Volume 40, Issue 9 September 2005
Communication is Key in Project Management
by Mike McArdle
The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines communications as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals.” That process can be further divided into phases. The Project Management Book of Know-ledge, Project Management Institute 2000, identifies four phases of project communication:
a) Communication planning;
b) Information distribution;
c) Performance reporting; and
d) Administrative closing.
I am convinced that a “best in class” project manager will develop a successful communications plan that improves the chances for a very successful project.
Why a Plan?
Project managers constantly communicate with a multitude of people. I describe this as a communications web (see chart, this page).
Each line represents a communication path. We need to know who needs what information, when it will be needed, how to deliver the information and who is responsible for the communication. I want to share a few ideas that have helped me develop a communication plan.
• Positive, Personable, Pro-active: The three Ps of communication. Regardless of the topic, I have found that I get better responses from people if I communicate in a positive, personable and pro-active manner.
• “Other” Focused: What information does each person or group in your network need? How would they like it delivered? When do they need it? What is the best way to
get information to them? There may be limitations on the tools they have to communicate.
Ask the questions; they will appreciate your consideration, and it will build a good relationship.
• Sense of Urgency: How soon do I need to communicate information?
• Contracts, specifications and scopes of work define required information needs and how to communicate that information.
• Company procedures provide information on how to communicate with other departments.
• Face-to-face communications provides the best chance to “hear” what the other person has to say, to observe his or her body language and to reply accordingly. I suggest writing a follow-up e-mail or letter confirming important conversation points.
• What technology is available to those in your network?
• The telephone is the best way to communicate quickly. Most standard phone systems have conference call capability. Many mobile phone systems include conference calling, plus the ability to take pictures and to send/receive e-mail.
• E-mail is a great tool for composing quick notes, summarizing conversations, distributing meeting minutes, sending pictures of jobsite issues and documenting follow-ups to conversations. It provides a history of notes sent for easy reference. You can also send an e-mail to multiple people at one time. However, some people do not have e-mail or do not check it frequently. Also, e-mail, like regular mail, can be subpoenaed in a legal case as evidence. There is also a risk that the recipient will misinterpret the “tone” or intent of the author.
• Formal letters are composed on company letterhead. I use this method primarily when the company needs to take a position on a point or when issues require formal documentation.
People in your network may have limited access to certain tools. Project managers need to know this and use the best method available.
• Informal conversations help me establish a sincere rapport with others. What are their interests? How is their day going? How are their kids doing in school?
• Meetings include a specific agenda, a time contract and an attendee list. Invitations or meeting notifications are sent out in advance to allow attendees to schedule their time. Notes including any action items are taken during the meeting and issued to the attendees afterward.
• Templates are effective and save time. I use templates for meeting agendas, timelines and schedules, assumptions, constraints, client status reports, management status reports, purchase orders, requests for information, transmittals, submittals, fax cover sheets, management update reports, budget reports, earned value reports and manpower requests, just to name a few.
• The project address book includes the names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and website addresses of team members, the client, vendors, etc.
• A communications library is critical for referencing key history and identifying areas of improvement.
Project managers should be communicating as necessary and often as possible to ensure their project’s success. I try to include the frequency of specific requirements in my communications plan, i.e., submittal requirements, scheduled meetings and required follow-up.
Mike McArdle, PMP, is a senior project manager with TEPCO Contract Glazing Inc. in Dallas and a certified project management professional.
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