Last week I wrote about the project complexity debate, and the issues that complexity creates for project communication.

I mentioned Kathleen Hass’s project complexity model.

She writes eloquently about complexity management techniques, but when it comes to communication I think there are really only two approaches:

  • You can batten down the hatches and make sure that all communication goes through you.
  • Or you can let everyone be responsible for communication, in the best way they see fit.

We work in technologically enlightened times.

If you prevent your team from using Facebook for projects on their office PCs, they’ll be able to use it from their smartphone, while standing at the water cooler.


The tighter you try to draw the loop around the way in which people communicate, the more they will find creative ways to ensure they can work in the way that suits them – and if that doesn’t suit you, then tough.

All project team members need to be on the same page when it comes to communicating project status. As a project manager, you need to be able to trust them to deal with the complexities of a project environment.

Trust is built by boundaries. Have you set social media policies for the use of applications like Twitter for communicating with external stakeholders? Does the team know what ‘commercially confidential’ means? Do they understand the impact of their communications?

Without clear guidelines, project team members are operating like a ship in fog. A social media policy, or a general project communication policy, is the lighthouse – the guiding principles that underpin the way in which your team will navigate the complexities of communicating in the complex project world.

Complex projects require you to do some thinking and actually work out how you expect your team to behave. Be the guiding light that works all this stuff out for your department, and then help others navigate the choppy waters.

The debate motion we discussed is that effective approaches to project communication cannot keep up with the dynamic complexity of the project environment.  I think that if communication is done badly, then no, we can’t keep up with the complex environment we find ourselves in, managing complex projects.

But if we communicate effectively, if we concentrate on value and stakeholder engagement and being project leaders and spend less time on reporting the past, then we can do this.

We need to be at the forefront of establishing new ways of working, as we are the ones leading change in our organisations. We might not be able to stop our teams using smartphones to access social media tools, or to stop customers from airing their opinion on our projects online.

But we can help them navigate the complexities of this project environment by setting clear policies, building trust amongst the project team, and developing communication plans that embrace new communication and collaboration tools.