Effective project communications is needed to ensure that we get the right information to the right person at the right time and in a cost-effective manner. Typical literature definitions of effective communications include:
• An exchange of information
• An act or instance of transmitting information
• A verbal or written message
• A technique for expressing ideas effectively
• A process by which meanings are exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols
Proper communication is vital to the success of the project. Communications is the process by which information is exchanged. Communications can be:
• Written formal
• Written informal
• Oral informal (preferred by project managers)
Oral communications come with a high degree of flexibility. Oral communications use the medium of personal contact, group meetings, or the telephone. Written communications are precise. They are transmitted through the medium of correspondence (minutes, letters, memos, and reports), electronic mail, and the project management information system. Some people consider nonverbal/visual communications, such as gestures and body language, as an acceptable process.
The process selected will obviously depend on with whom we are communicating. Figures 5-11 and 5-12 show typical communications patterns. Some people consider Figure 5-11 "politically incorrect" because project managers should not be identified as talking "down" to people. Actually, it is acceptable for communications to project office personnel to be horizontal as well, since the people in the project office could easily be a higher pay grade than the project manager. Most project managers communicate laterally, whereas line managers communicate vertically downward to subordinates. Figure 5-13 shows the complete communication model. The screens or barriers are from one's perception, personality, attitudes, emotions, and prejudices.
• Perception barriers occur because individuals can view the same message in different ways. Factors influencing perception include the individual's level of education and region of experience. Perception problems can be minimized by using words that have precise meaning.
• Personality and interests, such as the likes and dislikes of individuals, affect communications. People tend to listen carefully to topics of interest but turn a deaf ear to unfamiliar or boring topics.
• Attitudes, emotions, and prejudices warp our sense of interpretation. Individuals who are fearful or have strong love or hate emotions will tend to protect themselves by distorting the communication process. Strong emotions rob individuals of their ability to comprehend.
Typical barriers that affect the encoding process include:
• Communication goals
• Communication skills
• Frame of reference
• Sender credibility
• Personality and interests
• Interpersonal sensitivity
• Attitude, emotion, and self-interest
• Position and status
• Assumptions (about receivers)
• Existing relationships with receivers
Typical barriers that affect the decoding process include:
• Evaluative tendency
• Preconceived ideas
• Communication skills
• Frame of reference
• Personality and interest
• Attitudes, emotion, and self-interest
• Position and status
• Assumptions about sender
• Existing relationship with sender
• Lack of responsive feedback
• Selective listening
The receiving of information can be affected by the way the information is received. The most common ways include:
• Hearing activity
• Reading skills
• Visual activity
• Tactile sensitivity
• Olfactory sensitivity
• Extrasensory perception
The communications environment is controlled by both the internal and external forces, which can act either individually or collectively. These forces can either assist or restrict the attainment of project objectives.
Typical internal factors include:
• Withholding information
• Management by memo
• Reactive emotional behavior
• Mixed messages
• Indirect communications
• Transmitting partial information
• Blocking or selective perception Typical external factors include:
• The business environment
• The political environment
• The economic climate
• Regulatory agencies
• The technical state-of-the-art
The communications environment is also affected by:
• Logistics/geographic separation
• Personal contact requirements
• Group meetings
• Correspondence (frequency and quantity)
• Electronic mail
Noise tends to distort or destroy the information within the message. Noise results from our own personality screens, which dictate the way we present the message, and perception screens, which may cause us to "perceive" what we thought was said. Noise therefore can cause ambiguity:
• Ambiguity causes us to hear what we want to hear.
• Ambiguity causes us to hear what the group wants.
• Ambiguity causes us to relate to past experiences without being discriminatory.
In a project environment, a project manager may very well spend 90 percent or more of his or her time communicating. Typical functional applications include:
• Providing project direction
• Decision making
• Authorizing work
• Directing activities
• Reporting (including briefings)
• Attending meetings
• Overall project management
• Marketing and selling
• Public relations
• Records management
• Contract documents
Project managers are required to provide briefings for both internal and external customers. Visual aids can greatly enhance a presentation. Their advantages include:
• Enlivening a presentation, which helps to capture and hold the interest of an audience.
• Adding a visual dimension to an auditory one, which permits an audience to perceive a message through two separate senses, thereby strengthening the learning process.
