Communication is the vehicle for successful projects. From the beginning to the end of a project, the project manager and team must plan, execute, and deliver the required products and services while interacting with stakeholders. What are you doing to improve your project communication?
Project managers are not lone rangers. Projects involve interdependent relationships such as the sponsor and other leaders, the project manager and the project team, and users interacting with the systems. Consider the following project activities that require communication:
- Developing a project charter
- Interviewing stakeholders
- Completing a work breakdown structure
- Negotiating a contract
- Eliciting requirements
- Making decisions
- Identifying risks
- Reporting status
- Presenting a project overview
- Conducting one-on-one meetings
- Defining a change order
We all have room to grow in our communication skills. Let’s look at five ways to improve your project communications.
Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one-third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time. -Project Management Institute
Five Ways to Improve Project Communication
1. Practice active listening.
When we think about improving our communication, we often think about what we say—if we say the right words, surely everyone will get it, right? However, let’s not forget the critical skill of listening.
When we fail to listen, we miss information, we misunderstand, and we fail to learn. So, how can we practice active listening?
First, be deliberate. When possible, make eye contact with the person speaking. Let the person know you are listening; an occasional nod helps. Second, don’t allow things to distract you—yes, put aside your smartphone. And try repeating the words mentally (and sometimes verbally).
2. Keep your project management teams small.
Think about this—there are fifteen communication channels for six team members. How many channels are there for ten team members? Forty-five—that’s right, thirty additional channels.
# of communication channels = n(n-1)/2
Create small project management teams for the daily planning and execution of your projects. You will find it much easier to get things done. Why? Better communication.
Are you concerned that other people will feel left out? Consider creating a supplemental team comprised of individuals that will be engaged at certain points in the project. Once each person has completed their activities, he or she can return to their normal duties.
When sending the meeting minutes to the project management team, copy the supplemental team. If the someone has a question or wants to share relevant information, they can contact you.
3. Use more interactive communication.
If you have a habit of mostly pushing project information (e.g., sending emails), you will likely encounter communication issues. Why? Because you don’t know if the person read and understood the information. Interactive, two-way communication, allows individuals to acknowledge the receipt of the information and respond with questions for clarification.
4. Focus on your nonverbal skills.
You’ve likely heard this before, but communication occurs as follows:
- 55% through body language
- 37% through tone of voice, pitch, and speed
- 7% through words
These numbers continue to be debated: Is Nonverbal Communication a Numbers Game?
Whether you buy into these numbers or not, all of us can benefit from paying attention to our nonverbal skills. How can we take advantage of nonverbal skills?
A phone conversation will result in better communication than an email. A face-to-face conversation will result in better communication than a phone conversation. Pick the appropriate method given the needs and availability of the audience.
Here’s a simple rule: If people are misunderstanding things, it’s time to increase the interactive communication and leverage the nonverbal aspects of communication.
5. Plan your project meetings.
Meetings have a bad reputation. Why? Bad meetings are poorly planned and facilitated resulting in a huge waste of time. I’m not in the camp of getting rid of meetings. However, I am for reducing the number of meetings and the time spent in meetings.
There are times when a two-way dialogue can expedite the communication process and improve the understanding between stakeholders. Plan your meetings and don’t let your meetings fall into these traps: unclear purpose, getting off topic, indecision, and leaving meetings with a lack of direction.
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