Communication in Project Management – Communicating what Matters
By Thomas Cutting
Several of the brain dump entries center around “Communicating what Matters.” This shouldn’t be a surprise. Some have estimated that 80% of project management is communication. Others claim that 63% of all statistics are made up on the spur of the moment.
The mark of an excellent project manager is communicating the right amount to the right people in the right format at the right time: making it matter.
The Right Amount
We’ve all sat through long winded, slide enhanced meetings that completely fill the4-hour morning time slot and spill over into lunch. If you are like me, you grasped the concept, impact and expectations of the topic within the first 20 minutes, but have to endure the remaining torture. In truth, I probably delivered some of those presentations.
The purpose of any communication is to allow the audience to make informed decisions (#2 on February’s list). This is true whether you are sending an email or presenting at an executive meeting. Give them all the information they need; leave nothing important out. Summarize the content and focus on the pertinent information. You will want to have any supporting evidence or content available, but wait until they ask before inundating them with it.
- If asked to produce a report, verify the content and detail needed before starting.
- At the start of a meeting, lay out your direction and ask if where you are headed is where they expected to end up.
- Reread your emails from the perspective of the receiver. Is it organized logically? Is your main point summarized within the first two sentences? Are you being too wordy?
The Right People
Have you ever been to a meeting and thought, “Why in the world did they invite me to another one of these?”
Or what about speaking with someone for an hour only to have them say, “I’m not the person you need to talk with. You need to speak to Joe Smith in Accounting.” Why couldn’t they have informed me of that in the first 5 minutes?!?
One critical communication point is the “To:” list on your email. Check it twice before hitting send. Make sure you have only the intended audience copied. Avoid hitting “reply to all” unless you mean it or remove unnecessary names.
Make sure you have the right individual. In the Orange County chapter of PMI there is an individual named Tom Cumming. Because we are both active in the chapter, we are constantly receiving emails intended for the other individual. Making that mistake wouldn’t be too bad, but if one “Joe Smith” is the CEO and the other is the guy in accounting you wanted to contact, be careful.
- Mailing lists are essential. Setting one up for each project will save time when sending out communications. Then make sure to maintain it as people join and leave the team.
- If you are not getting feedback on emails or people are not showing for your meetings, verify that they are receiving your communications.
- When in doubt, ask. A simple phone call saying, “I’m trying to reach the individual in charge of…” can save a lot of explaining later.
The Right Format
This became strikingly clear to me on one particular project. I failed to deliver the project’s schedule and status in a format consumable by my client. The direction of the project was on track to meet our schedule. We were well within budget. The scope was being honed appropriately.
However, because it wasn’t delivered in the format that was expected, I missed the mark. Once it was sorted out, things progressed much smoother.
If you are new to the department or company, ask others to point you in the right direction. If there is a PMO, there is usually a template. Don’t reinvent what already exists.
- If there are several versions of a regular communication (ex. Status Report, Resource Request, Charter, etc.) in use, look to standardize it. Consistency will save time for you in creating it and for the recipient in reviewing it.
- Templates need to be reviewed and revised regularly to make sure they are meeting the needs of the intended audience.
- If there is a meeting, report, or template that is no longer needed get rid of it.
Presenting the right amount of information to the right people in the right format will at least you stand a chance of “Communicating What Matters.”
Thomas Cutting, PMP is the owner of Cutting’s Edge (http://www.cuttingsedge.com/) and is a speaker, writer, trainer and mentor. He offers nearly random Project Management insights from a very diverse background that covers entertainment, retail, insurance, banking, healthcare and automotive verticals. He delivers real world, practical lessons learned with a twist of humor. Thomas has spoken at PMI and PSQT Conferences and is a regular contributor to several Project Management sites. He has a blog at (http://cuttingsedgepm.blogspot.com).