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Managing Project Communication
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by Arindam Ghosh
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Introduction

Project communication management is the management of processes required to ensure timely and appropriate generation, collection, distribution, storage, retrieval, and ultimate disposition of project information. It is comprised of the following.

1.    Communications Planning

2.    Information Distribution

3.    Performance Reporting

4.    Manage Stakeholders

Communication Planning

The Communications planning process determines the information and communicates needs of the stakeholders; for example, who needs what information, when they will need it, how it will be given to them, and by whom. A project manager spends most of his time communicating with the various stakeholders and providing the necessary information to the project team to successfully complete their work. While the entire project shares the need to communicate project information, the informational needs and methods of distribution vary widely. An important factor of project success is identifying the informational needs of the stakeholders and determining a suitable means of meeting those needs.

On most projects the majority of communications planning is done as a part of the earliest project phases. However, the results of this planning process are reviewed regularly throughout the project and revised as needed to ensure continued applicability. Additional resources in the project and changes in the stakeholder requirements often impact the communication planning.

Communications planning is often tightly linked with enterprise environmental factors and organizational influences, since the project’s organizational structure will have a major effect on the project’s communication requirements.

Tools and Techniques of proper Communication planning

Communication Requirements Analysis

The complete information needs of all the stakeholders are provided as a result of the communication requirement analysis. These requirements are defined by combining the type and format of information needed with an analysis of the value of that information. Project resources are expended only on communicating information that contributes to success or where a lack of communication can lead to failure. This is not to prevent failures to be communicated but to prevent over-loading stakeholders with irrelevant information.

Communications Management Plan

The communication management plan provides relevant information to all stakeholders about how the project communication is to be handled. The communications management plan is contained in, or is a subsidiary plan of, the project management plan. The communications management plan provides:

Stakeholder communication requirements

·         Information to be communicated, including format, content and level of detail

·         Person responsible for communicating the information

·         Person or groups who will receive the information

·         Methods or technologies used to convey the information, such as memoranda, email, and/ r press releases

·         Frequency of the communication, such as weekly

·         Escalation process- identifying time frames and the management chain (names) for escalation of issues that cannot be resolved at a lower staff level

·         Methods for updating and refining the communications management plan as the project progresses and develops

·         Glossary of common terminology

The communication management plan can also include guidelines for alternate communication methods such as project status meetings, project team meetings, e-meetings, and email. The communications management plan can be formal or informal, highly detailed or broadly framed, and based on the needs of the project.

Sample attributes of a communications management plan include:

Communications item

- The information that will be distributed to stakeholders

Purpose

- The reason for the distribution of that information

Frequency

- How often that information will be distributed

Start/end dates

- The time frame for the distribution of the information

Format/ medium

- The layout of the information and the method of transmission

Responsibility

This is for the assigned team member who is charged with the distribution of information. Communication Planning often entails creation of additional deliverables that, in turn, require additional time and effort. Thus, the project’s work breakdown structure, project schedule, and project budget are updated accordingly.

Tools and Techniques of Information Distribution

Communications Skills

As part of general management skills, communication skills are used to exchange information. General management skills related to communications include ensuring that the right persons get the right information at the right time, as defined in the communications management plan. A primary general management skill includes the art of managing stakeholder requirements. The sender is responsible for making the information clear and complete so that the receiver can receive it correctly and for conforming that it is properly understood. The receiver is responsible for making sure that the information is received in its entirely and understood correctly. Communicating has many dimensions:

·         Written and oral, listening and speaking

·         Internal (within the project) and external (customer, the media, the public)

·         Formal (reports, briefings) and informal (memos, and hoc conversations)

·         Vertical (reporting to higher-ups in the organization) and horizontal (with peers)

Information Gathering and Retrieval Systems

Information can be gathered and retrieved through a variety of methods. The most common methods are manual filing systems, electronic databases, project management software, and systems that allow access to technical documentation, such as engineering drawings, design specifications, and test plans. These systems are dependent on the communication technology specified.

Information distribution Methods

Information Distribution is information collection, sharing, and distribution to project stakeholders in a timely manner across the project life cycle. The various methods for distributing project information are:

·         Project meetings, hard-copy document distribution, manual filing systems, and shared-access electronic databases

·         Electronic communication and conferencing tools, such as email, fax, voice mail, telephone, video and Web conferencing, and Web publishing

·         Electronic tools for project management, such as Web interfaces to scheduling and project management software, meeting and virtual office support software, portals and collaborative work management tools.

Performance Reporting

The performance reporting involves the collection of all baseline data and distribution of performance information to stakeholders. Performance reporting focuses on how resources are being used to achieve project objectives. Performance reporting should generally provide information on scope, schedule cost, and quality. Many projects also require information on risk and procurement. Reports may be prepared comprehensively or an exception basis.

Tools and Techniques of Performance Reporting

Information Presentation Tools

Information presentation tools are software packages that include table reporting, spreadsheet analysis, presentations, or graphic capabilities can be used to create presentation-quality images of project performance data.

