The Importance of Effective Communication in Project Management
By Sue Cochran, Northwest University
Effective communication is essential to every relationship in life and successful project management is no exception. In your planning you discovered who the people are who have an interest in the project and how you will communicate with them. You understand the issues need attention to in order to keep everyone on the same page with current information. You have a plan to document the important communication pieces because you will need to provide periodic reports to management on what is happening. Many projects fail because the communication was ineffective. Because someone thought they heard one thing but, the intent was something totally different. You do not want to get to the end of the project and have the customer say “but that’s not what I said”.
There are tools that project managers can use to develop effective communication plans such as the stakeholder analysis. This is simply a way to analyze the information we have about the people this project will affect and who we should pay close attention to. There are several tools we can use to accomplish this goal; one being a Power/Interest Grid.
Your team plots the individual people on the chart according to their level of interest or need for special attention. Then you can focus your attention on the top right section of the grid. However, don’t forget about the bottom left section of the grid. These people can quickly move up on the grid and are still people who need attention. Another tool project managers can use is the Root Cause Analysis. This tool is a chart that looks like a fishbone. You label each bone on the chart with a problem, and then you break it down further by looking at the causes for each problem. This tool is simple but effective at getting to the real issue quickly.
What about meetings? They are a necessity but, too many meetings or ineffective meetings are a waist of everyone’s time so the successful project manager focuses on making meetings count. There are several different types of meetings. The highly effective team will want to get to the point quickly. One way to accomplish this is to use “stand-ups”. This meeting is where everyone goes around the room with a quick report of what they are doing or brings up any serious questions. It is as very quick, daily check-in and often the team does not even sit down, hence the name “stand-ups”.
We should take communication one step further to something called active listening. Active listening is a skill that gets to what the person “meant” not just what the person “said”. It means that the listener pursues the intent by asking questions like “I thought I heard you say…..?” or “can you clarify what you meant by….?” An experienced project manager once said that you should ask “why” three times. Then you will most likely get to the real problem or issue. There are some reasons why people may not use active listening. For example, in a meeting a person may feel foolish by asking a question about something that everyone else seems to understand. A project manager needs to be confident enough to ask those questions. Often times others in the room are wanting to ask but don’t want to look stupid. We also need to listen for what is not being said. When a comment is made that appears to be negative or directed negatively in a personal way, don’t take it personally; see what is behind the comment. Often there is a gem of truth that needs to be brought out.
Northwest University opened to students on October 1, 1934. It is a regionally accredited institution awarding associate, baccalaureate, and master’s degrees.
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