Communications Can Make or Break Your Project
This guest post was written by Sandy Stachowiak.
Communication in almost any business situation is important, but in project management it is a key element. Without proper communication a project can fail and fail quickly. There are several components of communication within a project that if followed can assist any project in being successful.
Types of project communications
Not all projects require meetings, phone calls, or emails to take place at specific intervals in a project. However, it is good practice to keep the communications consistent. This allows you as the project manager to remain on track and allows your team members and/or the stakeholders to know what to expect from you in regards to updates.
One of the most important parts in beginning a project is a kick-off meeting. This is when stakeholders, resources and/or interested parties in a project get together to discuss the common goal of the project. Deadlines, schedules, additional resources, timelines, and other essentials of the project are laid out. Everyone should have a clear understanding of the project as well as the expectations.
After the kick-off meeting, a meeting with the project team is a good idea. This would include the actual resources and/or their managers. Tasks, dependencies deliverables, schedules, and again, expectations should be discussed. This is an important piece to the project since it involves the resources doing the actual work.
Finally, status meetings should be planned. These meetings can be separated into two types: project team meetings and stakeholder meetings. Although the participants may be different, the overall goal of the meetings is the same – to provide status on the project. Project team meetings are arranged to discuss progress with team members, whether or not the project items are on track, issues or problems with meeting deadlines, and possible solutions. Meetings with stakeholders should take place after the project team meetings to provide accurate updates, reasons for delays, and solutions to any issues.
Schedule your meeting frequency according to the project size, deadline, and task due dates. If your project deadline is eight months out and tasks are due every three weeks, a weekly status meeting may not be as productive or informative as a status meeting every three weeks. Status meetings with stakeholders only need to take place a few times within that eight-month project and possibly less if weekly status reports are acceptable.
2. Phone calls and conference calls
Between meetings it is necessary to communicate with project team members.
If an issue comes up, confusion arises, or contacting a team member using other means does not provide results, then picking up the phone can be the best way to communicate.
Too many times things are more easily explained in a conversation than an email or instant message. A follow-up email can be used to confirm what was discussed or to inform other project team members if necessary.
Conference calls occur when more than two people are needed for a discussion.These can be planned to go along with meetings if resources are remote or temporarily off-site.
Avoiding the inclusion of resources that are unavailable for an in-person meeting is never a smart idea. It is best to have everyone together in one room for a meeting, but if resources or stakeholders crucial to the meeting are off-site arrange a conference bridge or video call so that they can call in and be a part of the meeting.
Keep a pen and paper near your phone and take notes when contacting a project team member. Prepare ahead of the phone call with all questions written down and write down those answers. Follow-up phone calls with emails to confirm what was discussed. Send meeting minutes to all participants of a meeting, especially those who were on the phone for the discussion.
Emailing team members is essential for updates, to ask simple questions, to send updates to stakeholders, or to confirm discussions.
At the very least sending out a status update on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to stakeholders and project team members is good practice. This keeps everyone in the loop with what is going on with the project. Microsoft Word templates are common for status updates and can be found on the Microsoft website.
Sending meeting minutes to all participants after the kick-off meeting, status update meeting, or any other impromptu meeting is a smart idea as well. This puts in writing what was discussed in the meeting, calls out action items, and shows any changes that everyone should be aware of for use as an easy reference.
Again, there are templates available for this type of simple Microsoft Word document.
Use a task list manager and either email templates or saved email drafts. Set up reminders to email project team members when tasks are due so that emails occur on a consistent and expected basis.
If there are three tasks due within one day, consider emailing all resources responsible for an update at the same time. Or, if there are ten tasks due each week, think about one email to all of those resources on a weekly basis. Click here for tips on improving your email communications.
How to prepare and communicate
Now that we have looked at the different types of communications necessary in a project, we will look at how to prepare and to communicate with each of those types.
1. Prepare for meetings
Prior to any meeting in an email, or along with the meeting request sent to participants, include an agenda and any necessary materials.
It is a good idea for everyone to know exactly what will be discussed so that they can prepare to speak to their items. In addition, this allows you as the project manager to be prepared as well. You can arrive at and lead the meeting in an organized fashion.
Most importantly since it is your opportunity to obtain and provide status at the same time, an agenda gives you a list of necessary items to check off.
Go over meeting minutes from your previous meetings when creating the agenda. Action items that were completed should be noted for others and action items that were not completed or were delayed should be on the agenda for discussion.
Issues that arose since the last update along with solutions or possible solutions should also be brought up. Be prepared to talk about what you know at that point and move forward with help from the team.
Questions that have come up that were not yet answered or need discussion from several members of the team should also be on the agenda. Or, include those in your notes for the meeting if they were last minute questions.
Allow plenty of meeting time for participants to speak. If you have 20 items on your agenda and only one hour for the meeting you should extend it beforehand or reschedule when everyone is available for a longer time period. Keeping a meeting moving is important, but allowing participants to discuss everything in full is more important to the overall project.
In addition, allowing time for a roundtable at the end of the meeting so that everyone has a chance to bring up items is good practice. Round-table time can go much longer than expected depending on the number of participants or what they have to say. So, make sure that you have allowed enough time in the meetings you schedule.
2. Communicate professionally and respectfully
You may have team members that have become your friends or those that you honestly dislike. But, in all communications you should always remain professional and respectful.
Try not to be too casual when addressing friends in emails or in meetings. Humor and banter are bound to happen at times, however, bringing up someone’s date from Friday night in a meeting or sending unsuitable photos in an email when asking for an update are inappropriate.
At the same time if you have a team member that you are not quite fond of or have had issues with in the past, keep that aside from the project communications.
Do not disrespect them in a meeting in front of others or even in an email to them alone. Remain respectful to those that are working on your project.
3. Speak and write clearly and concisely
Whether you are writing an email, calling a team member, or meeting with the group know what you plan to say ahead of time.
If a team member is due to provide an update on a particular task, do not ask in the meeting, “Hey Joe, how ya doin’ on that thing due yesterday?”
Instead, have the name of the task written down and address that task by name. “Joe, the programming for the API call was due yesterday; can you provide an update?” works much better.
If you have a question on a task or a certain deliverable is unclear, prepare ahead of time to ask the question clearly.
If you completely do not understand something, then be honest and say so, but be sure to write down the response(s) you receive so that you do not have to question it again. Being very clear in what you are asking or asking about can help to avoid confusion down the road. It also shows you are paying attention and comprehending the items in question.
Be very clear in your email communications especially.
Reread your emails before sending them to be sure that they will make sense to the recipient. Being vague about a due date or task can delay a project or worse. If you do not feel that you can communicate your email clearly then it may be best to pick up the phone instead.
The bottom line
Communications within a project are extremely important. If you are managing a project you cannot expect to simply create a project plan and check in on team members once in a while. Meeting in person, over the phone, and sending emails is the only way to ensure that your project is going as planned.
Lack of communication can cause unnecessary confusion, unexpected delays, disillusioned expectations, and ultimate project failure. Keep in touch with your project team and the stakeholders. Show that you are organized, on top of things, in the know, and in charge of the project from start to finish.
Do you have any project communication tips that have helped you from which others might benefit? Or, maybe you have an example of a project that failed or could have failed without the proper communication that you would like to share. We would love to hear your comments!