Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. Whether it is casual, professional, or even romantic, a relationship relies on verbal and non-verbal interactions to establish a foundation of trust. A project manager can prove his or herself as a reliable and trustworthy leader by actively listening and being engaged with project participants. While this may undoubtedly seem like part of the job description, the real challenge is opening up a channel in which communication is encouraged to flow in more than one direction.
How can a project manager accomplish this?
Open the Communication Channel
To achieve an open communication channel, there are certain tasks that need to be completed at the start of every project. According to The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, a project manager should identify project stakeholders, establish a plan for communication, distribute information and management expectations, and report performance on communications. When you know who is involved, how you will communicate, and what is expected, this sets a good foundation for you and project participants to communicate more openly and effectively.
However, how can you guarantee that those at the end of the channel are as equally and actively engaged? To make communication a two-way street in every, a project manager should provide more verbal and scheduled communication and opportunities for confirmation of communication.
Provide More Verbal Communication
In this age of technology and electronic communication, there are endless ways to get in touch with someone. While this has certainly shaped our society’s social habits into embracing faster and briefer feedback, oftentimes emails just don’t relay the same message as a face-to-face (or voice-to-voice, if the distance is an issue) meeting would. It is important to be able to distinguish when it is best to communicate via verbal and non-verbal channels.
With that said, do not be afraid to pick up the phone, schedule a conference call, or even have lunch with key project stakeholders. Not only are you leaving a memorable impression with that person, but you are also making an investment in the relationship. To a project stakeholder, this shows your commitment to the project and its promised end result.
Although the increase in verbal communication is a step in the right direction, you will need to be careful. While the benefits certainly outweigh the drawbacks, the additional time spent communicating can hamper your project management time and could potentially affect the project’s schedule and cost. To make sure you are not negating any good you do, manage your time more carefully and efficiently.
Provide Scheduled Communication
From my 15+ years’ experience as a project manager, I have learned that you must provide routine communication to keep everyone – including the project team, stakeholders, sponsors, vendors, and so forth – involved with the project. The list of those involved in the project can become quite lengthy depending on the project size, but it is important that each role is held accountable and is rightfully aware of the project’s status.
One way in which you can provide scheduled communication is by establishing routine status meetings with all those involved with the project. This reoccurring meeting allows you to discuss what has been completed, what is being worked on, and what will be worked on. Likewise, the routine status meetings should serve as a forum in which issues can be discussed amongst the project team. This not only keeps everyone in the loop and on the same page, but it gives them an idea of where the project sits in relation to the budget and timeline. I recommend a brief 30-minute meeting to keep everyone informed and to receive confirmation as a project manager that everyone understands the current landscape. Routine communication will not only put you ahead of the pack, but it will make you stand out as a project manager.
Provide the Opportunity for Confirmation of Communication
One of the things that successful project managers should recognize is that communication is multi-directional. In other words, it doesn’t just flow from point A to point B; it also flows from point B to point A. Project processes need to be defined in ways that not only encourage but demand feedback from project participants in order to engage conversations from every direction. Sometimes a project is only able to mature and move to its next phase when everyone is able to voice their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. When communication is treated like an open forum, the discussions are more transparent and the feedback is more valuable.
Likewise, it is important to provide the opportunity for communication to be confirmed in order to ensure that the message is clearly understood by all project participants. This not only levels the playing field, but it gives everyone the chance to confirm his or her intended message is received and understood before any critical decision is made.
Communication is Key
It has been said before and it will be said again: communication is key to delivering a promised end result that satisfies a project’s requirements without exceeding timeline or budget. However, making communication a two-way street is not an easy feat for a project manager. While it is important to establish a plan for communication at the beginning of every project, this does not guarantee that those on the other end of the channel have the means to reciprocate as they intend. Because feedback is such a crucial element to a project, it is important that everyone is given the opportunity to voice theirs.
It is equally important that open communication is established at the beginning of a project and maintained throughout. A project manager should maintain open communication by increasing verbal interactions with project participants, providing scheduled communication through routine status meetings, and asking for confirmation before any significant decisions are made. This not only strengthens the relationships between you and project participants, but it also raises the likelihood of project success. In the end, it can be agreed that this time spent communicating is truly time well spent.
This is a guest article written by Tom Schaetzle