Article Overview

Currently, there are probably dozens of websites that have an article about Project Management Communications. These articles, for the most part, cover the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) techniques and tools, which we will briefly mention in this article. It is our experience that it is the basics of communication that suffers the most in the project world.

Table of Contents

  1. PMI Mention
  2. Communicating
  3. Communication Media 
  4. Communications Planning & Managing 
  5. Lexicon
  6. Role of Shared Mental Models 

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw

PMI Mention

Project Communication Management has three processes:

  1. Plan Communications Management
  2. Manage Communications
  3. Monitor Communications

The PMI (Project Management Institute) suggests a project manager should spend 90 percent of their time communicating!1


Communication is simply the act of transferring information from one place, person, or group to another. Every communication involves (at least) one sender, a message, and a recipient.2 

1. The old adage: everyone has one mouth and two ears, so listen twice as much as you speak.

2. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Dr. Stephen R. Covey

3. When explaining something, try to phrase it so your mother would understand. Even in a technical environment. “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” Albert Einstein

4. As the listener, asks questions. This demonstrates engagement and improves understanding.

5. As the speaker, don’t ask yes /no questions such as “Do you understand?” most answers will be yes, even if the listener does not understand. Ask open ended questions such “Can you tell me the impact of this on your department/team?”

6.    Communicating properly should take from learning: There are four types of learners:

a.    Visual – seeing/observing – use diagrams/slides/etc.
b.    Auditory – hearing/listening – speak clearly
c.    Kinesthetic – hands-on/experiencing – involve the listener
d.    Reading/Writing – words – emails, letters, memos

7.    When delivering information employ as many of the learner types as possible. For example, send out an email, include diagrams or photos, and place a call or go in-person. Sounds like double effort but understanding is critical to process and project success.

In fact, according to the Project Management Institute, 40% of all project failures can be directly attributed to a lack of effective communication.3  

Communication Media

Communication in today's world has changed significantly. With the addition of electronic devices and technology messages fly faster and more continuous than ever. In the past, pre-internet, the three typical forms of communication were:

•    In-person – most times involving traveling
•    By telephone (landlines)
•    Written letter

Today, these represent the same three best methods with a little change:

•    In-person – still involves some travel but with the invention of Skype and live meeting applications, pseudo in person
•    By CELL phone & telephone – most companies still have landlines in the office
•    Written letter – more written emails

Communications Planning & Managing

Planning & managing communications go hand in hand. Planning includes what to communicate and managing includes how to or methods to communicate. No one likes to reinvent the wheel, so some project managers plan to employ the same methods used on the most recently completed project. Assuming those methods worked well that decision should be okay. But, remember the stakeholders are new people to interact with or communicate with. 

As the project manager is meeting and interviewing the new stakeholders format or technology, they would like to receive project communications, such as status updates, and budget updates should be discussed. Their responses should be the beginning of the communication plan.

A few of the stakeholders might request communication not so typical. E.g. one of my sponsors requested that all information to him was sent via text message, with attachments as required. Requests like this might require learning the depth and ability of applications, software, or technology.

Another possible request of a stakeholder might be limited communication. Some stakeholders have some involvement in multiple projects and limit how much information they receive from each.  E.g. a sponsor requested that I only contact her when there was an issue that I could not resolve. And he requested that I contact him via cell phone and follow up with an email documenting our discussion. This requires taking notes of the conversation, or recording the conversation, with their permission of course.  


Communication can be facilitated by developing a common lexicon, or vocabulary.  Words have meaning and some of that meaning is derived from experiences – or it can be.  When you hear the word, critical path for example. What do you think?  If you have not been introduced to PMI and their definition, then you may have some other idea of what this means.  One of us once knew a project manager, long ago, that was not affiliated with PMI, who thought the critical path was just the next thing in the way of getting the project completed.  In fact, this thinking on their part was the reason for the first book.  In addition to this example, teaching a class for PMP certification and going through some of the questions to help process the concepts, one student thought the correct answer was just semantics. That is not true, words mean specific things, and if we want to build a common understanding, even if we start off with disparate perspectives, those within the discussion must know what the words mean.  One of us managed a test department for an automotive company, and one of the first things we did as a manager, was to go with the team members to get a software testing certification. It was not that the certification would be the be all end all, but provide a platform from which we could develop the way we work. At the end of the certification, we had a common set of language and a base model for how to test embedded products. From there we would extend those models to how the team actually performs the work.  

This shared lexicon leads us to the next thing that can help facilitate communication, and that is the shared or open mental models.

Role of Shared Mental Models

A good book to read to understand mental models is The Fifth Discipline from Peter Senge.  In our latest book, Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations, we extend this a bit, calling it an open mental model, that is, a model that is subject to scrutiny by the other team members.  There is a reason for this, and it is not just to punch holes into another’s model for how things work, but to get the team to explore the veracity of the model.  Does this model accurately reflect how things truly work or help us move to where we desire things to work? An open mental model is a fodder for the entire team to glom onto and adapt to meet the organization’s needs and makes communication improvement.  



[1]Communication The Key to Successful Project Management

[2] What is Communication?

[3] Top reasons why effective project communication is critical