Topic 7: Project communications management

Project communications management—an overview

Communications management is about ensuring those who need information are provided with that information effectively and efficiently.

The different categories of communications can be thought of as:
1. External communications to the public.
2. External communications to regulatory bodies.
3. Governance communications to the senior or executive management of the organisation.
4. Inter-departmental communications.—Projects usually obtain resources from functional departments, and supply end-products to functional departments
5. Project team communications.—Many projects comprise many teams. Project team members need a great deal of information about what is expected of them and how they can best achieve their outcomes

Project communications management tools and techniques

Simple face-to-face dialogue is important on any project. By talking to different people, a project manager gets instant feedback and is able to tailor the language they use and the information they provide for different audiences. A project manager can also quickly investigate any issues or concerns that arise, gather feedback and ascertain whether the receiver has understood their message. In addition to the words used, the body language of the parties can be read.

Meetings can be invaluable or a complete waste of time for the attendees if not managed properly. Meetings should have a specific purpose and the attendees should provide input to that purpose. A meeting agenda should be prepared meetings to alert all attendees of the meeting's purpose, what needs to be achieved at the meeting and to alert them about what preparation they need to do before the meeting.

Reports differ from formal project documentation in that they are generated to provide details of the situation at the time. They= are not generally updated or maintained. Because a report may take anything from a couple of hours to several days to several years of effort to produce, it should be clear exactly what the purpose of the report is, what a successful report is and how the report will be

A dashboard report is simply a report on a single page. Using a combination of bullet points and charts, key information can be provided in a compact form. The advantage of dashboards is not in the detail they provide, but the ability for them to convey the overall situation at a glance.

An exception report is only produced when the project’s performance deviates outside management's pre-determined limits.

Charts can be used to provide the overall information in a simple, easy-to-read and understand graphical format. A one-page Gantt chart can effectively show if a project is approximately ahead of, behind or on
schedule. A one-page earned value chart quickly shows both the overall schedule and budget status.

Plans are the published intent of the project and its team. Project managers need to carefully think through the distribution of the various project plans to ensure that the right people get the information they need at the right time. It is not necessary, or productive, for all people to be informed about all of the information on a project. Typical schedule views would include: summary view, milestone view, deliverable view, review view, rolling wave view, etc.

Formal documents are the documents that describe the key information on the project and are kept current for the duration of the project. These include documents such as the contract and the design. Formal documents are generally subject to some form of configuration control and need to be checked and potentially updated with every project change.

Email has replaced the old business memo as a way of providing short, quick, business communication. As with any business communication, all emails should be short, to the point, clear, and professionally written.

Instant messaging (IM) provides the ability for teams to contact each other quickly for personal chats. IM is not as readily accepted as email in the business community.

There is a range of collaborative tools on the market, and this is a growing and evolving toolset. Essentially, collaborative tools are a fairly unstructured area within an IT domain that allows people to leave short notes to each other, to work on documents together, to find related information and websites.

Wikis are user-developed websites. Where most websites are developed and controlled by an organisation, Wikis are developed by the same people who read the website. Wikis allow users to add their knowledge to a website and to edit the currently available information in order to improve it or correct it.

Any project will produce a range of documentation, which might be referred to as data items or artefacts that are stored in a project library which is sometimes called the project notebook. It is vital that the project team should be able to find all relevant documents, and be sure that they are working off the current version of the documentation. A document repository is generally considered a write once/read many store in that the information is copied into the store once and then used by a range of personnel.

Teleconferences are the virtual project equivalent of a team meeting. Many projects will have physical meetings, but anyone who is unable to make the meeting dial in. Most teleconference facilities allow the meeting to be recorded and have various security functions such as announcing any new callers.

Video-presence software facilitates a less-common style of meeting where separate video displays are arranged for each participant. Video-presence meetings are costly, due to the number of separate video channels, conference tables, and displays that are required for anything more than a simple meeting.

Telephone calls provide the virtual project team with a quick way to contact someone on a one-to-one basis. Speaker phones extend the one-on-one conversation to be team-to-team. Various voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services extend this simple model to include video, whiteboards, document sharing, screen sharing, etc.

Project communications methods

There are three key types of communication available to the project manager:

* interactive or two-way communication—communication where both parties are able to participate.
* push communication—there is a sender and a receiver and the sender controls the communications.The recipient may or may not be interested in the communications.
* pull communication—receiver-driven communication. Project websites, collaborative sites, document repositories, and project management information systems are examples of pull communication. The advantage of pull communication is that a person looking at something has an interest in that something.

