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Ramesh Sreedhar, PMP: Communication Holds an extremely important part in PM

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This is really an art for all practical reasons.  There are numerous ways to communicate. But only a very few succeed in communicating the real point across the table. Conveying the right information at the right time and using the right language, mode, length, protocol and being appropriately descriptive is an art that very few have mastered. Communication failure is not always because of issues with the sender or the message itself. There are cases where the receiver, due to various reasons, cannot decipher or understand the communication received. An effective communication occurs only when the receiver is able to successfully receive and understand the sender’s message, whatsoever.

Various points to be considered for an effective and successful communication to take place are:

1. Mode

The PM has to communicate “effectively and successfully” with the Stakeholders that include the Sponsor, Boss and the team among others and most of the time it is a continuous activity. Communication is an important process through which the PM keeps everybody tied to the project. But equally important is the Mode of Communication. People need to be communicated based on the location they are in, positions they hold, personal preferences, organizational policies, accesses they have to the modes of communication etc… Unless, the PM chooses the right mode for the right set of people, he/she gets blamed for miscommunication or designing an ineffective communication plan. It is always better to stick to the most common official mode of communication advocated by the organization which is via Email, be it status reports, performance reports, issues, meeting requests, questions. Circumstances sometimes force the PM to adopt oral communication either face to face or through the phone, but it needs to be followed by a Minutes of Meeting via Email as early as possible.

2. Language

Many a time, especially when a PM is working with a global team that is spread across different countries that has its own national language; it is common that the team members speak the language of the land they belong to. But this cannot be reason enough for the PM to avoid communicating. This could spell a disaster for the project as such, since the PM could be completely ignoring the view points of one of the most important stakeholder or team member that is critical for the success of the project. The need is to find the most effective way of communicating which would be using a translator that speaks the languages that the PM and the stakeholder understands. This sure is a very tedious process but compared to the negative effects without it, the project stands to gain in the long run. The general attitude to ignore people that do not speak English would not always work. Probably they are not good verbally but may be they are the smarter ones. It is better to take the extra stress ahead of time rather than having to deal with 10 times of it, after they reject the deliverable.

3. Length

This is another important factor that determines the success of a communication. People generally do not prefer to spend a lot of time reading or listening, especially when they have hundred other things to do. But the PM being responsible for the success of a project, has to take efforts to carry the point across to those busy stakeholders. Keeping it descriptive yet short and to the point is the technique. Unless, it is cultivated into a habit to avoid things like unnecessary comments, out of context issues, unwanted emotions an effective document that conveys the right information cannot be formed. It is also a good idea to make it into bullet point format that contains short descriptions, thereby inviting the receiver for a discussion that should result in a Minutes of Meeting appropriately communicated.

4. Time

Communicating the right information at the right time is another important aspect contributing to the success of the communication in its true sense. Any information loses importance after a specific period of time. The specific period of time depends upon the subject of the information. Not communicating at the right time also could be a reason to spell disaster on the project. Communicating resource issues at the right time enables the sponsor to take appropriate actions at the right time to save the project schedule, cost, quality, milestones from slipping. This becomes even more important in a contractual environment, wherein the PM could end up in the Court of Law for causing a breach of contract. It could be considered as the PM not fulfilling contractual obligations resulting not only in huge monetary losses but also credibility and good will of the client from its customers. Needless to say, the PM looses credibility too.

5. Knowledge

It is very important that the sender of the message needs to have adequate knowledge on the subject of the message that is being communicated. Otherwise, it would result in wrong and dangerous assumptions at the receiver’s end. From the Project Management perspective, the PM would be shown in a bad light as to not having the needed control of the project. This is one situation that any PM would dread to be in. It is extremely important to analyze and understand thoroughly about the subject being communicated, especially when it is an issue that is being communicated. Inadequate knowledge about the subject matter could send wrong signals.

6. Distance

Using emails, the distance certainly does not matter. But everything cannot be communicated via Email, especially when the subject matter is contained within Extra-large attachments, CDs or any other media. Then distance is a matter. But weighing the importance and criticality to project and thereby the business and its cost, the most optimum method needs to be chosen to deliver the communication. The important aspect and the difficult part here is for the PM to take a smart decision by weighing all the different options. Example: Sending across a deliverable to a Stakeholder, traveling in the other corner of the world, on whose response the next critical task depends on. Choosing the fastest mode could increase the costs. But delaying it could also result in undesirable effects. Weighing these options and putting a dollar value to it will certainly enable the PM to take a wise decision.

7. Organizational Hierarchy

Many times, it matters where actually the PM is positioned in the Organizational Hierarchical Structure. The PM cannot just push the communication to any level in the Structure. Most of the time, the PM can communicate to the direct supervisor he/she is reporting to. The PM will not have any control over how that communication is in turn reported to the higher level supervisors. So is the PM, from the code of conduct and ethics point of view, justified in just reporting the true facts to the immediate supervisor and worry less about how it is reported to the business is a question, I do not quite know.

8. Frequency

This is usually the status reports that need to be communicated to the Sponsor and the Stakeholders. The PMs busy schedule should certainly account for this. The frequency again depends on many different factors such as the size of the project, its criticality to the business, Sponsor/Boss/Stakeholder preferences etc. If at any point, there happens to be a slip in the frequency of the communication, the PM could be taken for a good joy ride based on the criticality of the project to the business and of course how much important the sponsor accords to the project. To top it off, if the project is a prestigious endeavor for the boss. Usually a good frequency would be a weekly status report.

The real measure for a successful communication is nothing less than 100%. Anything lesser is considered as a failure since communication being a process of conveying a message between the sender and the receiver where “Convey” is an umbrella term that involves all the above factors.
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