generate publicity and raise the organization’s profile throughout the industry, thus building awareness ofthe organization’s products and services.

4. Communication Tools

a) E-mails: Ideal for relaying short responses or for alerting team members of a particular issue or a meeting change. Number of e-mails should be kept to a minimum; long, rambling e-mails should be avoided.

b) Telephone: Used for urgent issues, to communicate resolutions or schedule changes, or to obtain clarification on any outstanding item. Do not leave long voice-mail messages.

c) Status reports: These can be produced either daily or weekly, and can be distributed either by e-mail or be posted on the project web site. Status reports should be scripted in a bullet format. They can be used to introduce new team members, or they can serve as reminders about an outstanding issue, indicating the person or groups responsible for resolution of that issue.

d) Virtual meetings: When team members are spread across geographical distances and time zones, holding virtual meetings daily using such tools as MS NetMeeting is an ideal way to move issues forward and to report progress. Schedules can then be updated and distributed. In addition, presenting graphics and documents online is an effective way to keep the goals of the project in focus, and an efficient way to train individuals remotely if need be.

e) MSN Messenger: For team members that need to be reached frequently or on an ad hoc basis, using a messenger service such as MSN Messenger is a convenient way to communicate regularly to resolve issues or discuss concerns.

f) Video conferencing: Organizations that do not have this capability can pay a fee and use external facilities. This conferencing can be useful for delivering executive briefs or providing training. It is more cost- and time-effective than flying individuals to specific locations.

g) Blogs: Useful for delivering informal information or humorous messages to lighten the team’s mood. Blogs can also raise the profiles of individual competencies in the project team to a wider audience.
How Poor Communication Can Derail a Project

If training is performed as an afterthought, then all the hard work done on a project can come to a screeching halt, as tools will not be used properly, which can result in dire consequences for the organization.Other ways projects can lose focus is if valuable resources are unnecessarily tied up in meetings. A project charter—the document that defines the scope of the project and its anticipated outcome—and deliverable that are unclear or not consistent can also lead to negative downstream effects. Most IT projects use standard waterfall methodologies such as Agile. It is important that team members understand this approach.Another way to avoid derailment of a project is to avert scope creep and instead, focus only on the elements agreed upon in the WBS document. A project’s activities are indicated in the WBS. Issues not related to the current tasks—that use up resources for irrelevant activity—can be dealt with in another phase of a project. If an activity is not in the WBS, then resources should not be assigned to it. The PM is responsible for managing the WBS.
 
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