Communication can make or break project success. So how do you do it well? Discover simple keys to becoming a better communicator and how to identify—and work with—your team’s different communication styles.
In this class, you’ll learn how to:
Brett Harned: Hey, thanks for coming back. I hope the course has been a help to you so far. If it has, feel free to leave a comment or give us a thumbs up on YouTube. Now that you're halfway through the course, you have a really solid foundation as a project leader. In this class, we're going to build on the skills that you've learned in previous classes with solid communication skills and tactics. But before we jump in, I want you to imagine managing a project without any form of communications. Hello, is this thing on? Oh hey. That was kind of weird, knowing that nobody could hear all of the important things I needed to tell them, kind of made me sweat just a little. I mean, how can I possibly do my job as a project leader without communication? That's completely ludicrous. I mean, unless you're producing something on your own for yourself, it would be wholly impossible.
Brett Harned: That's because projects are often complicated with various layers of details, requirements, and decisions to be discussed. Sure, you can make it so all of those discussions are funneled through TeamGantt, but just the plan or a tool won't help you to complete a project successfully. You've got to use your most basic human skills to manage a project and you guessed it, that's communications and it's not just about the words coming out of your mouth or the word you type in an email or a message. It's about intent, tone, openness and general comfort with the work and the people around you. It's not easy, but you can definitely do it. It's really important to remember that no matter what your role you're playing on a project, if you're not making a strong effort to communicate with your team or your stakeholders, you'll likely fail.
Brett Harned: In this class I'll talk about how to earn trust in communications, how to understand how others communicate, how to employ some communications, and even some tactics to help you with the inevitable blips that'll come up on projects. Let's jump in. First it has to be said, if you want your teams to perform, you have to communicate openly. That builds trust. Any expert leader will tell you that the foundation of good project communications starts with building trust among your team and stakeholders. The best way to get to a place where everyone's trusted and respected is by simply being honest. That means sometimes you have to drop your guard and realize that hiding things like mistakes, ideas that could put you over scope, awkward client conversations or whatever else that gives you the project heebie-jeebies will never be good for your team or the project, but if you can do this and lead by example and show that you trust others, things will open up for you.
Brett Harned: Openly sharing important but appropriate project details and conversations with your team and stakeholders is a good way to earn trust. At the same time take the time to form relationships with those people. This can be done through conversations or interactions that not only focus on the project, its goals and how you'll work together to meet them, but also about yourselves. I really think it's important for a project manager to make time to interact with their teams and stakeholders about non-project things. That's right, get personal. Tell jokes, have some fun, talk about your interests and hobbies, anything that will help you to find common ground. Of course, you want to do it at appropriate times and not only focus on that, but it's the little interactions that help you to set the tone for how you'll work together. And more importantly, how you as the project lead are deeply interested in not only the logistics but the people involved. After all, they're going to help you to deliver a successful project and you'll find that as soon as those relationships are built, it's immensely easier to have difficult conversations and guide the project to success.
Brett Harned: So while I'm on the subject of building trust, I want to mention a few things that you should consider when trying to forge relationships. Listen, I've worked on enough projects with enough different personalities to know that things can get tough and you can't be expected to like everyone that's just life. But you are expected to be a leader and leaders don't let themselves get dragged down by negativity. So be sure that you not only build relationships and communicate openly in a neutral way, but also avoid negativity or squash it when needed. Sometimes negativity will creep up on projects, but do everything you can to get ahead of it. Here are a few pointers to take into consideration when dealing with the fine folks you call teammates. First, don't place blame. Listen, mistakes happen. We're humans. Some mistakes are bigger than others, but you have to learn from your mistakes as a team and move on. The minute you start finger pointing is the minute you kill morale and your project will suffer.
Brett Harned: Instead of letting everyone take it to a negative place, you should encourage everyone in your group to think about the mistake in a constructive way. What can you do as a team to fix what happened and move forward together and how can you make sure that this mistake doesn't happen again? Next, discouraged cliques. It might sound silly and like something that would happen in school, but some adults unfortunately let it carry over to their careers intentionally and not intentionally. The minute you see a clique forming, make sure it's not affecting your project and the rest of the team. The last thing you want is someone on the team feeling isolated and if it's a real issue, you have to address it head on with discussion. Sometimes you just have to play peacemaker.
