Communication in project management

1 September 2020
Komunikacja w zarządzaniu projektami

Recently, we conducted a mini-survey among our employees, clients, and followers of our LinkedIn profile on the most important soft skills in the work of Project Manager which determine the success of the project. The respondents had four options to choose from:

  • good communication
  • setting priorities
  • delegating responsibilities
  • negotiation skills.

It came as no surprise that as many as 80% of the respondents chose good communication as their most important competence. Of course, it would be ideal to combine all these features – then the success of the project is guaranteed. But let’s focus on communication. Why is it so important? Many years of work in project management, with a wide variety of projects, have shown us that communication is the basic element determining the quality and success of a particular project. Unfortunately, if badly planned and ineffective, it can have a negative impact on the project, which is why (from the Project Manager’s point of view) the process of managing communication in the project is of fundamental importance.

Communication in project management

Communication is a dynamic process of transmitting, receiving, processing, and interpreting information. Information may be provided orally, non-verbally, actively, passively, formally, informally, consciously, or unconsciously. The primary goal of communication in project management is to achieve a common understanding.

The variety of information and communication channels makes effective communication management a fundamental problem when working in a project. An additional challenge is the fact that project related communication is carried out with different audiences, for example: the project team, an investor, stakeholders, senior management, local authorities. The Project Manager should know that different audiences have different communication needs in terms of volume, content, style, tone, and medium, and adapt communication to their needs. Ensuring an appropriate flow of information at every stage of the project, allowing it to reach all interested persons, and its two-way flow are priorities in effective project management.

Functions of the communication

In the project, communication has four main functions:

  1. Communication of information
  2. Expressing emotions
  3. Motivating
  4. Controlling

Providing information is the most basic and obvious function – we communicate to convey the knowledge needed to make a decision, we exchange information among project participants to assess the problem and find the best solution. Communication can also be a way of expressing emotions, thanks to which we can get to know the mood of the project participants. We should remember that the messages we send may be interpreted differently due to the recipient’s point of view, interests, and cultural origin. Communication is constant, while people constantly interpret what they observe and experience. Anticipating the impact of communication is extremely important, therefore, the Project Manager should pay special attention to the language, tone, and selection of the appropriate medium. Effective management of verbal and non-verbal expression can increase empathy and build relationships among project participants that encourage honesty and a trusted and open exchange of views. The motivational function manifests itself in formulating specific project goals, as well as providing feedback on the progress of work and achieving successive milestones. The control function can be both formal and informal and its objective is to convey to the recipients a message about the scope of duties and obligations of both individuals and organizations towards each other.

Mistakes in communication management

The most common reasons for ineffective communication in a project include:

  • no communication plan
  • over-formalized communication processes
  • no communication standards
  • improperly identified communication needs of project participants
  • bad relations between team members, including lack of trust, excessive competition, destructive criticism

Neglecting these issues may make communication within the project team very difficult, and therefore work on the project may turn out to be complicated or even impossible.

Information that may be critical to the success of a project is often informally available before it is made available through formal channels. The Project Manager must be sensitive to this and determine the possibilities of using informal communication as well as be aware of the context of the project and communicate within what is sensitive or confidential to the organization. Understanding the goal of a project and not losing sight of it is a very important issue in communication management – it can be difficult to grasp when the goal is not purely technical, but a business one.

How to effectively manage communication in a project?

Effective management of communication throughout the lifecycle is essential to a project. Project information must be timely and properly compiled, collected, transmitted, and stored. Formal and informal project communication should be included in the communication plan that defines what to communicate, why, when, how, where, through what channel, to whom, and what impact is desired.

Preparatory activities in the area of project communication management include activities such as:

  1. Preparation of the communication plan
  • Selecting the preferred methods of transmitting information (e.g. e-mail), defining general requirements for the exchange of information, such as titles, addresses, frequency, and any restrictions on the use of e-mail.
  • Development of the communication matrix in the project
  • Development of a contact list with contact details and positions held for all project participants
  1. Defining the procedures for the distribution of information and document templates (including templates for notes, forms, reports, presentations, etc.) along with the procedure for obtaining customer approval
  2. Defining reporting procedures, i.e. information on project results (progress reports, cost reports, forecasts)

Activities undertaken regularly by the Project Manager during the project should include:

  1. Review, update, and distribution of information in accordance with the agreed communication plan
  2. Review, update and distribute the contact list in the event of adding new participants to the project or changes in the project team
  3. Timely provision of any explanations regarding the project
  4. Appropriate archiving of information
  5. Control of compliance with the rules of information distribution procedures by project participants

Final activities for communication management include:

  1. Verification of the completeness of the documentation and appropriate archiving of all project documents (notes, reports, project documentation, formal and legal documentation, etc.)
  2. Closing of the project with the issuance of the final report
  3. Summarizing the experience gained and drawing conclusions (so-called lessons learned)

To sum up, effective communication on the project should help, rather than hinder its execution. The role of the Project Manager is to manage it in such a way that it does not become a goal in itself, but positively influences the quality of the project through an appropriate flow of information at every stage.