Managing Effective Communication in Project Teams

Communication is the lifeline of any and every kind of relationship. It is said that project managers spend about 90% of their time on any project communicating. Yea, you read that right - 90%. This goes without saying that the quality of communication that a person coordinates while on a project can determine if the project will succeed or fail. In this post, Mrs. Uchendu will address some common challenges to effective project communication within project teams, as well as recommend best practices.

Could you highlight some of the common obstacles you experienced while managing project communications and how they were tackled?

  1. Project team reporting to functional managers – We work in an environment that consists of project team members that have project duties (Project Manager) and day to day (Functional Manager) duties. Ensuring that all project related items are communicated to the Project Manager and not the functional Manager is one of the major challenges that had to be addressed. This caused false task approvals and information not being clearly communicated to the project team. In order to amend the issue, we implemented a reporting system that clearly identified to the project team members when and to whom they needed to report.

  1. Team members having “side discussions” – When team members are working together on tasks and not sharing the outcome of their work, preferring to work in silos. This caused confusion on what was completed and what was still outstanding. Simple remedy to this is implementing a rule that if it’s not written and communicated to the project team then it was considered to not have happened.

If a work is not communicated to the project team, it is considered undone.

  1. Team members located across the country – Limited methods of communication are available and ensuring communication was received clearly was an issue. There was the need to have more follow up meetings to ensure the message was received. Detailed meeting minutes with action items helped, as well as more touch point sessions to relay the message more than once.

  1. Communication timing, time difference between project team members – Due to team members being located across the country, we had an issue with communications not being received or returned in what we felt was a timely fashion. The first step was to establish core working times, meaning when everyone was available. Then we needed to make sure that not only the information was communicated, but the expected reply time was also part of the communication.

  1. Clearly communicating requirements – Long winded emails that tend to dance around the point and the message or action of the receiver was not clearly understood. In order to remedy this, we needed to set some common practices amongst the team to be more direct in our communication and when assigning tasks. For instance, you could give the explanation of what you would like to communicate and then assign the task to who you’d like to execute it (Example @John, please review the document attached and provide feedback on the action plan in Chapter 6).

Others include:

  1. Assumptions – People making assumption and acting on it instead of opening up for discussion and seeking feedback or validation of their assumptions.

  1. Lack of ownership – People not taking ownership over their part of the project which in turn affected their communication style.

What strategies did you find useful for effective project communication?

  • Daily stand-up meetings for agile projects, or regular status synch up meetings.
  • Using collaborative tools like JIRA, Trello
  • Including the core project team members (Project Manager, Design Authority and Functional Lead) on all communications that pertained to the project. Setting up the core team and setting the standard that all communication requires their inclusion from the beginning. This will set up the common practice throughout the lifecycle of the project and will ensure that no information is missed.
  • Using one centralized location for maintaining all records of business value. Most organizations will have similar tools for communicating and maintaining records of communication. This allows for a centralized location for all information that the project team requires throughout the project.
  • Establishing the preferred method of communication. This often depends on the organization; and all other communication through other methods should be re-communicated through the agreed method.
  • Regular project sub-team meetings – This allowed for a more personal form of communication and discussed topics that needed a more efficient way of diving deeper into the topic. For instance, weekly meetings also allowed for us to communicate more effectively through non-verbal forms to help differentiate between urgent and non-urgent topics.

Get to know your team’s preferred method of communication.

What best practices would you recommend for managing project communications?

  1. Get to know your team’s preferred method of communication before establishing the forms of communication you would like to use. For example, some team members will be more comfortable in a face to face meeting than others and some team members will be able to communicate more clearly in written form. Understand what you’re working with and then set the boundaries of how you’re going to implement a Communications Management Plan.
  2. Do not be afraid to change the plan throughout the lifecycle of the project. Some plans will have some issues and will need to be changed to match the preferred method of the team or what the situation calls for.
  3. Ensure all factors are accounted for when developing your communications plan (social, logistics, language, culture, etc.)
  4. Identify opportunities for stakeholders to be proactive and ask them to follow up on action items closer to deadline.
  5. Promote a culture that embraces failures as learning opportunities instead of a reason to stop developing.
  6. Set clear expectations and have regular review of them with stakeholders.
  7. Ask questions.

Adapt your communications plan as required, throughout the lifecycle of your project.

Closing thoughts.

The #1 goal of your communication plan is to ensure the right information is communicated at the right time to the right people. Ensure all forms of communication meet this objective.

C. Uchendu
  1. Ensure your plan has flexibility, establish a baseline plan and communicate that to the team, but also keep an eye on the natural communication methods of your team and adapt the plan accordingly.
  1. Corporate culture will drive your project communications. Sometimes you need to change the culture if you want to improve your project communications.

Mrs. Uchendu is a certified project management professional and a program manager at one of Canada’s government corporations. She enjoys spending time with family, and treating herself to a nice movie during her leisure.

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