Effective Communication in Project Management

Effective communication is often the foundation for project success. Good communication can bring team members and stakeholders together on a project’s strategy, goals, and budget. You can also allow everyone involved in the project to understand their roles, increasing the likelihood that they will support the project. Without effective communication, projects can be at greater risk and not achieve the desired results.

Research from the Project Management Institute (PMI) supports this claim. PMI reported that among companies with highly effective communication, 80% of projects achieved their objectives, compared with a 52% success rate for companies with minimal effective communication. The most effective communicators also enjoyed much better performance on time and on budget (72% vs. 37% and 76% vs. 48%, respectively).

Organizations that take steps to improve project communication can reap the benefits of more successful projects, which is especially important in this complex and competitive global business environment.

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To understand the communication process, project managers must understand all the relevant factors.

  • The communication process requires a sender and a receiver. The sender formulates the message to be communicated, which is intended for a recipient. The sender creates the content with a specific intention in mind. The recipient will, of course, receive the message and then handle it based on personal responses. He can accept, revise or reject the message. For example, a project manager informs the client that there will be a slide at an important milestone and gives reasons. The customer, in turn, can make a decision based on that information.
  • The communication process requires a means of communicating the content of a message. The medium can take almost any form, each unique in its ability to influence the receptivity of the receiver. As with the message itself, the recipient can choose to accept or reject the medium used. The recipient can even choose to change the medium in order to receive and interpret the message according to his preferences. In the example above with the schedule slide, a project manager can send the message as an email instead of a face-to-face meeting with the customer.
  • The communication process requires a message. The message can take many different forms, usually in hard or soft form. The physical format is generally written on paper, while the soft format is electronic. Regardless of the format, a message is needed to initiate communication and foster a relationship between two or more people. In the example mentioned above, the message is that the project will go through a major milestone and that it will be submitted in a smooth format (eg electronic).
  • The communication process requires feedback between the sender and the receiver. Feedback can be positive, negative or neutral, indicating the receptivity of the sender or receiver. Feedback can also be simple or complex. Simple feedback occurs when only two people participate; Complex feedback involves three or more people. The transition from simple to complex is due to the fact that the number of channels and the possibilities of misinterpretation increase geometrically as each one encodes its message and the other decodes it. In the last example, the client provides negative comments in electronic copy format, but proposes a follow-up meeting to discuss the results.
  • The communication process is seldom “clean”, which means that what the recipient receives is not necessarily what the sender sent. Several variables can influence the quality of a message, including the following: beliefs, values, the emotional impact of a message, and the medium used. These variables, and others often referred to as “noise,” can affect how receptive a message is and feedback from the sender or receiver. For example, the sender may not really believe a message that he is formulating, but this person may be forced to send it; the content of the message and the method of delivery can affect the quality of the message and, ultimately, its admissibility. For example, a project manager may decide to communicate by email rather than in person with key stakeholders. The reason may be to avoid direct conflict with the recipients of the message due to the personalities involved.
  • The communication process will always take place in an environment or context that influences the results. This context often includes time, space, and structure. Time can refer to the day of the week. The space can be as simple as a person’s location, or it can be a project spread over a wide geographic area. The structure can be the organizational network established to support the communication process of a project. For example, a project manager may want to communicate negative information about the performance of a schedule only in a specific setting, such as an assessment of the status of the project. Understanding the influence and interaction of the different variables involved requires a deep appreciation of these elements: sender and receiver, message, medium, feedback, variables and environment.

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Types of communication in project management
In project management, as in any other business process, there are several different types of communication and communication styles that can affect a project. Often times, these different styles can be understood as coming from different “perspectives”, which we explore below.

  1. The project perspective
    When viewed from the perspective of the project itself, communication generally falls into two categories: internal and external communication.

Internal communication generally refers to the exchange of information that takes place between the people actively working on a project: the project manager and her team. It is often characterized by the detailed discussion that takes place during planning or problem solving.

External communication, on the other hand, refers to the flow of information between members of a project team and key stakeholders who are not directly part of the project. These can be members of the executive team, the CEO, other departments or projects, the press, or internal and external clients. Because this communication is aimed at people who are not working directly on a project, it is often more formal and “polished” compared to internal communication.

  1. The organizational perspective
    When viewed from an organizational perspective, communication is generally divided into three different categories that take into account the different ways an organization can be structured: vertical, horizontal, and diagonal communication.

Vertical communication takes place between individuals operating at different hierarchical levels within an organization and is sometimes referred to as “bottom-up” or “bottom-up” communication. Upward communication may involve a project team member notifying the project manager about a particular obstacle preventing completion of a task, or the project manager communicating with her supervisor about the project’s progress. Downward communication works in the opposite direction, for example, when the project manager assigns tasks to people on her team.

Horizontal communication takes place between individuals operating at the same level within an organization. It is the communication that takes place between coworkers and colleagues, such as when a team meets for a daily scrum meeting or to coordinate what tasks will be completed.

Diagonal communication is typically limited to companies and institutions of greater organizational complexity and refers to the communication that occurs between individuals within different functional divisions or departments within the organization. For example, a project manager tasked with overseeing the development of a mobile application may turn to a member of the software team to understand how she handled similar problems or challenges.

In vertical, horizontal or diagonal communication, it is critical that a project manager or member of a project team understand the underlying policy and use that knowledge to frame their discussions.

  1. The perspective of formality
    When viewed through the lens of formality, communication is generally divided into informal and formal communication, which are fairly straightforward in their definitions.

Informal communication is often synonymous with internal communication as described above. Daily emails, contact bases, and unscheduled meetings make up the bulk of this communication, which is generally crude and unpolished.

On the contrary, formal communication is seen more like products to consume. Reports, press releases, and presentations to key stakeholders often fall into this group. Due to the target audience, these communications tend to be produced and planned more.

  1. The canal perspective
    The channel perspective refers to the channel or medium through which the communication is sent or delivered. Common communication channels include verbal versus non-verbal communication, personal versus external or virtual communication, and written versus verbal communication.

It is important to note that each of these communication channels offers its own advantages and disadvantages, which a project manager must be aware of and use accordingly.

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For example, personal communication allows parties to observe body language and behavior that can affect the message being sent, but this is not always possible due to the increasing use of remote computers in corporate settings. Also, written communication allows the writer to tailor his message to communicate exactly what he wants to share, but it may lack certain subtleties that might otherwise be apparent in verbal communication (such as sarcasm).

It is up to the project manager to understand which channel is best suited to their unique needs and to weigh those needs against the potential downsides of each channel accordingly.

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