Communication in Projects
I wanted to continue talking about communication methods in projects following my previous blog. That blog introduced tools to ensure that communication was planned into a project.
This blog is meant to give some deeper thought as to how you might communicate, and the possible related issues.
There are many communication methods. However sometimes we always default to a favourite few. Communication is important. The number one principle of stakeholder engagement is communication.
We Communicate for a Reason
We are only communicating as Project Managers to get people involved in meeting the aims of our project. The overall aim of communication is to engage somebody into action that in some way helps our project.
- Communication focuses effort
- Improves effectiveness
- Encourages a long-term view
- Reduces the chances if mishaps
- Reconciles conflict
- Facilitates pro-activity
Communication must do more than raise awareness, it should get people engaged and participating.
Communication is a Problem!
Projects fail due to poor communication, or communication that fails, or which uses the wrong channels.
So what are the different methods of communication? Why do some people use certain communication channels? What are business communication methods? and Why do some people have a communication style that is either very good, or very bad?
First, I will consider some generic communication categories:
- Fast/Slow: Some communication methods are fast such as face-to-face. E-mails may seem to be instant, but has the other person read the email? If you use a slow method to send, don’t be surprised if the recipient uses a slow method to reply.
- First Hand v Second Hand: Is your message going direct to the intended recipient? Or are you relying on other things to happen for message to get passed on? Ideally your message should go direct, rather than possibly be interpreted by another person.
- Verbal v Non-Verbal: Academic theories say that most of the message is delivered by non-verbal signals such as tone of voice, body language, gestures, and timings. It is the way in which the words are said, rather than the words themselves that can deliver the true message.
- Formal v Informal: Information delivered at a formal meeting and information gathered at the coffee machine are different. Ideally information in the formal meeting is accurate and truthful and factual. Information gathered at the coffee machine may just be opinion. However, people may withhold information in a (recorded) formal meeting that they are willing to hint at in an informal exchange. Another key difference is that the formal meeting gives people time to prepare the words that they want you to hear, rather than (the truth?!) an informal chat which may catch them unprepared. You need both methods to find out what is really going on in a project.
- Active v Passive: Active communication – using both words and gestures might be responded to with active listening – gestures to encourage more – showing that the listener agrees with the message, and wants more detail. However sometimes no matter how actively you may communicate, a passive listener will not express their thoughts or emotions about the topic, keeping their body language very neutral.
- One Way – Two Way: Anything that might not generate a response, such as a letter, poster, or newsletter is a one-way communication. Two-way communication such as a face-to-face chat, meeting, or telephone call can guarantee some form of response.
Thinking about how you communicate is important to prevent problems from arising.
So what methods for communication? What channels can we use to communicate a message? This is not meant to be an exhaustive list – just a thought provoker:
- Face-to-Face meetings with a single person
- Meetings with multiple attendees
- Phone calls
- SMS Messages
- Paper reports
- E-mail, E-mail with attachments, E-mails with links to documents
- Newsletters – electronic and paper based
- SharePoint sites, Bulletin Boards, Online discussion forums
Compare this list against the categories above, and consider the following communication issues.
Now let’s investigate why communications might fail. I’ve already suggested in my previous blog that you need several methods of communication for each individual in case one of the methods fails.
- Culture: Some staff from different cultural backgrounds may be unwilling to speak at meetings. Others might wait for direct instructions. Do you have an international team? Might communication be suffering?
- Team Dynamics: Do you have a team? (read a previous blog on Groups and Teams). If your team is dysfunctional then communication will suffer.
- Technological Barriers: No password, problematic access to IT systems, no phone, leaving phone at home, running out of device charge, no internet. Especially true for new employees or people “on-the-road”.
- Organisation Levels: Talking to the senior managers using the same language as used when talking to junior staff is not a good idea. You need a business oriented approach in these circumstances. In the same way, more junior staff may welcome more direct instructions on what it is that you require.
- Projects evolve faster than the communication plan: Sometimes a project changes so fast that the plans cannot keep up. A good example of this would be a project changing direction and involving a new set of stakeholders. Agile Projects welcome change. Can your communication plans keep up?
- Communication without feedback: Communicating without checking that the message has been received and understood is potential wasted effort. This is why two-way communication is better then one-way communication. You can check that the message has been correctly received and understood.
There are many issues with communication. The message may be transmitted, but that does not mean that it has been received and understood.
“Good communication skills required” is a statement often seen in job adverts. How will you show that you are a good communicator? The APM have a generic page regarding communication plans that makes for some good background reading.
Relationships matter in projects and in project communication. People are the key to delivering a project. Communicating to people well is a real skill.