Brett Harned: Then avoid gossip and back channel discussions. This one's pretty obvious, but the minute you allow gossip into your project is the minute morale's affected. I've seen toxic team members start this kind of thing between a few people and then it snowballs into a perceived team understanding or a way of working and it's really terrible. So the minute you see it happening, you have to address it. The last point is to manage your boundaries. So I wanted to mention this because while you're building relationships, you need to be aware that you're at work and you're there to get work done. The minute that a friendship leads to distractions or worse, the feelings of a clique, you have to stop yourself and reassess the situation. Again, as a project leader, it's up to you to lead by example.
Brett Harned: What it all comes down to is that when you're building relationships and gaining trust, you have to be willing to address issues head on. That doesn't mean that you have to immediately call someone out. It means that you should take a thoughtful approach to addressing a problem, whether it be with an individual or a team. Remember, open communication practices will help you to earn trust, but also keep things transparent. When you do that, it becomes a little easier to solve problems as a team. I know it's never going to be easy and you likely don't want to address issues, but if you don't, they'll get big and eventually blow up. That's going to cause issues for you, your team, your project, your stakeholders and so on. You get it at this point. Remember, it's not all about you and your process as the project leader, it's all about you working with the team to come up with a structure that works for everyone. You may ask, why change your communication strategy from project to project?
Brett Harned: This approach could get confusing for you. Particularly if you're working as a manager or working on several projects with many team members. That's okay, maybe it won't work for you and you need to follow company-wide standards. That doesn't mean you shouldn't take a personal approach. Think about it. If you put the time and effort into getting to know your team and creating a plan with them, everyone will buy in. I talked about this collaborative approach in class five when you operate in an open way, your team will communicate in a way that makes them comfortable and deliver on your projects with less effort, confusion, and fear. You might be sitting there thinking, all right, great. I know we all communicate differently, but how can I sort out how to communicate with people and here's my answer. First, you have to talk to them. Remember what I said earlier about building relationships. Well, getting to know people helps you to understand how to engage with them.
Brett Harned: For instance, my colleague Sam is an introvert and likes to have his focus time. I know that if I interrupt him, he'll get cranky. I also know that when we have conversations he only wants the facts so I keep things simple with him, but I'm still open and never cut things out because he's cranky, after all he's a team member needs to know or have access to the information everyone else is getting. That leads me to diagnosing the types of communicators on your team because understanding how others communicate will prepare you to craft more effective communications on your project. So I'm going to share a construct that was created by New York Times bestselling author, Mark Murphy, who spent decades researching interpersonal communication and developed four fundamental communication styles to help you understand the ways in which you communicate and how your style coincides with those others.
Brett Harned: In the construct he outlines four types of communicators, analytical, intuitive, functional and personal. I'm going to explain each and share some positive and negative opinions about each because well, no matter how you communicate, none of us are perfect. First is the analytical communicator, analytical communicators like concrete data and numbers and tend to have a strong aversion to ambiguity. Those with an analytical communication style are largely receptive to people who are in command of facts and data and don't identify well with emotional words. The positive about analytical communicators is that they have a relatively unemotional view of situations, which allows them to interpret issues logically and factually. That means that others will value you for your informational expertise and objectivity. The negative here is that analytical communicators may come across as callous and emotionless, especially when interacting with personal communicators who value warm and conversational personal relationships.
Brett Harned: Next is the intuitive communicator. Intuitive communicators like to see the big picture or a broad overview of the situation. Avoiding getting lost in the details, cutting right to the chase. These folks are great because their communication is quick and to the point so they don't get caught up in too many details and are comfortable with the big idea. Due to their natural ability to view things large scale, they often have a strong urge to challenge the way things are usually done. On the other hand, intuitive communicators may lack the patience for situations that require great attention to detail because they're process driven and detail oriented. It can be difficult to interact with people who are not like functional communicators, which are next. The functional communicator likes well thought out plans and processes. They like to include every detail and display things in a step-by-step fashion. The opposite of intuitive communicators, sounds a little bit like a project manager to me.