• Spelling out unfamiliar words by presenting pictures, diagrams, or objects, and by portraying relations graphically, which helps in introducing material that is difficult or new.
• Remaining in view much longer than oral statements can hang in the air, which can serve the same purpose as repetition in acquainting an audience with the unfamiliar and bringing back listeners who stray from the presentation.
Minutes can be classified according to their frequency of occurrence:
• The daily meeting where people work together on the same project with a common objective and reach decisions informally by general agreement.
• The weekly or monthly meeting where members work on different but parallel projects and where there is a certain competitive element and greater likelihood that the chairman will make the final decision himself or herself.
• The irregular, occasional, or special-project meeting, composed of people whose normal work does not bring them into contact and whose work has little or no relationship to that of the others. They are united only by the project the meeting exists to promote and motivated by the desire that the project succeed. Though actual voting is uncommon, every member effectively has a veto.
There are three types of written media used in organizations:
• Individually oriented media: These include letters, memos, and reports.
• Legally oriented media: These include contracts, agreements, proposals, policies, directives, guidelines, and procedures.
• Organizationally oriented media: These include manuals, forms, and brochures.
Because of the time spent in a communications mode, the project manager may very well have as his or her responsibility the process of communications management. Communications management is the formal or informal process of conducting or supervising the exchange of information either upward, downward, laterally or diagonally. In short, the main business of project managers may be communications. There appears to be a direct correlation between the project manager's ability to manage the communications process and project performance.
The communications process is more than simply conveying a message; it is also a source for control. Proper communications let the employees in on the act because employees need to know and understand. Communication must convey both information and motivation. The problem, therefore, is how to communicate. Below are six simple steps:
• Think through what you wish to accomplish.
• Determine the way you will communicate.
• Appeal to the interest of those affected.
• Give playback on ways others communicate to you.
• Get playback on what you communicate.
• Test effectiveness through reliance on others to carry out your instructions.
Knowing how to communicate does not guarantee that a clear message will be generated. There are techniques that can be used to improve communications. These techniques include:
• Obtaining feedback, possibly in more than one form
• Establishing multiple communications channels
• Using face-to-face communications if possible
• Determining how sensitive the receiver is to your communications
• Being aware of symbolic meaning such as expressions on people's faces
• Communicating at the proper time
• Reinforcing words with actions
• Using a simple language
• Using redundancy (i.e., saying it two different ways) whenever possible
Techniques can vary from project to project. For example, on one project the customer may require that all test data be made available, in writing, as soon as testing occurs and possibly before your own people have had a chance to examine the results. This type of clear and open communication cannot exist indefinitely because the customer might form his own opinion of the data before hearing the project office position. Similarly, project managers should not expect functional managers to provide them with immediate raw test data until functional analysis is conducted.
With every effort to communicate there are always barriers. The barriers include:
• Receiver hearing what he wants to hear. This results from people doing the same job so long that they no longer listen.
• Sender and receiver having different perceptions. This is vitally important in interpreting contractual requirements, statements of work, and proposal information requests.
• Receiver evaluating the source before accepting the communications.
• Receiver ignoring conflicting information and doing as he pleases.
• Words meaning different things to different people.
• Communicators ignoring nonverbal cues.
• Receiver being emotionally upset.
The scalar chain of command can also become a barrier with regard to in-house communications. The project manager must have the authority to go to the general manager or counterpart to communicate effectively. Without direct upward communication, it is possible that filters can develop such that the final message gets distorted.
Three important conclusions can be drawn about communications techniques and barriers:
• Don't assume that the message you sent will be received in the form you sent it.
• The swiftest and most effective communications take place among people with common points of view. The manager who fosters good relationships with his associates will have little difficulty in communicating with them.
• Communications must be established early in the project.
Communication problems in project management require answering the following three questions:
• What are the channels of communication?
• What information is really important?
• Will I be punished for bringing forth bad news?
In a project environment, communications are often filtered. There are several reasons for the filtering of upward communications:
• Unpleasantness for the sender
• Receiver cannot obtain information from any other source
• To embarrass a superior
• Lack of mobility or status for the sender
Information filtering can occur through:
• Partial transmittal
Communication is also listening. Good project managers must be willing to listen to their employees, both professionally and personally. The advantages of listening properly are that:
• Subordinates know you are sincerely interested
• You obtain feedback
• Employee acceptance is fostered.
