Best Practices of Effective Project Communicators

To better understand these communication principles and to improve your communication abilities, let's review the common, best practices used by effective project communicators. We'll look at general communications management, status reports, conducting meetings, interpersonal skills, and the best use for the common communication media.

General Communications Management

First, let's review the best practices of general project communications management.

tip

Responsibility for project communications is an excellent project management apprentice opportunity.

  • Assign a point man To ensure quality and consistency in project communications, make sure to assign specific project team members accountable for official project communications. On most projects, you (the project manager) will serve as the communications point. However, on larger projects, you may need to delegate responsibility for certain communication items or for communication to targeted stakeholders. This may include working closely with the company's human resources, marketing, and/or corporate communications departments.
  • Leverage natural strengths While you will always need to leverage many communication forms and media, take advantage of any natural communications strength you may possess and use the other methods to support those strengths.
  • Perform stakeholder analysis As part of your communications planning, perform a stakeholder analysis. This analysis should provide insights into the needs and motivations of each stakeholder. In addition, use this assessment to validate what type of project communications are needed to properly support each stakeholder audience and manage their expectations.
  • Use push and pull Effective project communicators use both push (send it to them) and pull (make it available to them) communication methods. With the advent of central project repositories, the pull method has experienced growing popularity. While the use of this method is excellent for anytime, on-demand information needs by stakeholders, do not rely on it for important or urgent project communications. Make sure to send (push) any important, urgent project communications directly to the targeted stakeholders.

    tip

    Send emails to stakeholders that contain direct URL links to the targeted project communication.

  • Keep the information flowing A simple but powerful service provided by many effective project communicators is to make sure the right people have the right information to perform their roles. In many organizations, information tends to not flow easily from one group to another. An effective project manager looks for these bottleneck points and simply acts as a conduit for better information flow.
  • Take communication decisions seriously Consider your relationship, the message content, and available media options when making any communication decision. In general, certain communication options are better for different types of situations, and effective communicators choose wisely.

    Researchers believe 50%90% of a message is conveyed via nonverbal means (cues, signals, and symbols). Thus, the more nonverbal language present, the richer the communication.

  • Confirm technology and user training Always ensure that the technologies to be used for your particular communication are working properly and that the affected stakeholders understand how to leverage them correctly.

Communications Options

Now, more than ever, there are many communication media available to your project. To best manage project communications, you need to understand the strengths and limits of each option, so that you use the medium that is most appropriate for the type of relationship you have with the targeted audience and for the content of the message. The right choices can improve project productivity, facilitate open communications, and build stronger stakeholder relationships. The wrong choices create misperceptions, confusion, and weaker stakeholder relationships.

tip

Set up voice mail and email distribution lists to streamline communicating with project team members and project stakeholders.

To assist your communications decision-making, let's review the best uses and important notes for the common communication options. This summary is captured in Table 17.1.

Table 17.1. Summary of Project Communication Options

Communication Option

Best Use(s)

Important Notes

Face-to-Face

Best method to start business relationships and to earn trust;

Best for sensitive, interpersonal, ordifficult messages

Richest, most efficient method;

Only way to do business in manycultures;

"Showing up" demonstrates commitment

Video-conferencing

Best substitute for face-to-face meetings

Not always available;

Make sure technology works in advance

Direct audio (telephone)

When interactive conversation is needed;

When visual communication is not needed;

When urgency is important;

When privacy is important

If placed on speaker phone, assume there are others in the room

Voice mail

Short messages;

When common message needs to be sent to multiple people;

When targeted stakeholder is auditory-oriented or is inundated with email

If lengthy message, summarize message content up-front;

Avoid for controversial or sensitive communications;

Make sure stakeholder checks voice mail regularly

Electronic mail

When common message needs to be sent to multiple people;

When supporting documentsare needed;

When targeted stakeholder is visually oriented or prefers email communications;

When communication recordis needed

If lengthy message, summarize message content up-front;

Avoid for controversial or sensitive communications;

Make sure stakeholder checks email regularly;

Use subject line wisely;

Be cognizant of the size of attachments sent

Instant Messaging

For daily interactions of project team;

For virtual project teams;

Can use IM conferencing to provide a record of meeting collaboration

Helps to build community and project team intimacy;

Not appropriate for formal work relationships;

Keeps the office quieter;

Monitor privacy and confidentiality concerns

Audio conferencing

When group collaboration is needed and face-to-face meeting isnot possible

More social presence than email or IM;

Allows participants to "multitask" and "do other things"; fullattention is an issue;

Not as effective at building trust among participants;

Most systems all conference to be recorded

Web conferencing with audio

When group collaboration is needed and face-to-face meeting is not possible;

When data or presentation needsto be shared;

Virtual training sessions

Same challenges as audio conferencing;

Invest more prep time on tech-nology readiness and training;

Able to record questions;

Record and make available for later access

 

Status Reporting

The best status reporting practices of effective project communicators include

tip

Send project documents as PDF files to reduce potential conflicts with software tools, minimize the size of email attachments, and to protect communication content.

