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 measureable. 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 tracking.
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:
- Is the assignment on schedule?
- Do you require any assistance with the assignment?
- 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.