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The Power of Effective Communication

There is a strong likelihood that if you have taken a project management training course within the last decade you have heard some variant on the saying that “90% of a project manager’s time is spent communicating.”  As with everything else, too much of a good thing can cause problems.

I have worked with junior project managers (as well as some seasoned ones) who focus on over communication instead of effective communication.  Their concern is that the perceived importance of information is in the eye of the stakeholder. They are concerned that, if the project manager does not provide “full disclosure” to stakeholders, sponsors or team members, the project manager’s information filtering could spawn or worsen a project issue.

This is a valid risk – a lack of open communication of assumptions, issues or risks has likely caused more project failures than scope creep or limited resource availability. 

However, to swing the pendulum from limited communication to the other extreme raises some risks.  For a sponsor or stakeholder to find some data that is of value to them, they have to wade through reams of interesting but low value (to them) information.  Additionally, drowning stakeholders in minutiae is a good way to lose their interest or attention in your project, to say nothing about reducing credibility in the project manager’s capabilities. 

While useful for sharing project information or eliciting feedback, online communication methods such as Twitter, Instant Messaging, and worst of all, e-mail can dramatically aggravate this situation.  While this information overload issue is dangerous for traditional projects, it is lethal for virtual projects as it increases the probability of stakeholder isolation or withdrawal.

So how does one determine the sweet spot for project communications?  

  1. Include a thorough stakeholder analysis as part of your project communications planning.  For key stakeholders as well as your sponsor, make sure you understand what, when & how do they wish to be get apprised about.
  2. Leverage both push & pull methods of communicating – push information that is time sensitive or requires action.  Let other information be pulled by stakeholders (unless they have specifically asked you to push it to them).
  3. Refresh your communications plan based on feedback.  Meet with stakeholders on a periodic basis to gauge if they feel that your level of communication is effective.
  4. Be consistent in communication content & structure.  This helps to reduce effort spent by team members or stakeholders in processing information and demonstrates predictability and professionalism.

I wrote in a previous article ( that a governing principle of project management is “Always Be Communicating” – perhaps this should have been re-framed as “Always be EFFECTIVELY Communicating”.

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