As a former student in Communication Sciences, I’ve always appreciated the importance of human relations. After having gained some experience in different types of organizations and having met different types of persons, I quickly understood that most of us take for granted our ability to communicate. No one gives enough credit to communication as the fundamental skill we possess as humans. I truly believe it is the number one skill we all have.
We talk to each other and observe our responses and reactions. We hear and understand what other say. Last year I went to Sri Lanka for a holiday. Unable to speak the local language, I started to communicate with gestures and signs. Or if I was lucky I would rely on other people, who would act as interpreters. Such experiences remind me that our ability to communicate is always provisional. It depends on context and environment, on our abilities and skills and those of the people we are communicating with.
Communication is the reason why conflicts may occur; why professional relationships are healthy or not; and why business gets done each day efficiently or not. Communication is therefore among the more important factors for success in project management. It is the fuel that keeps the project running smoothly.
Poor project communication will cause many projects to end unsuccessfully.
Many of the problems that surface on a project are actually the results of poor communication. Let me give you some examples of typical issues that occur when the project communication is poor:
- Differences in expectations: People make decisions based on the information they have at the time. If the Project Manager does not keep everyone under a common set of expectations, things can get quickly out of hand.
- Failure to engage with stakeholders: Stakeholders are the people who need to provide key input to the critical decisions made in the project. Failure to engage stakeholders is the fast-path to disaster.
- What is the state of the project?: If you send updates to stakeholders and they constantly ask for more details, it might be a sign that your communication is not targeted correctly.
- Mistaking e-mail for actual communication: After sending an e-mail, people assume many things, including that: it will be read in time, the message is understood and it is enough to generate the desired action. Unfortunately this is rarely the case and overusing e-mail instead of more effective communication mediums (face to face or phone), easily generates problems in projects: people not taking action on time, people completing wrong or incomplete deliverables, etc.
Many projects encounter problems, big and small ones. Poor communication can cause many problems and aggravate others. Use good communication to your advantage to help your project go smoothly with less frustration, less uncertainty and no surprises.
The importance of communication skills for Project Managers
Project Managers spend a lot of time communicating with individuals and groups. It's been estimated that a Project Manager spends 90% of his/her time on communication related activities. From assigning tasks to team members to providing status updates, a Project Manager is constantly communicating.
Being able to articulate your vision and strategies clearly enables you to motivate your team and establishes you as a strong leader and capable manager within the organization. Communication is so vital to an organization’s decision-making process that all Project Managers must have the skills to initiate and respond to all forms of communication. The successful manager builds collaborative relationships through active listening. He or she can dramatically increase productivity by running efficient meetings and business discussions.
Building strong and collaborative relationships based on trust and respect, gaining commitment for your vision, and leading your team and stakeholders to consensus are all critical competencies for today's Project Managers.
The importance of a good communication plan
The Project Manager is charged with guiding all aspects of the project, including communication. To ensure a smooth communication a Project Manager should create a strong communication plan. There is no standard communication plan. The specifics of communication, including the method and frequency, vary depending on your project's needs and the type of people you will have to work with.
A communication plan describes what an organization wants to accomplish with the information it’s planning to send out. The plan contains a list of objectives, tools used to produce communications and intended recipients. It describes what information will be shared and how it will be distributed. It also identifies the people responsible for building and managing information.
This allows a Project Manager to control the project and to ensure that all stakeholders receive the necessary information in time. A good communication plan will also help the Project Manager to lead the Project Team to the desired project outcome. Regular communication allows the Project Team Members to remain productive. If they are equipped with the necessary information, they’ll feel more comfortable with their duties. Project Team Members will also be able to work together in a more efficient way.
So here’s one last advice for you:
Stop taking communication for granted and start thinking how it could lead you to a better result and help you to look for ways to build connections between people. The key to communicating is to keep the receiver as the focal point not the sender. Try to think about what the receiver of the communication needs and the information that will be most helpful to them.