Brett Harned: The functional communicator's attention to detail enables them to include every aspect in a situation. That often means that others will value their love for process and detail and look to them to play devil's advocate, but functional communicators have to be careful because they may lose the attention of their audience if they allow their objective to get bogged down with details, especially with an audience of functional communicators. Okay. The last one is the personal communicator. These are the folks who value emotional language and connecting with others. They tend to be good listeners and care about assessing how people think and feel. Their ability to connect with others on a personal level allows them to form deep relationships and often serve as the glue that holds groups together with their strong emotional intelligence, diplomatic ability to smooth over conflicts and passion for maintaining good health in your relationships.
Brett Harned: Those are skills that can be so helpful in a team setting, but at the same time it's important to recognize that personal communicators can come across as overly emotional. So what type of communicator are you? I think I'm personally a mix of functional and personal, because I'm really interested in well thought out plans and having details laid out, but at the same time I really value personal connections and making sure my teams are happy and communicating. Those qualities might be a little bit at odds sometimes, but it works for me. And I encourage you to use these definitions and grab the communication types, understanding yourself and your team download to help you think through this. You can really easily share the four definitions with your team and talk about how you relate to the terms and what that means to how you communicate as a team. From there, you can develop solid communication practices to help you to be more successful.
Brett Harned: All right. Now that we have the important foundational information about communications out of the way, it's time to get real about the stuff that happens on projects that require really good communication skills. Did you know that sometimes good communication skills actually require you to speak less? Let me explain. All right, so inevitably there'll be times on any project where left field ideas, new requirements or even random questions will pop up from your stakeholders and you might not know the answer. That's okay. You'll never know everything and that's all right too. If you're on a call with a client and they ask you a question and you don't know the answer or even the whole answer, just stop, take note and tell them that you'll get back to them as soon as you've spoken to the person who has the proper answer.
Brett Harned: I've seen this so many times. You know, a client will ask a tricky question. The PM will get kind of flustered and just make up an answer or give a partial answer just to kind of end the conversation or just to get out of it. And I kind of get it. You know, people get nervous or flustered and they want things to go smoothly so they do what they can to just sweep the conversation under the carpet for the time being. But you have to ask at what cost, you know, why tell a lie or give an answer that you're unsure of what good will that do to the person asking the question or the project for that matter. The answer is none. So I just think you shouldn't do it.
Brett Harned: Listen, knowing when to involve the team to help the conversation and the decision making process is critical to being a solid project leader. As humans, we want to please others and get answers quickly, but sometimes that's just not possible. The last thing you want to do is answer a question or make a decision on behalf of your team, only to find out that you were wrong. For instance, if a client's asking something that's technology specific and you're no expert, pull in the technologist who's doing the work, they can help answer the question and probably do it better than you. It might not happen in the moment, but as a followup and that's okay too. No one should expect you to know everything. If they do, call me and I'll tell that person they're unrealistic and that you're doing the best you can. Anyway, I wanted to bring this up because this can be tricky for a lot of project leaders and project managers. Don't think of yourself as just the PM, recognize that you do a lot and you do what's necessary and appropriate for the project.
Brett Harned: I think it's more about owning the role and being honest about your expertise. Let's continue on this path of do's and don'ts with some talk about setting communication expectations. If you took class number six, you're educated on the ins and outs of setting and managing expectations. Communication expectations are a huge part of making sure you can manage your team's expectations. I think a general rule in project work should be that there's no such thing as over communication. You need to be very detailed and constant when it comes to things like ever evolving project requirements, decisions, critical conversations and tight timelines. If a detail is missed or mis-communicated, goals can be derailed and you'll lose time and budget and cause frustration and we don't want that. So how do you stay on top of it? As I mentioned, this is covered in class six, but I want to reiterate some points and zero in on how you should talk about communications.
Brett Harned: If you follow our advice from that class at the beginning of the project, you'll sit down to discuss your budget scope, timeline requirements and any other factors that might play into kicking off a new project. This will help you to ensure that everyone on the team is aware of all of the critical pieces of information relating to project formalities. In that meeting, you'll also talk about how you'll communicate. Now this can be a pretty big topic and in fact, some teams prefer to create communication plans to sort it out. A communication plan is a simple tool that enables you to communicate effectively on a project with your client, team and other stakeholders. It sets clear guidelines for how information will be shared as well as whose responsible and needs to be looped in on each communication. A communication plan plays an important role in every project by creating written documentation everyone can turn to. Setting clear expectations for how and when updates will be shared. Increasing visibility of the project and status, providing updates for feedback to be shared, boosting the productivity of team meetings and ensuring the project continues to align with goals.