The successful manager must be willing to listen to an individual's story from beginning to end, without interruptions. The manager must be willing to see the problem through the eyes of the subordinate. Finally, before making a decision, the manager should ask the subordinate for his solutions to the problem.
Project managers should ask themselves four questions:
• Do I make it easy for employees to talk to me?
• Am I sympathetic to their problems?
• Do I attempt to improve human relations?
• Do I make an extra effort to remember names and faces?
The project manager's communication skills and personality screen often dictates the communication style. Typical communication styles include:
• Authoritarian: gives expectations and specific guidance
• Promotional: cultivates team spirit
• Facilitating: gives guidance as required, noninterfering
• Conciliatory: friendly and agreeable, builds compatible team
• Judicial: uses sound judgment
• Secretive: not open or outgoing (to project detriment)
• Disruptive: breaks apart unity of group, agitator
• Intimidating: ''tough guy," can lower morale
• Combative: eager to fight or be disagreeable
Team meetings are supposedly meetings of the mind where information-giving, receiving, and listening take place. Team meetings must be effective, or else they become time management pitfalls. It is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that meetings are valuable and necessary for the exchange of information. The following are general guides for conducting a more effective meeting:
• Start on time. If you wait for people, you reward tardy behavior.
• Develop agenda "objectives." Generate a list and proceed; avoid getting hung up on the order of topics.
• Conduct one piece of business at a time.
• Allow each member to contribute in his own way. Support, challenge, and counter; view differences as helpful; dig for reasons or views.
• Silence does not always mean agreement. Seek opinions: "What's your opinion on this, Peggy?"
• Be ready to confront the verbal member: "Okay, we've heard from Mike on this matter; now how about some other views?"
• Test for readiness to make a decision.
• Test for commitment to the decision.
• Assign roles and responsibilities (only after decision making).
• Agree on follow-up or accountability dates.
• Indicate the next step for this group.
• Set the time and place for the next meeting.
• Was the meeting necessary?
Team meetings quite often provide individuals with means of exhibiting suppressed ideas. The following three humorous quotations identify these:
• "In any given meeting, when all is said and done, 90 percent will be said—10 percent will be done."—Orben's Current Comedy
"A committee meeting provides a great chance for some people who like to hear their own voices talk and talk, while others draw crocodiles or a lady's legs. It also prevents the men who can think and make quick decisions from doing so."—Lin Yutang, The Pleasures of Nonconformist (World)
• "Having served on various committees, I have drawn up a list of rules: Never arrive on time or you will be stamped a beginner. Don't say anything until the meeting is half over; this stamps you as being wise. Be as
TABLE 5-4. COMMUNICATIONS POLICY
The program manager utilizes existing authorized communications media to the maximum extent rather than create new ones.
Approves program plans, subdivided work description, and/or work authorizations, and schedules defining specific program requirements.
Signs correspondence that provides program direction to functional organizations. Signs correspondence addressed to the customer that pertains to the program except that which has been expressly assigned by the general manager, the function organizations, or higher management in accordance with division policy.
Assures his organization's compliance with all such program direction received.
Communications u essential elements in a multiprogram morale and motiva functional organiz; communication fro should be channele team member to fu
Program definition of the contract as e plan and work brea
In the program ma signature authority his reporting super program manager h Signature authority be consistent with
Assures his organization's compliance with all such program direction received. Functional manager provides the program manager with copies of all "Program" correspondence released by his organization that may affect program performance. Ensures that the program manager is aware of correspondence with unusual content, on an exception basis, through the cognizant program team member or directly if such action is warranted by the gravity of the situation.
Reports program results and accomplishments to Participates in program reviews, being aware of Status reporting is the customer and to the general manager, keeping and prepared in matters related to his functional functional speciali them informed of significant problems and events.
specialty. Keeps his line or staff management and cognizant program team member informed of significant problems and events relating to any program in which his personnel are involved.
utilizes the speciali specialists retain th general manager b manager informed.
vague as possible; this prevents irritating the others. When in doubt, suggest that a subcommittee be appointed. Be the first to move for adjournment; this will make you popular—it's what everyone is waiting for."—Harry Chapman, quoted in Think
Many times, company policies and procedures can be established for the development of communications channels for project personnel. Table 5-4 illustrates such communications guidelines.
Was this article helpful?
What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.