One thing that we can never hear enough is the importance of communication within a project. Whilst this is one of those all-important skills, it is something that not everyone has a natural knack for getting right. In fact, even those individuals who have good natural communication skills will find they can improve those skills and become an even better communicator.
However, there are plenty of barriers to good communication and it is important to also consider ways in which these can be overcome. These might be physical barriers, emotional, cultural or even geographical barriers – all of which can have an impact on the successful outcome of a project.
Good communication isn’t just about being able to talk to other people. As a project manager you need to be able to use a range of different forms of communication methods and all to the same level of effectiveness. If there are any forms of communication that you feel less comfortable with, then you need to put aside some time to work on them.
Let’s take a look at the different types of communication…
What types of communication are there?
There are three main types of communication to consider when managing projects:
You should be able to speak in a manner that is clear, concise and confident. You should also be able to use a range of different levels of language depending on who you are talking to from stakeholders to the most junior member of your team, tailoring how you communicate verbally with different people will help you to get better results.
For some people written communication is preferable to verbal. It offers something tangible that you can refer to later on if you want to check specific details. The key to good written communication is finding a way that works for you. This might be emails, or it might be communication within a project management software tool. Treat written communication like a muscle in your body – regular exercise will help improve it!
This is an often-neglected form of communication, and not just in project management. Being able to listen properly is just as important as written and verbal communication. If you want to work on improving this skill, then delegate the written and verbal communication to someone else and focus on what is really happening. You might find out a lot more about your team, their concerns and motivations this way.
Using a project communication plan
A communication plan forms a vital part of a project management plan. The plan will help you identify how to process and then manage communications. There are a number of reasons a project manager should use a communication plan, including:
- Defining the frequency with which communication might occur, ensuring the team are not overloaded but giving a clear indication of what is expected
- Identify the communication flow through hierarchy and the types of communication that might be used
- A plan allows delivery of the project whilst achieving the benefits and outcomes
- It identifies timescale, and the actions needed to get to those timescales
- It sets out who has access to the information for security, confidentiality and governance
- It also ensures that the relevant individuals are informed and consulted to ensure everyone is kept in the loop. These individuals would include the project team, stakeholders – both internal and external – and also any suppliers
Taking the time to put together a well thought out and carefully considered communication plan for your project can mean all the difference once the project is underway. The preparation work that you do for your project can help to drive the results that you want, helping you to stick to your timescales, budgets and also produce the results that you have been striving for.
Communication at the beginning of your project
We have talked about the importance of communication, but it is also important to understand that whilst communication is vital throughout the lifecycle of a project, there are some times that are even more important than others.
At the beginning of your project you are creating something of a mini company culture. That is; you are putting together a project team and bringing in all of those individuals who can offer your project the skills that are required to help it to success. You want to ensure that everyone understands exactly what the project entails and what their role in all of that is. You will also be at the heart of this “micro-culture” because you are the project manager and no matter how often individuals within the team have worked together before there is a potential for clashes and communication issues. As the person in charge, it is your role to ensure that communication is used as it should be within the team.
Do this from the very first meeting. Give your team all of the information that they need for the project, let them know exactly what will be happening. They may not need to know about any outside events, but make sure that everyone knows everything they need to know. It is important for everyone to understand their own objectives and goals. This is also a good opportunity to discuss how you are going to communicate as a team, individual emails, group emails, using project management software to log all your communications. Remember, this communication isn’t just between you and your team members. It is also about them communicating with each other. Your entire team needs to consider how they can help and support each other, the project and you.
Managing different people & preferences
Different individuals prefer different types of communication, and that is okay. Every individual responds differently to different styles of learning, so this is something that you should take into account. Try to encourage a wider range of communication styles in order to ensure that everyone has as much access to everything that is going on as possible.
As part of this process you should also make sure that everyone on your team is completely conversant with every tool that you will be using for communication. If you are introducing new project management software then arranging some training might prove to be a good idea.
One final thing to consider in the early stages is that if your team includes individuals who prefer to work alone, and who might not be good at sharing information then they will need some guidance to improve their lines of communication.
