During the training workshop that I was leading today we spent a considerable amount of time focusing on project communications.  The PMBOK Guide defines communications as

“A process through which information is exchanged among persons using a common systems of symbols, signs, or behaviors.”

A whole chapter is dedicated within the PMBOK Guide to project communications management and interestingly it continues to be one of the more elusive challenges for project managers.  Additionally, there are countless books, articles, studies, and workshops that provide a wealth of information to guide professionals.  From discussions on the types of communications such as verbal and non-verbal to the link of listening techniques all provide a basis for understand how these concepts can be applied.

However, I believe that part of the reason that some project managers find communication challenging is because they have not gone back to the basics.  Within communications planning I often advise others to think of the what, where, how, who, when question.  Similar to a reporter, a project manager has to address these items in their plan as follows:

  • What needs to be communicated?
  • How does it need to be communicated (via what medium)?
  • When does it need to be communicated (how often and when specifically)?
  • Who needs to communicate it and to whom?
  • Where does the information need to be documented?

Attempting to break down the various elements that need to be communicated into various components and identifying the audience as well as the sender are critical to understanding communication requirements.

However, even after mastering some of the above mentioned concepts I find that there are many project managers that still struggle with the appropriateness of the message being delivered.  I’ve talked to many project mangers who complain about the executive sponsor not reading their status report, senior management who does not care about their projects, stakeholders who are ignorant of the objectives, and project team members who don’t listen to direction and guidance.

The problem that I’ve found is that often this project manager sends the sponsor for example a 10 page status report, embedded within a set of 5 action requests, and a collection of issues that require the executive’s attention.  The PM will then assume that the busy executive not only read the status report but has also addressed the problems.  Unfortunately experience shows that the status report goes unread and the problem keep adding up.

I like to use the example of the 30 second elevator pitch.  If the project manager is not able to present problems and request action within the context of the 30 second elevator pitch, then the executive will likely not pay attention.  This situation is not based on a lack of interest or a degree of ignorance on the part of the executives.  It is based on the fact that the executive likely has 10 other project managers and other functional managers to deal with and does not have the time to go through detailed information.

This is where I think something like a Twitter mentality can really help the PM.  If you can not send the status/issue within 140 characters, then perhaps you have too much information.  In the end I believe the key to effective communication is simplification.  It starts by asking key stakeholders to define their communications requirements and by building a plan that addresses their needs within the context of the project.

Rather than go on endlessly, I want to also invite others to share any tips they may have related to effective project communications management.