Five Communication Tips for New Projects
By Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL
Early on in a project – be it with an old team or a new team – a project manager
needs to set a precedent on how things will be done. Whether it is establishing
the project “culture” or project “rules”, you need to structure communication on
your team. Doing so is one of the most important aspects running a smooth project.
So what are the most important aspects of a project communication?
1. Proactively manage communication – don’t just “let it be” If
you aren’t constantly in contact with stakeholders on your project, including your
team and customer, people will make assumptions about tasks being completed. When
assumptions are made, things often go wrong and team communication (among other
things) is derailed. Right from the beginning you need to make sure you manage perceptions
and set the agenda.
Talk to your team as a group (excluding the customer) and always be honest about
the state of the project. Keep yourself “human”, by empathizing with team members
and understanding that sometimes life does affect work. Make sure your team feels
comfortable in sharing their issues with you – don’t be a dictator, be a conductor.
Scheduling communication on a regular basis is a great idea, but sometimes a few
impromptu discussions can give you a more accurate measure of where your project
is going. Whether the news is good or bad – talk about it.
2. If people aren’t speaking up – it’s up to you to make them In
addition to the group sessions mentioned above, make sure you also speak to your
team members individually. Some people don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a group
situation and it’s important that you learn the communication styles of your team
members. People will feel valued if you take time out of your normal schedule to
speak to them individually. Doing so will positively affect their productivity.
For important discussions, send a recap of key points to the person you had a chat
with to confirm your understanding of the conversation. This will help keep the
lines of communication open, and will show that you take them seriously. For customer
stakeholders, send meeting recaps out quickly, don’t wait until the day of the next
meeting to send them.
Make sure every individual is clear on their responsibilities and action dates.
Avoid words such as “ongoing” or in “progress”. Your milestones need to be tangible
and measurable. Even if something is in progress, break it down in smaller tasks
and give action dates to each one.
3. Throttle your email communication Excessive and unnecessary
emailing during a project can result in disaster. Too many emails result in stakeholders
ignoring action items. Encourage regular phone calls or scheduled status meetings
from the start, and then follow up with email. While it sounds like a no-brainer:
all emails should have a clear subject line for future reference. Discourage unnecessary
CCing of people. Those CC’ed in an email should be people who will be directly affected
by the information in the email.
If you see a direct conversation or disagreement taking place via an email thread,
step in immediately and ask the parties to communicate directly. Even if your client
is far away geographically and it needs to happen via phone or video conference,
a real live conversation can convey sub-context which just isn’t possible in email.
4. Set up a chat spreadsheet For projects with excessive communication
channels, a great way to track communication is to set up a spreadsheet logging
the frequency of communication; it is actually very simple to do.
List all the stakeholders of the project in a vertical column and the weeks of the
project at the top in a horizontal row. Now make a second vertical column which
notes down when you need to speak to every person listed in the stakeholders’’ column
– weekly, daily, monthly – whatever the case may be, make a note of it. Anytime
you communicate with someone on the list, record it. While this may be excessive
for most, large programs of 20 or more stakeholders often require detailed communication
5. Schedule status meetings weekly Regularly scheduled status meetings
where team members provide concise updates on their project activities are essential.
Communication should be quick and to the point, and the project manager should drive
the status check across each project assignment. The three key questions for everyone
to answer should be:
1. Is the assignment on schedule?
2. Do you require any assistance with the assignment?
3. What obstacles are impeding your progress?
Communication is a vital tool in project management and can be the one thing that
trips up great project managers. While there is no blueprint for perfect project
communication within your team, there are some basic guidelines. If communication
goes a bit awry, do not get discouraged; you are a project manager because of your
excellent communication skills – using them well will pay off for your projects
and your team.