A project manager is like a conductor on a project, orchestrating all the right people to focus on the details needed to get the job done on time. Communication within a team, across multiple teams, and with vendors and clients is a complex activity that requires constant and effective communication. Schedule discipline and analytical abilities are at the core of every successful project manager. But if you can master effective communications strategies, you’ll take your PM career to an entirely new level.
The Essence of PM Communication
At the core of PM communication lies the need to set rules and expectations. It’s a juggling act of verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual communication and listening skills to engage and move things along. The success of the entire project leans on the fact that everyone involved knows what they are to do, how it is to be accomplished, and when it needs to be completed. They also need to know where to go and how to convey when an issue arises. A good project manager will be in tune with all of this detail and know how to manage it ongoing and as things change. In order to keep a project fluid, good communication skills and strategies are needed to make your team more agile and adaptable.
It is interesting to see how project management communication has evolved over time. Before cell phones and cloud-based apps and software tools, people met in person, wrote things down, printed and distributed documents, and talked on the phone. Then email became a way of instantly responding to and sending information with a date and time stamp, holding people accountable digitally.
Today, there are so many tools for project managers to use to keep everyone in touch and in tune. It can be overwhelming at times, but choosing a communication cadence, mastering a toolset, and putting it all into motion will make working with any team, especially with the rise of remote and hybrid workplace setups, a sure success.
Common Communication Mistakes and Tips
There are a few Do’s and Don’ts that come to mind when communicating details to a group or a select few individuals:
- Don’t just communicate in writing. Follow up on emails, documents, and messages with a phone call or in person meeting when the topic is a priority or a dependency.
- Don’t focus too much on one type of communication. For example, don’t always meet in person or always online. Mix it up with one-on-ones, group meetings and chats, and communication in other forms such as writing, video, audio, IMs, and phone calls.
- Don’t only communicate during status meetings. Reach out individually and have one-off meetings with individuals outside of regularly scheduled times. Sometimes a week is too long to let something brew.
- Don’t over-communicate or provide too much information. This will turn people off and they may start listening with half the interest. Talking at people instead of engaging them for opinion or feedback is one-sided and you will lose their participation.
- Do meet often. Once the project is kicked off, the plan is in place and work has begun, regular project meetings are needed to keep things moving along. Set a project meeting cadence that makes sense for the project at hand and stick to a schedule.
- Do use online meeting and collaboration tools. Use them as a central hub, especially when teams are remote or mobile.
- Do stay focused on project objectives and goals. It can be easy to lose sight of these once the details start grabbing everyone’s attention.
- Do be transparent and clear. Everyone needs to be aware of what is being said or has been discussed and be able to access and review this information at a later time.
- Do build relationships. This is especially important when it comes to training, coaching, and mentoring relationships with your team, stakeholders, clients, and vendors. Get to know your people, their personalities, and their communication style.
Even a top-notch project manager with stellar communication skills will have to handle the all-too-common unresponsive individual. Whether this person is a client, stakeholder, a partner/vendor, or a member of the team, it can sometimes feel like a slap in the face or an intentional blow-off, especially if there is team friction or issues to address. There are many reasons why people become unresponsive. However, the best strategy for handling these occurrences is to remain professional, and friendly, along with staying on top of your reporting.
And don’t make assumptions—you never know what the real reason may be for their lack of communication, so make it your goal to get an answer one way or another. Call a meeting, call them on the phone, propose a plan of action – and if they still don’t respond, escalate up the chain of command to make others aware of your effort and need for information from that individual.
Good communication makes a project successful. Bad communication can cause a project to fail. It is estimated that 90% of a project manager’s job is communication. Finding the best way to communicate for your particular project and setting is important to lock down in the beginning and ensure that the communication style you choose reflects and is a good fit for the complexity of a modern project to generate a successful outcome.