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I have always maintained that effective and efficient project management communication is job #1 for the project manager. In fact, it's really at the core of an effective, collaborative and high-performance project management team. No project or team has been truly effective and productive throughout a successful engagement without it.
While there is no overall secret ingredient to being the effective communicator that you need to be as a project manager, there are some good (dare I say "best"?) practices you can engage in to help ensure you get there.
Have a plan
Always have a plan for project management communication. I recommend – whether it's an official deliverable or not – putting together a somewhat formal project communication plan. I've worked on many government projects and programs where this was a formal plan that my organization was paid as much as $20,000 for. And I've also worked on many other projects and consulting engagements where this is done just to get everyone on the same communication page.
However you approach your communication plan, make sure to include the following points:
Identify when regular meetings will happen
Outline what the purpose and attendance of these planned meetings will be
- Include all contact information for the project teams and other key stakeholders so everyone can stay connected throughout the engagement
Follow up on major communications
Good, effective, complete communications are important whether it's a formal meeting, an informal meeting, a project team member across from your desk in your office, a phone call or a passing discussion in the hallway on your way to another meeting.
But follow up can be just as critical – the need to ensure that everyone is always on the same page during the project is a crucial part of project success. So when meetings are over, or that important phone call with the customer comes to an end, always follow up that communication with an email.
Your email should contain your notes on the key decisions that were made, the outcomes as you understand them, and ask for feedback and common understanding within 24 hours. It's the best way to ensure that everyone heard the same thing and that you communicated effectively. Not everyone always understands or interprets everything the same way. Ensure that isn't the case here.
Conduct effective meetings
Meetings are a key piece of the project management communication puzzle on every project. I usually have a formal client meeting every week, a regularly scheduled internal project team meeting every week, and then other ad-hoc meetings and conference calls as needed.
These types of communication situations, where many key stakeholders are present, are critical information exchanging situations. They are great places to get important decisions made, make key assignments on particular tasks and get customer clarification on any relevant questions or requirements while everyone is present.
What does this mean? It means that the project manager who can run effective meetings will have the best attendance, the best participation, the most accountability and the best planned out goals for each meeting. Effective meetings happen and good decisions are made when the proper planning and organization goes into each meeting with project stakeholders.
For more information check out this lesson on effective team meetings.
Stay on topic
For planned communications – whether it's a scheduled face to face session, one on one meeting, or a more formal discussion or meeting, the key is to stay on topic. Go in with a plan of what you want to accomplish, and announce that at the beginning so everyone knows the purpose of the discussion.
This way, everyone knows what is expected, can participate accordingly, and the desired outcome can be accomplished as quickly as possible. Staying on topic like this will help ensure that what you want or need to accomplish will be accomplished... thus avoiding the casual water cooler type discussions that stray from the subject, are usually annoying time wasters for at least one person in the discussion and rarely accomplish the needed outcome.
I have a tendency to over communicate. I always have - I'm trying to break that habit but it's hard. My emails can be long and my verbal directions longer. This can cause problems when communicating across cultures, through language barriers or to those whose attention span you just exhausted.
Instead, it’s best to be more precise and succinct. Research has found that the ideal length of an email is roughly between 50 and 125 words. Within that limit, try to get your one main point across or question answered. If you can’t avoid a longer email, break things down into clear, easy to understand bullet points.
When it comes to verbal communication, follow the same principle. Avoid trying to cover every possible element that could be open to interpretation in one sentence. If you have a list of projects or tasks to discuss, work through them systematically, one by one. Rather than talking at someone, open a dialogue and leave room for asking questions. Mastering effective communication will make a huge difference to the smooth running of your projects.
These are all logical practices for carrying out good meetings and excellent communications throughout your project engagement. And yet we’ve all experienced these best practices being left by the wayside at times. It’s not always us who are wasting others’ time with bad meeting practices. Many times we are just “allowing” these things to happen without stepping in to take corrective action and set the tone for our attendees.
Readers – what are your thoughts? What would you add to this list – what are your make or break items for excellent project communications and meetings that definitely get the job done?
This is the second article in our six-part How to be a Successful Project Manager series. Want more? Download the full ebook below.
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