Brett Harned: Ready to put your communication plan to paper? Writing a project management communication plan is as simple as following five simple steps, which are those you ask, well, let me detail them for you here. First, list your projects communication needs. Let's face it. Not all projects share the same requirements and that goes for communications as well. Every project is different, so take the size of the project, the nature of the work, and even your team and stakeholders preferences into account when you determine which types of communications the projects needs to succeed. Do you need TeamGantt discussions, slack channels, email, phone calls, meetings, sort that out. Next, define the purpose of the communications, bombarding people with too many emails or unnecessary meetings can interfere with their ability to get work done and cause them to overlook important updates. Be purposeful in your plan and ensure every communication you include has a reason for being. If you're feeling really ambitious, go ahead and outline a basic agenda for the topics that will be covered in each meeting or report.
Brett Harned: Then choose a communication method. Do you really need a meeting to share weekly updates or as your project discussion board enough? Think through how your team works best so they can stay in the loop while still being productive. If your stakeholder prefers the personal touch of a phone call, build that into your plan too. Then set a cadence for communication. Establishing a regular frequency for communication streamlines the process by setting clear expectations from the get go. This not only frees you from fielding random requests or status updates, it also enables project members to carve out space for important meetings and reports ahead of time. Finally, identify the owner and stakeholders. Assigning ownership creates accountability so your carefully crafted plan can reach its full potential. As the project manager you'll be responsible for most communications but there may be some you want to delegate to others. While your naming names, list the audience or stakeholders for each communication type too that way key players can come prepared to provide updates when needed.
Brett Harned: Those five steps should help you to get your communications plan started, but if you'd like to create one but want a little more direction I've got you, check out the communications plan template in the class downloads. Hey, you probably noticed that I mentioned using TeamGantt a couple of minutes ago. You know, using a project management and collaboration tool to hold all of your project information will facilitate good communication and knowledge sharing. Knowing when and where communication should happen and how it will be documented is half the battle in the war against poor project communications. So I'm going to crack open TeamGantt and show you some features that will help you and the people you're working with to be great communicators and stay on task.
Brett Harned: Okay, we're looking at a plan and TeamGantt and I know that I've already said that communications are important to projects so you totally get it at this point. But you can make communications for yourself, for your team and even your stakeholders really easy and expected if you use some great features right here in TeamGantt, so I'm going to show you just a few. First is the most important communication, a feature in TeamGantt and that's communications or collaboration. So first you can collaborate with team members on the project task level and you can share files using this comments feature. So you can see here if I hover over a task, a little discussion bubble is there. If I click on that, it's going to pop up a window that will essentially show me everything that's happening on the project.
Brett Harned: So this is where I can pin a note to a task where I can talk about project scope or requirements or who is responsible for what. Basically you can leave your notes here and they'll stay there. You can edit them over the course of the project, but this is a good way of basically setting an expectation on the task level. Then of course you can use the comment section, so if I'm wondering where a file is, I can say where is the file for our design review and if I want to make sure that somebody sees it, I can add their name to it. So I can say at Jason and then Jason will get notified, he'll receive an email about it, so click submit and that will go straight to Jason and then he'll come back into the system and reply or he can reply right from his email.
Brett Harned: The other thing that I love that you can do here is you can add documents. So if you want to be clear about a document, you can add a scope document, you can add a brief, whatever that document is, you can pick it and it'll add it right there and you can add, this is our scope doc. Check it out and let me know if you have questions as I type slowly. Okay, so there we go. You can see the documents there. Another interesting thing about documents and TeamGantt is that if you go up to this top navigation and click on more, you can go to the file's directory. This is basically where all the files for your project that have been uploaded anywhere gets stored. And you can see that it shows us where the project is, sorry, where the communication is and when it was uploaded so you can also add new documents here, you can select whatever tasks they want to go to and then there'll be added directly to that task.