Performance Information Gathering and Compilation

Information can be gathered and compiled from a variety of media including manual filing systems that allow access to technical documentation, such as engineering drawings, design specifications and test plans, to produce forecasts as well as performance, status and progress reports.

Status Review Meetings

To collect performance information and exchange project information, status review meetings are regularly scheduled events in the project. On most projects, status review meetings will be held at various frequencies and on different levels. For example, the project management team can meet weekly by itself and monthly with the customer.

Time Reporting Systems

Time reporting systems record and provide time expended for the project. A variance report along with the schedule performance index and comparison of baseline with actual performance on an S-curve provides an excellent graphical view of the project progress.

Cost Reporting Systems

Cost reporting systems record and provide the cost expended for the project. CV and CPI parameters are measured as part of EV Analysis.

Outputs of Performance Reporting

Performance Reports

The information collected for performance reporting is collated in performance reports. Performance reports organize and summarize the information gathered and present the results of any analysis as compared to the performance measurement baseline. Reports should provide the status and progress information and the level of detail required by various stakeholders, as documented in the communications management plan. Common formats for performance reports include bar charts, S-curves, histograms, and tables. Earned value analysis data is often included as part of performance reporting.

Forecasts

Based on the current performance of the project, forecasts are updated and reissued based on the project execution. This information is about the project’s past performance that could impact the project in the future, for example, estimate at completion and estimate to complete.

Requested Changes

Analysis of project performance of the project, forecasts are updated and reissued based on the project execution. These requested changes are processed and dispositioned through the Integrated Change Control process.

Recommended Corrective Actions

Recommended corrective actions include changes that bring the expected future performance of the project in the line with the project management plan.

Organizational Process Assets (Updates)

Lessons learned documentation includes the causes of issues, reasoning behind the corrective action chosen and other types of lessons learned about performance reporting. Lessons learned are documented so that they become part of the historical database for both this project and the performing organization.

Managing Stakeholders

Communication Methods

The methods of communications identified for each stakeholder in the communications management plan are utilized during stakeholder management. Face to face meetings are not warranted or practical (such as on international projects), telephone calls, electronic mail, and other electronic tools are useful for exchanging information and dialoging. The appropriate communication methods, when followed, increase the clarity of the communication between the project team and the stakeholders.

Issue logs

An issue log or action-item log is a tool that can be used to document and monitor the resolution of issues. Issues do not usually rise to the importance of becoming a project or activity, but are usually addressed in order to maintain good, constructive working relationships among various stakeholders, including team members. An issue is clarified and stated in a way that can be resolved. An owner is assigned and a target date is usually established for closure. Unresolved issues can be a major source of conflict and project delays.

Objectives of inter-personal communication:

·         Understanding the exact meaning and intent of others

·         Being understood by others

·         Gaining acceptance for yourself and/or your ideas

·         Producing action change

Methods of Communication

Verbal

·         Formal verbal- Presentations, Speeches

·         Informal verbal- Meetings, Conversations

Written Communication

·         Formal Written- Project Plans, Project Charter, Long Distance communication

·         Informal Written- email, notes, memos

Major Barriers to successful Communication

-   Information Overloaded

Keep messages simple and direct

Provide sufficient information but not too much

-   Lack of subject knowledge

Must have sufficient knowledge to send the message

Must know level of understanding of receiver

-   Cultural Differences 

Meanings and interpretations may vary among different cultures

Encourage team members to learn each other’s cultures

-   Organizational Environment

Minimize the differences associated with status and ego within the organization

Encourage open and trusting atmosphere

Organizational Communications Patterns

Top Down Communication or Vertical Communication

Within an organization, the communication comes from the top management or it is executive to all employees in the organization.

For Example:

Annual Communication Plan session by Chairman and Managing Director Explaining Company’s impending plan and seeking everyone’s cooperation and support to achieve it or PM sending down communication to its team with regard to project performance or individual performance

Horizontal Communication

This is the communication across the same level executives managing a function or project or an activity.

Example:

VP (Engineering) or VP (Projects) is communicating with VP (HR), VP (Finance), VP (Logistics) or PM of one team communicating with other functional managers in the same level or among other PM's within the company.

Lateral Communication

Lateral communication happens between two managers of the same level within a group or department or among a function. It is one level communication. Please see the illustration and its explanation below.

Bottom-up Communication

Bottom-up communication goes from the bottom level employees in the organizational framework. To give an example, a manager sends his proposal for approval to his VP (Engg. or Finance or HR marketing). Bottom up is used very extensively during the collection of data from all the employees on a group or department wise for budget preparation.

It is a communication process for hearing and understanding another’s thoughts and feelings from that person’s frame of mind or point of view.

A learned skill in which the listener interprets meaning based on the verbal and or non-verbal information made out by the speaker.

Active listening involves comprehending what one thinks is the most important to the speaker and paraphrase the statement in one’s own words.

Conclusion

Project communication management involves project communication planning, information distribution, reporting performance and formal project close-out. We can conclude by saying that communication management is one of the essential functions that can dramatically affect the outcome of a project. It is essential to create and effectively use a communication plan. This assists in the proper and free flow of information in and out of the project team and all stakeholders and leading to a successful project completion.

 


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