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Control of CommunicationsControl of Communications

The exam may also ask:

  • Can the project manager control all communications? The answer is no! That would be impossible.
  • Should the project manager try to control communications? Yes, otherwise changes, miscommunication, unclear directions and scope creep can occur.
  • What percent of the project manager’s time is spent communicating? About 90 percent.

Meetings The project manager may have many different types of meetings. Meetings are a problem in the real world because many project managers manage by doing everything in meetings and most meetings are not efficient.

Expect questions about the following rules for meetings (but then we already know these and follow them, don’t we?)

  • Set a time limit and keep to it
  • Schedule recurring meetings in advance.
  • Meet with the team regularly, but not too often
  • Have a purpose for each meeting
  • Create an agenda with team input
  • Distribute the agenda beforehand
  • Stick to the agenda
  • Let people know their responsibilities in advance
  • Bring the right people together
  • Chair and lead the meeting with a set of rules
  • Assign deliverables and time limits for all work that results from meetings
  • Document and publish meeting minutes.

Communication Channels

When you add one more person to the team, do communications grow linearly or exponentially? If you said exponentially, you understand why communications is a PMI-ism. The intent is for the project manager to realize that communications are complex and need to be managed.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with these questions on the exam. It could be said that there are too many of them for the value of the topic to project management, and some of these questions could be poorly worded. Watch out. Expect up to four questions.

Channels can be calculated by the following formula: [N(N-1)]/2 where N equals the number of people. You should understand this formula. Oh, now another formula to know! You should have no problem knowing this without memorization. Just practice it. How about some tricks?

Anytime you see a formula containing the letter “N,” even if it looks slightly different from the formula above, that formula represents communication channels.

If you have a question, “You have a team of four people, how many channels of communication are there?” simply draw the lines or channels of communication as shown below to get six channels of communication.
Using the formula, we would calculate 4 times 3 (which is n-1) to equal 12 and then divide by 2 to reach the answer, 6.

Now try it on your own. If you have four people on your project and you add one more, how many more communication channels do you have?

The answer is 10 of course, right? Wrong! The question asked how many more! Do you know how many people get tripped up by poorly reading questions? To use the trick, simply draw a new person and draw lines for the new person to all the other people to see there are four more channels of communication, as shown below.

To calculate the answer, you would have to calculate the communication channels with a team of four and with a team of five and then subtract the difference. We already calculated it for four people to find six channels. The calculation for five team members is 5 times 4 equals 20, divided by 2 equals 10. 10 minus 6 = 4.

Communications Management Plan

The output of communications planning is a communications management plan. This is so important and so valuable for all projects, even short ones!

A communications management plan documents how you will manage and control communications. Many people do not realize the extent of the information that must be distributed. Here is an exercise to help you create your own plan. It can include such categories as shown below:

Because communications are so complex, a communications management plan should be in writing for most projects. It must address the needs of all the stakeholders. The communications management plan becomes part of the project management plan. If you have communications problems on your projects, you are not spending enough time in this area.

On some projects, a more detailed communication structure is required.

Exercise  What information and documents need to be communicated on a project?

Answer There can be many answers to this question, depending on the nature of the project. Your answer should include:

  • Project charter
  • Project management plan
  • Impacts of other projects
  • How this project impacts other projects
  • WBS
  • When resources will be needed
  • Meeting schedule
  • Work assignments
  • Status
  • New risks uncovered
  • Uncertainties
  • Problems
  • Successes
  • Changes to project scope and product scope
  • Updated project management plan or components of the project management plan
  • Upcoming work
  • Delays
  • The date of the next milestone completion party
  • Performance reports
  • Lessons learned
  • Issue logs
  • Configuration management issues
  • What types of e-mails will be sent to each stakeholder
  • List of planned reviews of the project management plan and when updates are likely to be issued
  • Contact information for all stakeholders
  • Method of updating the communications management plan

Information Distribution

Information distribution involves implementing the communications management plan. In addition, since not everything can be planned, information distribution also involves creating reports or providing information that was not planned. Most of the concepts already described in communications management planning are done during this process and require no further comment, except for lessons learned.

Exercise  Lessons learned contain what type of information?

Answer The lessons learned document includes what was done right, wrong and what would be done differently if the project could be redone. Another way of saying this is to say that the lessons learned includes causes of the issues the project has faced and the reasoning behind the corrective actions implemented. To be as valuable as possible, lessons learned should cover three areas:

  • Technical aspects of the project
  • Project management (How did we do with WBS creation, risk, etc.?)
  • Management (How did I do with communications and leadership as a project manager?)

