PMP Communications Management
At the completion of this article you’ll be able to describe and define:
- Communications management process
- Communications management plan
- What should be reported
- Information distribution
- Lessons learned
- Communications model
- Percent of communication that is nonverbal
- Active listening
- Effective listening
- Communications methods
- Formal/informal written
- Formal/informal verbal
- Communication channels
- Percent of time a project manager spends
- Rules for meetings
- Issue logs
- Communication blockers
- Control of communications
How much time do you spend planning communications? 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 article 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?
Whom Do We Communicate With 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.
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:
- Would it be better to communicate the information in an e-mail or telephone call?
- Is this an issue that I need to go to see the person about?
- Should I send a letter through the mail in order for it to get real attention?
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.
Control 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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Information Distribution (page 228)
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.
Lessons Learned (Postmortem) (throughout) If you read the early part of this course you might remember my describing that lessons learned (as part of organizational process assets) is a PMI-ism.
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.
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.)
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
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 are a means of communicating issues to concerned parties.
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:
- Improper encoding of messages
- Saying “That is a bad idea”
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.
Check Your Understanding
Your scores will not be recorded in any way, but be advised that a score of less than 80 percent indicates that your understanding of the concepts and principles presented in this lesson are probably not sufficient for you to be successful answering this category of questions on the actual PMP exam.
We strongly recommended that you take note of any lessons in this course where you score less than 80 percent and seriously consider retaking those lessons prior to taking the actual exam.