Brett Harned: So it's a really great way of sharing files to give context on the tax level, but then also to see them for the entire project. All right. I'm going to go back to our Gantt view and I want to talk about how you can use that conversation bubble to get an update or progress update on tasks. So I'm going to go in here. So there's a couple of ways you can do this. I could go in and say, "Hey, can you give me an update on the task?" Or I could use this awesome functionality that's in a little link right here at the top. Basically if I click on this button, it's going to send out an email to anyone who is assigned to the task and prompt them to come into the system and give an update on the project. So I can do that and then I can go back at the task level. Somebody might come in and they might update the percent complete, or they might respond and say, "Hey, I'm not done yet. Can I get an extra day?" Whatever that might be.
Brett Harned: But again, communicating on the task level is super effective when you're managing projects and you need to know where everything is at every point of the day or every point of the project. All right, so one last thing, and that's about sharing plans. So sharing plans can be important, whether that's with your team or with your stakeholders and there's a couple of ways you can do it. So typically your team would be included in the project, but if you're interested more about learning more about how you can share, you click on this little share button at the bottom of the screen and it'll take you through the flow to invite people into your Gantt chart. Or you can do this thing where you can copy a link to the Gantt chart. So copying this link will give anyone you send a link to read only access to an up to date plan at all times. So I'd love to use this link and put it in my stakeholder status reports. I like to put it in meeting invitations, if the plan is something we'll be discussed.
Brett Harned: I also like to add it to emails or other places where I want people to come in and actively take a look at the plan. So if you're dealing with stakeholders who don't necessarily need access into TeamGantt or they don't really look at the plan that much, sometimes it's a good idea just to send them a version of the plan. And typically what you could do is go to this menu bar and then go to print, export pdf and it'll walk you through basically all of the formatting styles that you can use when setting up your pdf. Now remember, Gantt charts are not that easy to read in pdf format. So if you have a large, large plan, you're going to want to pick a larger size paper to print it to. I've got it set to legal and set to landscape. I can also do portrait, but landscape works for this format pretty well.
Brett Harned: I want to see the date columns and month and date. I don't want to show the estimated hours to stakeholders, I do want to show them the percent complete. I'm not going to show them the resources, I will show them the dependencies and I'm not going to add any context to the bars and the Gantt chart because I'm going to walk them through that. I can also take a look at the font face and size. All of this is totally up to you and up to the people that you're communicating with. Remember, you've got to make sure that your message is landing. So create a file that's going to be easy for everyone to read. So as soon as I have those things set up, I'm going to click a few pdf and you can see my beautiful Gantt chart is built on three pages. I can download this file very easily and send it off to my stakeholders.
Brett Harned: So pretty easy stuff, but I wanted to show you that. I think really in general, the idea here is stay up to date with your plan. Use the communication feature to communicate on the task level and on the project level and keep everyone involved and engaged on the plan, and things are going to go well. All right, let's get back to the class. There's a ton of awesome stuff in TeamGantt to help you in your teams. It can make busy days a little easier because it helps to simplify basic communications and that's what you need some times. But I do want to warn you, fast written communications can get in the way of or even distort simple human interactions. Don't forget about the value of face to face conversations or even phone calls when you want to move things along quickly.
Brett Harned: Okay, we're coming up on the close of the class, but before I wrap things up, I want to share some simple communication tactics that you can apply to your project work. You know, relationship building aside, think about your project communications in terms of routines. As a PM, you want to be sure that you're facilitating the flow of information in a way that feels expected. Doing that helps your teams to share information easily or ask it when it's needed. Okay, here are some basic ways to ensure that there's consistent flow of information on your projects. First, establish what success means. When you kick off a project, you'll want to make sure that your team and stakeholders are aware of what's expected of them through the course of the project and for you to understand what's expected from you from the team as well. What's most important is to get the details on the table and ask yourselves, what does success look like for us and how might we fail on this project?
Brett Harned: Being truly honest about what's going to make you all feel good about the project from the administrative end of the project to the frontline project communications will help you to set expectations early on. Second, discuss deliverables. It's easy to check boxes off on a plan and do that on time, but if you're not actively checking in on those deliverables and reviewing them as a team, you're missing a huge opportunity to collaborate as a team and build a stronger product. When you're building your plan, make sure you're working in some time for team deliverable reviews. Sit down and discuss or critique your deliverables. This will generate more confidence in what you're building and it'll also keep your team members accountable for the project decisions throughout the course of the project, even if they're not responsible for those things at the time. Essentially, through short review and discussion, you're eliminating the risk that a current deliverable will have a negative impact on your scope later in the project. It's well worth your time.
