You’ve got a great project, but no one knows about what you are doing. Poor communication on a project can cause resource conflicts, overspending, rework and other inefficiencies that mean you end up taking longer and spending more than you really have to.
Nail your project communications with these 7 methods: just pick and choose the right one for whatever your message at the time.
Project reports are probably the most common way to communicate with stakeholders, but they aren’t the only tool you have available to you. They are, however, what many project managers consider to be the default.
Project reports have a lot of good things about them and they are excellent for sharing a mix of hard statistics and narrative about what is happening on the project. They also make it easy to flag problems by using a Red/Amber/Green status alert.
Good for: Creating a project history, sharing detail.
Watch out for: Project reports are one-way communication so it’s best not to use them to ask people to take on tasks or for decisions. You never know if your stakeholders have actually read them!
Online Gantt Charts
Online tools are becoming more and more common for communicating with stakeholders, especially those that allow your team to log in whenever they feel like it and see the project status in real time. Seavus Project Viewer, for example, gives you online instant access to your project schedules without having to give every stakeholder access to Microsoft Project (which they probably wouldn’t use for anything else).
Good for: Transparency, explaining the project schedule in detail.
Watch out for: Not everyone understands what they are looking at when faced with a Gantt chart. You might have to explain what the software is telling them when a new stakeholder gets access to your online project schedule for the first time.
Mind Mapping Software
It’s a truism that the more senior you are in an organization, the more you like data displayed visually. Executives aren’t going to wade through pages of detail: they want a quick summary, preferably with pictures.
Mind mapping tools are fantastic for that. They let you quickly plot out a few boxes showing, for example, how the project will achieve a return on investment or how the deliverables will help the company meet its objectives.
Good for: Communicating with people who think visually.
Watch out for: Don’t spend so much time creating beautiful mind maps that you don’t have time for other important project management tasks.
Slides and Presentations
Another way to present data visually is with a presentation deck. Whether you are standing up in front of a room or going through it sitting next to a colleague, the right data on slides can be powerful.
Look for new tools like Prezi and Canva to bring a bit of sparkle to your presentation if you are talking to a group of stakeholders.
Good for: Communicating to large groups of stakeholders, ensuring everyone has the same message.
Watch out for: Slides can be dull. Don’t prepare too many and make sure that you keep the words on the slides to a minimum.
Face to Face
However much you use online tools, sometimes you’ll have to communicate face to face. And you should: it’s a good method of explaining detailed project information and more importantly, getting feedback. Sitting down and chatting through a problem or asking for their advice is an essential part of project management and can help build effective working relationships with stakeholders and suppliers at all levels.
Good for: Dealing with difficult stakeholders, communicating to senior leaders who want to hear information in person, and tailored specifically to them.
Watch out for: Being called into a meeting unprepared to present about your project can be a daunting thing. Try to get as much notice as you can for face to face meetings so that you have a chance to put together a comprehensive story based on what the person wants to find out about.
If you have to catch up with a lot of stakeholders quickly, either to share information or to get updates from them, then the old-fashioned conference call has a lot going for it. Everyone joins the call and as the chair, you take the meeting through a structured agenda (at least, that’s what I’d do to get the most out of the time).
Good for: One-way communication, such as briefing a large group of stakeholders at a time. Giving updates.
Watch out for: Set some ground rules at the beginning of your call or you will find people typing away in the background or talking to their colleagues while you are trying to brief them. Be clear about whether you expect them to be on mute and then to unmute when they have something to add.
You could also include the company intranet or collaboration tools in this category. Project communication is often focused on the immediate team and stakeholders who are immediately affected by the project. But the rest of the company is also interested in what you are doing, even if it doesn’t change their working lives in any way. What you are working on aligns to the company strategy so your project should interest a wide group of people – everyone who cares about whether the company is going to hit its goals and how it is moving forward and staying relevant in the current market.
Newsletters and the intranet are good for this because you can reach a wide audience with the same message. It is one-way (broadcast) media, though, so you won’t get much feedback.
Good for: Communicating high-level project milestones and sound bites.
Watch out for: You’ll never get much detail about your project into a 200-word article in the staff newsletter. Focus on getting the right message across and distilling it into language that everyone will understand as this communication method has a broad reach.