  • Be consistent Provide progress status reports on a consistent, regular basis as defined in the project communications plan.
  • Target reports Provide the appropriate level of detail for the targeted audience.
  • Use bullets Use bullet points to summarize key facts; keep it short; enable reader to quickly gauge the state of the project.
  • Employ visuals Since most people are visual learners and most senior management types need to get a thorough understanding of project status and/or the project issue quickly, look for opportunities to provide information in a visual format.
  • Use color-coding If not defined for the organization, establish three general threshold levels for key project metrics and critical success factors. For each level, associate the appropriate stoplight colors green, yellow, or red. Then use these colors to communicate the health of each key project metric on status report. This allows senior management to get a quick reading on the project's health.
  • Leverage exception-based approach Use the main (first part) of the status report to highlight any exceptions or variances to the project plan.

caution

Avoid using any recorded media (email, voice mail) for negative, sensitive, or controversial communications.

Then provide details in the appendix section. This format should allow you to provide one status report that will meet the needs of most, if not all, of your key stakeholders.

Meetings

The best meeting practices of effective project communicators include the following:

  • Know your gameplan Determine the overall goal and objectives for the meeting; invite the right people; structure the meeting appropriately; determine what preparation is needed by the meeting participants to make the meeting useful.
  • Post agenda Whenever possible, post an agenda in advance of the meeting. In either case, make sure to review the agenda at the start of the meeting and check if any modifications are needed.
  • Facilitate Be the meeting director. Review and set meeting context; review meeting ground rules up-front; keep everyone engaged; keep the meeting flowing; solicit feedback; summarize key points; seek consensus.
  • Stay on track Keep the meeting on topic; timebox agenda items; watch out for trying to solve problems in meetingsschedule follow-up meeting instead.
  • Take notes Delegate someone to take notes of meeting decisions and action items.
  • Attain closure Before adjourning meeting, review all actions items (including responsible owners and targeted completion times), summarize meeting results, schedule any necessary follow-up meetings, and thank attendees for their active participation and time.
  • Post minutes Distribute (post) meeting minutes within 24 hours of meeting whenever possible to meeting participants and affected parties. If action is required from non-attendees, seek their commitment before distributing minutes, or note items on which they have not been consulted.

tip

Establishing and building stakeholder relationships is a higher priority than enforcing a strict meeting protocol.

 

Interpersonal Skills

The next set of best practices are likely the most important because they impact the quality of all your project communicationsthe formal and the more frequent day-to-day interpersonal communications that occur between the project team and the project stakeholders. The following list notes the key interpersonal skills demonstrated by effective communicators.

  • Listen with a purpose
  • Be humble
  • Think before responding
  • Take their perspective
  • Don't be judgmental
  • Be interested in others
  • Seek to understand what they do, why they do it, and what pains they are experiencing
  • Validate perceptions before responding
  • Show appreciation for their time and contributions
  • Ask questions to confirm and improve your understanding
  • Summarize what speaker said
  • Make people feel heard
  • Focus on building relationships
  • Stay in control of your emotions
  • Don't assume that a negative response by others is personalmost of the time it's not
  • Avoid interrupting, if at all possible
  • Validate that you are being understood
  • Avoid terms and tones that imply judgement, guilt, wrongdoing on other parties

The Absolute Minimum

At this point, you should have a solid understanding of the following:

  • Effective communications are important to managing perceptions, managing expectations, managing the project team, reducing conflicts and overcoming any project management gap in other areas.
  • The five Cs of effective communications are clarity, conciseness, courteous, consistency, and compelling.
  • The most important communication skill is listening.
  • The three most powerful communication techniques are also the simplest: Give it your full attention, use your manners, and follow through.
  • The most important mindset trait for effective communications is taking responsibility for understanding.
  • Check out meeting collaboration tools such as MindManager at mindjet.com to streamline your meeting management processes.

The map in Figure 17.2 summarizes the main points we reviewed in this chapter.

Figure 17.2. Overview of managing project communications.


Part i. Project Management Jumpstart

Project Management Overview

The Project Manager

Essential Elements for any Successful Project

Part ii. Project Planning

Defining a Project

Planning a Project

Developing the Work Breakdown Structure

Estimating the Work

Developing the Project Schedule

Determining the Project Budget

Part iii. Project Control

Controlling a Project

Managing Project Changes

Managing Project Deliverables

Managing Project Issues

Managing Project Risks

Managing Project Quality

Part iv. Project Execution

Leading a Project

Managing Project Communications

Managing Expectations

Keys to Better Project Team Performance

Managing Differences

Managing Vendors

Ending a Project

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Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
Absolute Beginner[ap]s Guide to Project Management
ISBN: 078973821X
EAN: N/A
Year: 2006
Pages: 169
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