I’ve always made it clear that communication is – in my opinion – the most important thing the project manager does on a daily basis. Everything they do is important, but without good communication skills the project has no real hope for success. Unfortunately, the project manager could be the best communicator in the world, but weak links in their network and with communication on the project overall could still cause problems for the project and key stakeholders.
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 present. If we maintain an awareness of what those potential weak links are, then we can monitor those, verify understanding, and hopefully limit their potential effect on project success.
Basically, whenever the project manager must pass information to others, a weak link could potentially become an issue. In Part 1 of this two part series, let’s begin to examine these common communication touch points and discuss the potential problems and how they might be avoided in order to keep misunderstandings and miscommunications from happening and keep the project on the road to success.
Between PM and project team members. 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.
Between PM and department managers. 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.
In Part 2 of this two part series, we’ll examine more potential project communication problem areas – between the project manager and outside resources and between the project manager and his senior leadership within the organization.