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How many times have you deleted a voicemail without listening to the very end of the message? Are you flooded with e-mails? How many times have you not read all the way through an e-mail?
In almost every study, including my own, communications is the number one problem a project manager has on a project. You will read in this chapter that a project manager spends 90 percent of her time communicating. Shouldn’t we then do something to plan, structure and control communications?
Beginning project managers do nothing about communications and just issue status reports. Better project managers might create a communications management plan and report more than just status.
Great project managers take the previous two actions, plus the following: ask stakeholders what they need communicated to them, identify what communications they need from stakeholders, and frequently revisit communications at team meetings to limit communications problems.
To pass this exam, you need to be more like the great project manager.
Although it is not particularly difficult, make sure you take this chapter seriously and find your gaps regarding communications.
Communications questions are frequently combined with other topics. For example, a WBS is a communications tool (see the Scope lesson) and risk response strategies should be communicated (see the Risk lesson).
Communications planning involves identifying the information and communications needs of the stakeholders. This includes determining what needs to be communicated, to whom, when, with what method and how frequently. This is a very proactive approach.
The PMBOK® Guide often suggests work be done in a more structured way than many project managers have previously thought to do. Communication is no exception. In order to do it well, one must understand the performing organization’s environment (enterprise environmental factors) such as culture and standards.
One must also take into account the performing organization’s processes and procedures for conducting work and communications, historical records from previous projects, lessons learned and other stored information (organizational process assets).
Early in the project management process, all the stakeholders should have been identified and their requirements and expectations determined. The requirements should not just relate to how they want the product of the project to function, but should also include their communications requirements; what do stakeholders want communicated to them, when, in what form, how frequently?
Notice that such communications might include more than the average status report. How about reporting the date of the next milestone party, minor successes or lessons learned?
It is important to realize that communication is not one-sided. During the early part of project planning, the project team will have had a chance to interact with other stakeholders. Have any of the stakeholders identified a large number of potential risks for the project? Why not plan to meet with them periodically throughout the project to see if they have identified any more risks.
Is there a team member who is nervous about completing her assigned activities? Why not plan to find and forward relevant magazine articles or other literature to help her? These are communications, and they need to be planned.
Make sure such planning includes communicating in all of the following directions.
Think about other projects for a moment. Could there be projects that interact with yours with whom you might want to occasionally review those interactions? You may share resources, similar types of work or priorities within the company.
When was the last time you took a communications class? For most people the answer would be never. Therefore, many of us make the mistake of not ensuring that messages are properly sent and received.
The communications model looks like a circle with three parts: the sender, the message and the receiver. Each message is encoded by the sender and decoded by the receiver based on the receiver’s education, experience, language and culture.
The sender should encode a message carefully, determine the communications method used to send it, and confirm that the message is understood.
Nonverbal About 55 percent of all communications are nonverbal (e.g., based on physical mannerisms).
Paralingual Pitch and tone of voice also helps to convey a message.
Feedback Saying things like, “Do you understand what I have explained?”
The receiver should decode the message carefully and confirm the message is understood. This includes watching the speaker to pick up physical gestures and facial expressions, thinking about what you want to say before responding, asking questions, repeating and providing feedback.
Feedback Saying things like, “I am not sure I understand, can you repeat what you have said?”
Active Listening The receiver confirms she is listening, confirms agreement or asks for clarification.
Another aspect of communications planning is to determine what method should be used to communicate each item to be communicated. Communications can take place in many ways including face-to-face, by telephone, fax, e-mail or meetings (called communications technology).
Communications planning involves asking questions such as:
In order to have clear, concise communications, the project manager must handle communications in a structured manner by selecting the form of communication that is best for the situation. Communications occur internally and externally to the core project team and vertically and horizontally within the organization.
A decision regarding whether the communication needs to be formal or informal, written or verbal, needs to be made for each instance of communication.
David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of project-related downloadable video training products under the Primer and PM Mastery System brand names. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.
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