Many project managers do not understand the role of lessons learned on projects. The following graphic should help explain.

Lessons learned from similar projects are collected and reviewed before starting work on your project. Why make the same mistakes or face the same problems others have faced? Why not benefit from others’ experience? Imagine you could reach into a filing cabinet and see such data for all the projects your company has worked on. How valuable would that be?

Once your project is underway, your project is required to add lessons learned to the company database (the organizational process assets). The lessons learned may be created throughout the project and then finalized during project closing or project phase closing.

Lessons learned are so valuable that a project cannot be considered complete unless the lessons learned are completed. Continuous improvement of the project management process cannot occur without lessons learned.

One should not wait until the project is over to share lessons learned with other projects.  Lessons learned might be sent out as they are created, as part of information distribution activities on the project.

Exercise  Who should contribute to creating lessons learned?

Answer

  • Stakeholders
  • Project management team
  • Team
  • Project manager
  • Sellers
  • Customers

Performance Reporting

Performance reporting is really a communications process. It collects performance data and sends it to stakeholders. Reports should provide the kinds of information and the level of detail required by stakeholders and may include:

Status Report Describing where the project now stands regarding performance measurement baselines in cost, schedule, scope and quality

Progress Report Describing what has been accomplished

Trend Report Examining project results over time to see if performance is improving or deteriorating

Forecasting Report Predicting future project status and performance

Variance Report Comparing actual results to baselines

Earned Value Integrating scope, cost and schedule measures to assess project performance. This report makes use of the terms described in the Cost chapter (e.g., PV, EV, AC, etc.)

Lessons Learned

The key thing here is to realize that performance is reported against the performance measurement baselines set in the project management plan. Remember that you should have performance measurement baselines that can be measured, and that you are reporting on cost, schedule, scope and quality, not just schedule.

Reports help the team know where they need to recommend and implement corrective action. Included in performance reporting is the need to look into the future. Forecasts can help determine recommended corrective action needed from the team and from the sponsor. Other reports may include risk reserve reports and reports for other knowledge areas.

When completed, information distribution should result in:

  • The issuing of reports from other knowledge areas
  • Feedback from those who received the reports
  • Lessons learned
  • Requested changes to the project management plan and communications management plan
  • Reports, forecasts, requested changes and corrective actions and lessons learned documentation

Manage Stakeholders

This is a communications function. Stakeholders’ needs must continue to be met and their issues resolved throughout the project. When was the last time you did something like this:

A project manager knows that a stakeholder felt strongly that a certain scope should have been part of the project. Anticipating that the stakeholder will continue pressing to get the scope added, the project manager communicates the following. “Danny, I know that during project planning you wanted a certain scope to be part of the project. The entire group of sponsors on this project agreed to remove that scope from the project. It would not be worth your time to try to get it added now.”

How about this situation?

During requirements gathering, a stakeholder expressed concern about how much the project would impact her department’s other work. The project manager contacts her to say, “I have kept your concern in mind while planning the project.

You know that there is little probability we could do this project without impacting your department, but because you were so concerned, I have put a report together telling you when we will impact your department’s regular work. I will update the report on a monthly basis.”

Why bother doing such work? Such actions are proactive and make the stakeholders feel that their needs and concerns are at least being considered, even if they are not agreed to. They also serve the valuable role of keeping open communication channels with the stakeholders for them to inform you of potential changes, added risks and other information.

In addition to using management skills, manage stakeholders relates to choosing the best communications method (described under communications technology in this lesson).

Issue Logs

Issue logs are discussed in the Human Resources lesson and are a means of communicating issues to concerned parties.

Communication Blockers 

Phrases such as “What is your game plan?” “Getting down to the nitty gritty,” or even “Zero in on problems” can cause miscommunication with people from other cultures. Such comments as “What a bad idea!” also hamper effective communication. The exam has often had one or two questions that ask, “What can get in the way of communications?”

The answer may include:

  • Noise
  • Distance
  • Improper encoding of messages
  • Saying “That is a bad idea”
  • Hostility
  • Language
  • Culture

Approved Change Requests and Approved Corrective Actions

These are the results, or outputs of the manage stakeholders process in communications management. Do not get confused. Changes and corrective actions are approved through the integrated change control process.

The word “approved” is used here to remind us that the stakeholders may need to approve changes and corrective actions that affect them. Make sure you understand this because there will be up to 15 questions on changes on the exam and this can slip you up.

About the Author Dave Litten

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.