Edit October 2019: This post was composed in December 2017 and based on the 6th Edition (2012) APM BoK. A new paragraph in the middle updates changes found in the 7th Edition (2019) APM BoK published in May 2019.
Projects fail due to a lack of, or poor, communication. The APM Body of Knowledge (BoK) recognises the vital role that communication plays in project success, and the APM Competence Framework (CF) has a sub-section on communications. But do these documents go far enough? Furthermore, what support is available to help project managers get better at communication?
Communication is the means by which information or instructions are exchanged. Successful communication occurs when the received meaning is the same as the transmitted meaning.
Communication is fundamental to the P3 (project, programme, portfolio management) environment. Poor communication can lead to misunderstood requirements, unclear objectives, alienation of stakeholders, ineffective plans, and many other factors that will cause a project, programme, or portfolio to fail.
None of the tools and techniques described in this Body of Knowledge will work without effective communication (APM BoK Version 6 (2012) page 52).
So communication is vital – what else does the APM BoK say? and what are the competences for communication?
Communication in the APM BoK 6th Edition
Section 2 of the 6th Edition BoK is about ‘People’, and section 2.1 concerns Interpersonal Skills, with Communication as section 2.1.1. (The above quotations come from the first paragraphs of section 2.1.1).
Pages 52 and 53 of the BoK talk about communication, mentioning:
- Verbal v Non-Verbal
- Active v Passive
- Formal v Informal
- Culture, Mood and Team Dynamics
- Barriers – both physical and cultural
- Mediums, including SMS, Paper, Electronic, Email, Intranets, and Social Media
- Two-way – communication with feedback
However, none of these are fully explained or described – mainly because the BoK is a set of concepts, terms and activities in the Project Management domain. The BoK is a guide, and not a teaching resource.
Communication in the APM BoK 7th Edition
This paragraph updates the blog following the publication in May 2019 of the APM 7th Edition BoK.
There is a more concise definition of communication:
The process of exchanging information and confirming there is shared understanding
Edition 7 appears to be more comprehensively indexed with 9 sub-categories of communication against just 3 in the 6th edition.
‘Tone’, ‘Pitch’, ‘Pace’, ‘Expression’, and ‘Posture’ are noted as clues to communication.
The ‘Recommended Reading’ list appears to be more modern and is now based on Technical, Leadership and Project communications. (The 6th edition was rather dated and more generic about Human Communication)
Communication in the APM Competence Framework
Looking at the competence framework, competence 19 is ‘Stakeholder and Communication Management’. The words on communication include:
- Development and dissemination of communication plans
- A range of (not stated) media and methods for communication
- The requirement to monitor effectiveness of communication
A good start, however, considering the fact that most job specifications (especially for project managers?) state ‘Good communication skills required’, and a common interview question is ‘Tell us how you are a good communicator?’, is the content of the Competence Framework sufficient regarding communication?
Competence is being able to apply knowledge based on experiences. Regarding communication, the competence framework does very little to describe the required knowledge, or required experiences.
So what is Missing from the BoK and Competence Framework?
In particular from the BoK, the items included may also suggest the items that might be missing.
- Active and Passive Communication are often referred to along with Assertive and Aggressive Communication
- What about Body Language and Tone of Voice? (now briefly covered in Edition 7)
- What about Fast Communication v Slow Communication?
Can you think of other areas that are missing?
Do the APM need to further improve the BoK sections on communication? Are the changes made from BoK 6 to BoK 7 sufficient?
Is the communication material in the competence framework sufficient to demonstrate knowledge and application of communication? What is missing?
Education and Training
I am well aware of the difference between education (awareness raising, theoretical knowledge) and training (imparting skills). Both the BoK and the Competence Framework exist to raise awareness of issues rather than provide training.
Should there also be some hands-on tools and training for communication? For instance:
- A list of Project Management documents that need communicating
- Meeting practices – Agenda setting, dial-in-meeting behaviours, time-keeping, minute reporting
- Email practices – Subject lines, sign-offs, protocols for copying, protocols for holidays and out of hour working
- Tips for communicating bad news
- Social Media best practices
Or do we need a more fundamental review of communication?
Back to Communication Fundamentals
Rather than tinker with what we already do, should we go back to basics, and completely reconsider communications?
- Projects are essentially about communications and 1:1’s with individual people
- Relationships between people matter
- How do people ‘feel’ about a particular communication they receive?
- ‘What’s in it for the recipient’ as we try and move them from awareness to engagement and through to participation?
It is easy to fall back on tried and trusted (and failing?) methods of communication. Email styles, and default behaviours can lead to poor communications and ruined relationships. Is it time to stop, reflect, and change the way we communicate on projects? How do we do that?
What do you think about communication? Do you think about communication? Discuss on a post on LinkedIn.