Many of life’s everyday conflicts have something in common — they’re a product of some form of breakdown in communication.
Maybe someone misunderstands an instruction or misinterprets another person’s actions. Or perhaps someone takes someone else’s words literally when they are meant figuratively.
When communication breaks down, the effects can be frustrating at best, and life-threatening at worst. Ineffective communication can result in:
- Inadequate information
- Poor decision-making
- False assumptions
- Lost opportunities
- Conflicts going from bad to worse
- Medical errors jeopardizing patient safety
Poor communication is one of the major reasons projects fail. According to a , $75 million of every $1 billion spent on projects is “at risk due to ineffective communications,” which underscores why clear communication is such a big deal in project management.
Below, we’ll discuss what project communication management is and dissect a few project management tips for communication along the way.
Overview: What is project communication?
Plans, approvals, project management reports, emails, slide presentations, updates, meetings, phone calls, reviews, surveys — these are staples in the life of a project manager. That’s because a significant portion of project management involves communicating with the project’s various stakeholders.
Project communication management is a knowledge area that follows a set of procedures aimed at meeting the communication needs and expectations of the project’s different stakeholder groups. It involves creating relevant documents and using various communication strategies to facilitate information exchange.
It’s made up of three processes (more on these later), namely:
- Plan communications management
- Manage communications
- Monitor communications
Project communications management processes
In project management, the importance of communicating clearly and effectively cannot be stressed enough. Project success hinges in part on meaningful collaboration, and without effective communication, collaboration disintegrates and conflict arises.
Project communication management is divided into three different processes, which occur in the planning, executing, and monitoring and controlling phases, as shown in the chart above.
1. Plan communications management
During the plan communications management process, project managers, together with the project team, develop a project communication plan that details your communication management system or approach.
The group should specify how it intends to address stakeholders’ communication needs throughout the project using assets available within the organization. Different stakeholders have different communication expectations.
For example, members of the executive committee may want weekly updates through email, the project team may have to be updated daily via the social feed and group chat features of the company’s project management software, while the public at large may find the information they need through the press section of the company’s website.
Your communication plan should contain the following information:
- The message or information to be communicated
- Communication distribution frequency and schedule
- Communication modes, such as email, text messages, face-to-face communication, meetings, reports on the status of deliverables and project milestones, etc.
- The stakeholders who are receiving the information
- The team member(s) responsible for delivering content and responding to questions or requests
- Communication constraints (e.g., budget allotted for communication, schedule, communication technology, internal and external policies, legislation requiring communications to be handled a certain way, etc.)
Input documents you will need in order to create your communication plan may include:
Although the project communication plan is created during the project planning phase, you may have to repeat the process as the project’s communication requirements change. If stakeholders are added to or removed from the project, the plan will have to be revisited.
2. Manage communications
In this process, project managers and their teams execute the tasks and activities defined in the communication plan, i.e., the collection, creation, storage, retrieval, management, distribution, monitoring, and disposal of project information.
The goal is to provide timely, accurate information to the right people using the appropriate project communication tools.
Besides information distribution, this is also where you encourage stakeholders to ask questions or discuss any lingering doubts or confusion they may have regarding the project, so you can provide clarification.
Communication is a two-way street. Not only should you provide the information to the right recipients at the right time, but you also have to make certain they receive and understand the information you send out.
Documents created during this process include:
- Performance reports
- Schedule updates
- Updates on the status of the project’s deliverables
Certain project documents may have to be updated, too, such as the communication management plan, project plan, stakeholder register, stakeholder engagement plan, and the lessons learned register.
Communications management occurs throughout the project’s life cycle.
3. Monitor communications
Also performed throughout the project, this process ensures that all of the communication techniques and methods you’re using — including the monitoring and control measures you have in place — follow the project communication plan.
It’s also at this stage that you gauge whether or not your approaches are producing the desired results. Otherwise, you may have to make some adjustments in order to prevent any communication issues from affecting the project.
Actions to carry out in this process include:
- Verify that communications go out as scheduled.
- Verify that the right stakeholders receive the right communications.
- Verify that stakeholders understand the communications they receive.
- Verify that relevant feedback or questions reach the right people.
Some of the project management documents you'll be creating or updating include:
- Change requests
- Work performance reports
- Communication management and stakeholder engagement plans
- Other relevant project documents, such as the issue log and the stakeholder register
How to be successful at project communication management
From project initiation to closing, effective communication drives project management. Creating a project proposal that will compel investors to act favorably requires excellent communication skills. The same is true for:
- Negotiating contracts with vendors and suppliers
- Gathering the project’s requirements
- Interviewing stakeholders to understand their needs and expectations
- Planning the project
- Dividing the project into work packages
- Assigning tasks and responsibilities to team members
- Building a winning team
- Facilitating meetings
- Keeping track of the project’s progress
- Writing reports
And then there’s diversity in the workplace. Many of today’s project teams are composed of diverse groups of people.
With the growing prevalence of remote work among global businesses, you have teams with members from different cultures, with different skills, speaking different languages, from different countries and time zones, and so on. Effective communication is instrumental in turning diversity into a workplace advantage.
Even among small, local teams, communication challenges abound. You want everyone on the same page. You want people with an interest in the project to know what’s going on — not just once, but on a regular basis.
You want everyone involved to understand the project’s priorities, as well as the risks and opportunities it presents.
You want team members to feel accountable for their assigned roles and responsibilities — and to rally toward the same objectives. You want stakeholders to support, instead of oppose, the project’s goals.
If opposition from stakeholders cannot be helped, though, you'll want to be able to manage their influence on the project. At the same time, you have to be respectful, receptive, and encouraging.
Key skills for project communication management
Achieving all these things requires specific skills and attitudes, including:
- Showing active listening skills
- Having strong speaking and writing skills
- Being skilled at conflict resolution
- Ability to motivate, engage, and guide a team
- Setting expectations, and managing them
- Having a propensity for questioning ideas and exploring alternatives
- Recognizing that people think and communicate differently
- The ability to create an environment of trust, so people can comfortably speak their minds
- Acknowledging opposing ideas (even when you don’t agree with them)
- Being willing to ask for and accept help if you need it
- Having a positive disposition
Project communication management — an absolute necessity
Communication is one of the basics of project management and, therefore, an essential ingredient to project success. Efficiently and effectively disseminating essential information to the right people at the right time solidifies everyone's understanding of the project and increases support for it.
As such, project managers must make communication an absolute priority.