Communication is one of the most critical aspects of managing a project. It must be efficient, effective, and must be managed by an organized leader on a project engagement – and hopefully the project manager is up for filling that communication facilitator role.
However, in the project management world – the communication process is only as good as your weakest link in the chain. You will encounter a communication weak link whenever you deal with someone else, and whenever your team members explain, discuss, or speak to another person. In other words, effective communication itself is the solution to the identification and elimination of weak links.
So what I want to do here is examine some key communication points for the project manager – outside the obvious PM == > customer link – and understand where those weak links may be and how to handle them. Why? Because whenever work passes from one person or department to another, or from a project team to a department or other personnel, the opportunity for delay or misunderstanding is always present and always possible. By knowing where the weak links exist, you will be able to ensure that the project moves forward, on track, and on schedule…hopefully.
Project Manager to team member. Whenever you speak to a team member, you encounter a weak link. For example, you instruct a team member to “document the issues and summarize it on a worksheet.” Unless you can clarify exactly what you want, the work may not be performed in the way you expect. All issues or just the ones for this task? How should it be summarized? How should the issues be prioritized? What will the worksheet look like?
If you don’t communicate clearly, chances are the work will have to be revised. And whenever that happens, the team member will complain that your instructions were vague. Thus, make sure that your instructions are absolutely clear, that you explain exactly what you want, and—most of all—that the team member understands exactly what you expect.
Project Manager to outside department manager. Your second weak link occurs when the manager of another department is involved—either as a resource for your project or as someone a team member reports to. The more clearly you explain the scope of the project and the time it will require, the better your chances for full cooperation. The other manager has a point of view you need to respect and understand. For example, the project may make his or her job more complicated, as it takes a resource away from the department. An outside department employee might view your project as extra work, while the other manager may see it as a strain on a limited staff.
Respect other managers’ problems and conflicts. Recognize that their priorities are not the same as yours. Although your project may demand you time and effort even more than the work in your department, that isn’t necessarily the case for other managers.
Project Manager to outside resource. No matter how urgent your deadlines or how important the project is to the company, you may have difficulty getting response from an outside resource—a consultant, a vendor, or another division. Their priorities are simply not the same as yours. Thus, the potential weak link is a considerable one.
Anticipate problems in the way you schedule, in the timing of your requests, and in the way you keep in touch. Don’t wait until the deadline is upon you, but plan well ahead to eliminate the problem through communicating as clearly as possible.
Project Manager to PMO Director and/or Company Executive. Once you are given a project, your first task should be to ensure that you and management are in complete agreement. What is the purpose and the desired end result? You may execute a project according to the highest standards and come in on schedule and within budget. But if the result is not what the director or executive wanted, your efforts will have been wasted. You need to define your processes and your schedule, and check with the person who gave you the assignment.
Another problem may arise when the director or executive changes the assignment. This may occur without your knowledge. For example, a decision is made at the board level, and the executive’s priorities change, but you are not informed of this decision. Anticipating that this could occur, you need to make periodic reports while your project is underway.
Hopefully, in the case of a PMO, the processes are already in place for a regular reporting structure so you should never be able to stray too far off course. But that’s not a given as many PMOs are floundering or have vague or inefficient processes in place. It’s the director or executive’s responsibility to draw your attention to a wrong direction, but this may occur only if you make the effort to reaffirm the way you are executing the assignment.
We can’t always ensure that key information won’t fall through the cracks, become misunderstood, get miscommunicated, or somehow changed in meaning. But we can be watchful for these possibilities, follow up on key communication for understanding and clarification where needed, and be aware throughout the project engagement of these potential weak links.