One of the most complex and challenging aspects of project management is undoubtedly communication. Unlike other factors that can be broken down into dollars, hours, percentages, or other statistics, communication is primarily concerned with the human element of the project. This introduces a huge number of variables. For example, a project that involves more than one country may require the translation of information and concepts into another language. Even projects carried out within a single culture can face communication problems based on differences between stakeholders (and other environmental factors). These may include:
- Expectations, attitudes, and personality
- Education level
- Industry or field of specialty
- Medium preference (written, verbal, visual, etc)
- Organizational hierarchy
All of these issues should be taken into consideration during the planning phase of project management. The “how, who, when, and what” of communication are all impacted by the factors listed above. Here are a couple of methods you may choose to improve the effectiveness of your project communication:
Recognize Distinct Stakeholder Groups
These categories will include individuals who have authority over the project, those who have some input, and those who will be impacted but have little or no control over the process itself. Obviously, communication that requires a response or recommendation from the recipient should be directed to those with decision making capabilities. In contrast, you might want to avoid soliciting feedback from individuals who have no authority to make decisions and whose recommendations are likely to be dismissed. Asking for input and then ignoring it can be worse for morale than simply informing people that a topic is under review and letting them know when a decision is reached.
Inform, Then Confirm
Distributing the appropriate type and quantity of information on a regular schedule is only half the picture in project communication. You also need to verify that information has been received and comprehended. With electronic communiqués, you can have your email system notify you when a message has been opened. However, this doesn’t mean that the person reading it understood the information.
This is particularly problematic when you are communicating a list of incidental actions the reader needs to take that fall outside the scope of his/her usual assigned duties. It is very common for a recipient to miss one or more items if several issues are addressed in a single email. One way to avoid this with simple projects at a small company is by sending instructions for each task in a separate email. For more complex projects, collaborative software that permits multiple users to review, manage, and confirm tasks makes more sense. A good program will allow you to set permissions for who can view, revise, and submit information about tasks, problems, and resolutions at any level of the project.
When a project management system has a built-in communications platform, extensive use of this feature can significantly streamline the implementation of a comprehensive project communications management plan. It will also promote the use of automated reporting to make regular distribution of relevant project data more efficient. Of course, to make the best use of such software, you may need to communicate with stakeholders in advance to encourage adoption of the system.