Communications

One of the key PM responsibilities is communications. In fact, the PMBOK ® GUIDE defines communications management as one of the Process Areas of Project Management. Four processes are defined as communications processes:

communications planning information distribution performance reporting administrative closure

While there are many formal communications associated with projects, including items such as meeting minutes, contracts, project charter, status reports, etc, most project communications are informal. All communication affects the project, so the PM and every team member needs to be aware that communication should be as accurate and as professional as possible, aimed at ensuring that the project moves smoothly.

Project communications can be oral or written. They may even be nonverbal, such as facial expressions, movement and positioning of hands/arms/body, impressions created by clothes, accessories or make-up and even furniture arrangement. In some Asian cultures, seating arrangement conveys considerable information, such as who is the host, and who is important. Many people are unaware of cultural differences, and in fact, many are not at all concerned with the messages that are conveyed via these channels. Not being aware, these people run the risk of sending unintended messages, which might be quite contrary to the messages that they wish to convey. So the PM should ensure that someone on the team is aware of such messages, and that people help each other to ensure that the messages conveyed are the desired ones.

Although it is recommended that all plans and results be written, most project communications will be oral. When there is information that has legal impact, such as specifications, contracts or RFP's these should also be carefully written and archived to avoid any potential misunderstanding.

The team needs to plan all the important project communications, at a detailed level. Obviously the specific content can not be planned, as this will de determined as the project evolves. However, many details of the communications can and should be planned. The team needs to determine and list all of the important project communications, and build a plan for each. For each communication the team needs to define who is responsible for the communication, what they are to communicate, to whom, the purpose of the communication, when, and via what media. Some information should also be included to specify the level of detail required. Some communications involve the collection of information and some involve the distribution of information. The information specified above will specify which category in which each communications belongs.

The overall communication plan should contain information about each of the process areas - the charter, scope statement, scope management plan and work breakdown structure to define the scope, the risk management plan, the quality management plan, the schedule information, the budget and cost management plan, information about the team and team management, the communications plan and the procurement plan. This can be short for smaller projects, but all relevant information should still be documented. Larger projects generally do have more structured communications, but even here, the project team still has to define all the specifics for the particular project, even if an overall framework is provided.

Many engineers are aware of Shannon's model for communications. This model was developed for the building of electronic communication mechanisms. However, the model actually applies quite well to all communications, even oral face to face communications. See Figure 2 for the model.

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