A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in the project or its outcomes. The term 'interest' here refers to a business interest. The stakeholders for a project are likely to be able to be grouped according to their interests. For example, a typical collection of groups would be:

Sponsor—a group of one. The sponsor is paying for the project and has the primary say over how the budget is spent.

Governance group. There will be various organisational entities that have a say in how the project is governed, how it is funded, whether it starts, continues, or stops.

End users or customer. Projects normally develop things that are used by a variety of people—the end users.

Functional managers and resource departments. The various individuals or departments that supply personnel to the project will want to be kept abreast of the project's requirements for certain skill sets on certain dates.

Project team. The project team is expected to deliver the project and they are blamed or lauded when the project concludes.

Subcontractors and suppliers. Many organisations see a project as a potential sale. project managers and team leaders regularly have salespeople wanting to call to promote their firm's products.

Other employees in the organisation. The people in the next cubicle, next office, next department are all likely to be interested in what is happening within a project.

The public. The public includes people who live nearby, people who support the project, people who are against the project, and competitors who will help publicise any bad news about the project.

Regardless of which stakeholder we are communicating with and what channel we use to communicate and the detail we are providing, the information we provide must be consistent across all groups, all reports, etc. Conflicting, contradictory and outdated information will only confuse and create unease among stakeholders.

The classification, whilst perhaps not so complimentary to the stakeholders, attempts to group people into whether they are committed to the outcome, or merely involved. Those stakeholders who are committed to the outcome will share in the project's success or, more particularly, its failures. Those who are involved may wish to have some say in the project, but they are likely to pull back from any project participation when problems are encountered.

While it is important to ensure that all stakeholders will receive the information that they need to perform their roles and support the project; it is also important to exclude people from project information that they do not need to know.

Project communications artefacts

The inputs to communications management includes:
* the project charter. The project charter will provide the initial list of key stakeholders on the project. It is likely to contain details on customer, sponsor, and some participants
* procurement documents.
* project management plan
* performance reports
* issue log
* change log
* work performance information
* work performance measurements
* budget forecasts.

Outputs of the project communications management include:
* stakeholder register
* stakeholder management strategy
* communications management plan
* project document updates. Typical updates would affect the stakeholder register, communications plan, project schedule, issues log, risk log
* organisational process assets updates
* change requests
* project management plan updates
* performance reports.

The stakeholder register is simply a table that details who's who in the project, and which stakeholder groups they belong to. The stakeholder management strategy is what a project manager uses to ensure suitable
support is received from each stakeholder. When all stakeholders are providing necessary support, then the strategy needs to be focused on maintaining that support.

Despite the effort that can go into building one, the communications management plan is a generally little more than a table of who will receive what data and when.

Project communications management process

The process for project communications management comprises:
* identify stakeholders
* plan communications
* distribute information
* manage stakeholder expectations
* report performance.

Many people like to think that they are stakeholders on a project. Many people are involved in a project or its final outcome to some degree. However, fewer people are committed to a project in that they will be assessed by the projects outcomes.

Planning communications involves understanding the needs of the various stakeholders and the various communication techniques and channels available, and choosing the best channels to meet these needs efficiently.

Distributing information is reasonably straight forward. All project communications should be in accordance with the communications plan and a log should be kept of these communications whether they be the final minutes of meetings, emailed copies of reports delivered or letters/hard copies of reports posted or faxed, etc. This log is often as simple as a copy of the file containing the various agenda, minutes, reports and emails in a specific directory.

During the early scope development, the input from the various stakeholders should have been taken into account in forming and agreeing the project scope. However, over time the project scope, outcomes, approach, budget, and timings might change. Managing stakeholders might mean making changes to the project (for example, to increase scope), or it might mean explaining to the stakeholder why they can't have their desires achieved.

Reporting performance is a critical activity for project managers. A project cannot be put back onto track unless it is clearly understood that it is off track, and why it is off track. work performance measurements should show the project manager what has been achieved on all the project's activities.

The project management equivalent of this is: 'No plan ever survives contact with reality'. As soon as people begin to work on the project, the actual results will vary from the plan. This is not generally a substantial issue, as slight deviations are soon corrected by the team members. However, there are two conditions that can arise that are of major concern:
* actual performance is deviating, or trending, further and further off the plan
* a major obstacle has been encountered that was not anticipated in the plan.