Effective project communication is an important skill for all project managers (PJMs) to have. Without effective communication, some of the challenges a project team can face include:
- Running the risk of someone on the team working with outdated information.
- Stakeholders not kept in the loop that asset delivery will be delayed.
- Resources are constrained because a member is on vacation.
And the list can go on. These are rookie mistakes and easy to mitigate if the PJM can practice effective project communication. On the long run, this will pave a smoother path to project completion. When your stakeholders know what your milestones are and when to expect deliverables, you may reap unexpected benefits.
Clarify communication effectiveness
Simply speaking, it means to be streamline. Remove all the redundancy, and remove all those he said, she saids. There should be one source of truth about the project, as well as consistent updates in an ever changing project environment. A PJM acts as an information disseminator to the broader audience. (Jalpa wrote a great piece about effective use of dashboarding as a source of truth in her reflections.) Whatever is sent out or distributed should also be clear. It doesn’t work to forward an email to your project team without first providing some context and what it means to them.
In this game of telephone
Not all emails will be sent by PJMs, Not all meetings will be called by PJMs. However, PJMs are often cc’d in those emails and are sitting in those meetings. This puts PJMs in the perfect position to provide streamlined messages to their project stakeholders. PJMs, myself included, spend a lot of time managing communications. Did you hear from ….? Oh, let me relay that to … for you. We try to remove the game of telephone, and go straight to the sources who are best suited to answer the questions at hand.
If you were to Google “project management communication”, you’ll find all sorts of sites telling you to create a communication plan first, but even without devising a comms plan, there are certain things to keep in mind as good practice when writing out weekly status updates.
A project manager typically works with an internal project team (the people who actually do the work) and an external stakeholder team (the people who requested the work or who have other stakes in the success of the project). In both situations, a project manager needs to communicate internally and externally. Internal comms tend to be informal – a group Slack channel, a stand-up update, or an email chain. External comms may lean towards the more formal side – a report, a group meeting, or a presentation share-out. Whatever it may be, formality may not be that important. The fact that communication happens with purpose, is.
Vertical vs horizontal communication
Another way to think about this is from an organization perspective. PJMs should be communicating and receiving comms in a vertical manner. A project team member gives an update to the PJM, who in turn curates all the project statuses of the week and rolls up this information to relevant stakeholders. Horizontal comms should also occur where project members collaborate with each other cross-functionally. Ex: A designer needs to work closely with a software engineer to develop a new webpage. Progress made should be communicated to other project members.
Not mutually exclusive
These perspectives are not mutually exclusive, as an internal team member is also in your vertical chain. It simply offers a framework for remembering who needs to hear from the PJM throughout a project lifecycle. Read up on the RACI matrix for even more clarity on who needs to be informed and consulted (in addition to clarity on roles and responsibilities).
Channels of communication and frequency
When it comes time to put all of this together, deciding on what channels to communicate and the frequency of these comms matter. An effective PJM will sort out the signal from the noise and deliver updates in a determined cadence.
- Meetings – Face-to-face meetings are very powerful. You can get a lot of information through body language, so it’s important to have. Teams should be gathered together for kickoff, brainstorming sessions, and reviews. To be clear, each meeting should have a clear objective so that time is not wasted. Before calling a meeting, consider whether a group need to gather together every week when a status email will do.
- Emails – Written communication is good to convey simple and clear messages (such as status updates) as well as links to documents and other resources. Emails are not good, though, if the message is complicated to understand or contains emotionally charged undertones that can be misinterpreted.
- Slack channels – Great way to notify a project team for immediate updates or time-sensitive needs. However, don’t rely on Slack channels for bigger discussions because the main message may be lost (scroll all the way up!) for latecomers to the conversation.