Brett Harned: This one is third, but it's very important. Watch your tone in communications. The most difficult part about written conversations is getting the tone right. It's very easy to be direct, but it's not easy to not come off like a jerk. If you're feeling like you can't get it right and don't want to upset someone, ask a friend or colleague to review your message before sending it out. Call it a tone check and do it as often as you need to because you never want to cause issues with your own communications. Next is one you've heard if you've watched class six and that's that you should write status reports and conduct status meetings. Status meetings, scrum, stand ups, whatever you call them as a team, they're necessary. Create a routine that will keep everyone informed about progress in blockers. Maybe you'll meet daily as a team, maybe it'll be weekly. You should be able to make that decision as a team to ensure a good flow of information.
Brett Harned: You'll want to do that with your stakeholders as well to ensure that they're seeing progress and know that they fit into the process. Be sure to grab the status report template in class six. Next is another one you may have heard and it's ask questions. Being a PM requires you to be inquisitive. You have to understand processes, people and deliverables. Chances are you'll work with someone who comes up with a new way of working or takes a new spin on a deliverable and that's great. Just make sure you understand it and that you can articulate the what, why, when, and how of that new thing and never be afraid to ask questions about it. Your team will likely be happy to share information or resources about the work to help you better understand it and in the end it's a win-win situation for you and your team, because the more you understand the work, the easier it is for you to advocate for it with stakeholders or even plan similar activities in future projects.
Brett Harned: Okay. Next is schedule collaborative working sessions. Being open to collaboration and active discussion makes for healthy team communication and opens up so many opportunities. Scheduling collaborative brainstorming or white boarding sessions gets project team members invested in project ideas before they become more concrete and it helps to save on potential scope issues as well. For instance, simply having a developer sit with a designer to talk through the level of effort an idea might require can be a lifesaver when it's discussed before it goes to a stakeholder. That can be a huge win and can even help you to avoid scope issues. See, these are the little things that no one teaches project managers and that's why I'm here and I hope it's helping. Next is a fun one for some and maybe a little nerve racking for others and it's be the cheerleader. You know, you may not be the peppy cheerleader by nature, but every project needs a leader who owns and supports the process.
Brett Harned: A good PM will enforce process and keep everyone on the team in sync. Juggling timelines, deadlines and deliverables is key. But a project leader who also supports the process, the team and the client brings true value to the project. So be the one who says, "Wow, this is really nice, good work." Celebrate the wins and encourage the team to do the same. At the same time know when to play devil's advocate. This is a tricky one, particularly because no one likes to be questioned, so proceed with caution. But if you see something that might not be in line with the project goals or reminds you of an offhand comment from a client, raise it. Maybe you'd say something like, "Did you think about x?" And explain why you're thinking it. At the end of the day, you must look out for the best of the project and your team. This type of behavior not only support your team and your project, but shows everyone involved that you're genuinely engaged and not just worried about the PM basics.
Brett Harned: The last one is do informal check-ins. Between deadlines check in on the upcoming document or delivery and chat with the team about what each will entail. Are your deliverables changing based on previous work? Will that impact the scope and the timeline? Explain the benefits of check-ins and how they're constructive, helpful feedback will make the end deliverable stronger. Remember, when it comes to setting expectations there's nothing wrong with repeating yourself as long as your repetition is meaningful and time just right. Use your natural communication skills and emotional intelligence to handle this in a way that will land well with the person or people you're checking in with and you'll find great success and you'll always be in the know as you should.
Brett Harned: Okay, that brings us to the end of the class. There's a lot for you to digest here, but one thing I really want you to remember is successful project management starts with impeccable communication skills. There are a lot of factors that can make it difficult to master communications, process tools, and of course people, but you can do a great job communicating with your team and stakeholders. Just be yourself. Check out all of the downloads we've created to go along with this class and log into your TeamGantt account to check out all the great features that will help you to manage team communications. Feel free to leave a comment in the discussion or share your tips with the rest of the fine folks taking the art and science of leading projects. Thanks again, and I'll see you in class nine.