The issue of over-communicating
Whilst effective communication is an essential skills in project management, there can come a point where there is simply too much communication and this can have a negative impact on a project.
If you are continually calling project meetings to discuss things with your team or requesting detailed status updates, then you will be pulling them away from their work on the project. This can be incredibly disruptive – not to say annoying – especially if there seems to have been little substance to the meeting. Before arranging a meeting consider whether an email request would suffice and maybe rethink your own communication strategies.
Another necessary evil is project reporting, it can be somewhat time consuming but if you use the right tools and methods then it doesn’t have to be.
You will need to make sure that you have all of the appropriate project reports to hand to help with this. You’ll also need to use this and all the other information to hand in order to produce project data that is high quality. The way in which you produce your reports may also vary as it is very important to understand the audience you are pitching information to. Do they want long complicated reports or something they can take in at a glance? Find out, because this could make your life much easier.
Using automated reminders can be a good way of making sure that everyone gets the information that you need to you on time so that you do not have to rush your reports. It may seem a little drastic but sometimes when a person is deeply entrenched in something else, they can easily forget to do regular tasks.
The humble meeting is an essential part of any project, but you need to manage them effectively. Unfortunately, team members and stakeholders can sometimes see these meetings as a waste of time. If you want to make sure this isn’t the general feeling, then you need to ensure that you are keeping everything to the point and only calling meetings when they are absolutely necessary.
Plan carefully so that your meetings are meaningful. Try to avoid ad-hoc meetings as a knee jerk reaction to something that you were not really prepared for. If something unexpected does occur then take some time to plan a meeting before calling everyone in. This is a more productive way of working in the long run,
Every meeting should have an objective and everyone attending should be well aware of that objective. Regular meetings are not a problem either but make sure you keep them brief. Create an agenda and stick to it. Don’t allow people to go off track and if they have other things to discuss ensure that these are left to the end of the meeting.
Some meeting tips to consider
Think about your meeting room
When planning your meeting remember that the concept of standing room only may not be a bad thing. The comfortable scenario of everyone sitting around a table allows for a degree of slowness in a meeting. Everyone is comfy so there is no real need to push the meeting to a speedy conclusion. A meeting with people standing implies it will be short, and short and snappy can work really well.
Do you actually need a meeting?
Before every meeting, think about whether you need the meeting or if you can deal with the issue another way? Technology has made the ability to have meetings with a lot less fuss a really easy option. Consider if you could have your meeting in a different way other than in person. Remember you also do not need to invite everyone to every meeting. Doing so takes those who do not need to be there away from being productive.
Make an agenda
A meeting without an agenda can easily become overtaken with things that are not really necessary and all too soon you will have lost track of why you called the meeting in the first place. Create an agenda and circulate it. If someone wants to add something else, and you agree, then make a note of this. Otherwise stick to what is already on the agenda and nothing more.
Follow up on the meeting
There is a chance the meeting will raise important issues, just as it can also resolve other issues. Make sure that you follow up on these issues to ensure that everything within your project is running smoothly.
Organisation is essential in project management, not just within the project but also in everything that goes on around it. Make sure that all of your paperwork is up to date and organised. Lead by example; if your project team see you are organised then they are more likely to be as well. You cannot expect them to be organised about turning in reports if you are not organised about responding to enquiries.
4 Comments Leave a comment
We’re seeing a move towards less verbal communication and more written, especially emails in preference to face-to-face meetings. I can see the benefit of having a written record but feel we’re also losing something by having less verbal and more written communications.
I think lots of businesses are seeing this change Ben and we’re still all navigating this new approach – who knows what the future will bring. As you say emails provide a written record of discussions but maybe those discussions are somewhat restricted.
You talk about listening as a neglected form of communication and I totally agree. Some of the problems I’ve seen on projects come from different stakeholders not listening to each other. Developing good listening skills is essential to improve communication overall.
Different stakeholders not listening to each other or even having competing objectives for the same project show how important it is to manage stakeholders on any project. See this post we’ve written on understanding, managing and communicating with stakeholders: https://www.parallelprojecttraining.com/blog/the-definitive-guide-to-stakeholders-in-project-management/