5th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Chapter 10: General Considerations about Communications

1.  Introduction

In explaining process 10.2, Manage Communications, the 5th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide not only explains the individual tools & techniques, namely communication technology, communication models, communication methods, information management systems, and performance reporting. 

But it then goes beyond that explains some of the general features of those tools & techniques, and that is the subject of today’s post.

2.  Techniques and considerations of project communications




1. Sender-receiver models Incorporate feedback loops to provide opportunities for interaction and remove barriers to communication
2. Choice of media Considerations that guide the following choice of when

  • to communicate in writing versus orally,
  • to send an informal communication versus a formal one,
  • to meet face-to-face versus via e-mail
3. Writing style Active vs. passive voice, sentence structure, word choice.
4. Meeting management techniques Preparing an agenda, sticking to the agenda, dealing with conflicts.
5. Presentation techniques Impact of body language, visual aids, vocal technique.
6. Facilitation techniques Building consensus, overcoming obstacles.
7. Listening techniques Active listening,which involves

  • acknowledging
  • clarifying
  • confirming understanding

Removal of barriers that adversely impact comprehension.

Let’s discuss these in turn:

1)  Sender-receiver models

Encode →  Transmit Message →  Decode →  Acknowledge →  Feedback/Response

One of the overlooked steps in communication is acknowledge, which means to confirm the receipt of the message.   Here is the point where the person can simply assume they understood the message, and give a feedback or response.  The problem with that is that they may have misunderstood the message.    This engenders a whole cycle of miscommunication, all of which can be avoided by acknowledging receipt of the message.   This is the time where you can clarify and confirm one’s understanding BEFORE you take the trouble to respond.   That extra step can reduce the risk of miscommunication.

Some people have a form of acknowledgement that tells them when an e-mail was OPENED, although it can’t tell you whether it was read, or even better, understood.    That’s another form of feedback loop that is sometimes helpful.

2)  Choice of media

If you have someone on your project team that is not completing his or her project assignments, do you send them a formal letter of reprimand first?   I would hope not; I hope the first time it occurs that you have an informal verbal communication, face-to-face.   If it happens repeatedly, only then would you want to resort to going to a formal verbal and then, if necessary, written communication on the subject.    This is in its own way a form of escalation of the form of communication.

An important e-mail communication might profitably be followed by a telephone call.   “But I sent you an e-mail” does not absolve you of your responsibility to get the message across.   Yes, you may have sent an e-mail, but so did many, many other people on that same day.    How do you know it didn’t get buried, or accidentally sent to the wrong folder, etc.?

PMI may be somewhat old-fashioned in the sense that it prefers face-to-face meeting rather than e-mail communications.   I must admit I fall into that “old-fashioned” category myself, although with today’s busy world, one must accommodate people’s schedules and having a face-to-face meeting at a moment’s notice may not always be possible.

One of the reasons why the “choice of media” is important, because PMI considers e-mail to be an informal method of communication (as opposed to a letter).    The millennial generation considers it formal, with texting being the preferred informal method of communication.   So be aware of the generational differences on your project, not just the cultural ones.

3)  Writing style

The passive voice (“mistakes were made”) removes the agent from the sentence, and is a form of linguistic alienation that is associated with a bureaucracy.   The best writers use the active voice, because it is more direct and includes the reader in the communication by means of addressing him or her.   I tend to use too many words in my effort to get my point across; others may use to few.    In the former case, you risk boring the recipient, in the latter case, you risk confusing them.    Finding the right balance is the key!

4)  Meeting Management Styles

Having an agenda with the items to be discussed, and preferably a schedule of how much time is allotted to each, is essential if you are not to waste everyone’s time.   If someone needs to bring information or documents to the meeting, make sure this is clearly stated.   Once at the meeting, if someone unwittingly tries to sabotage the agenda by taking too long to discuss a point, or inserting another point of discussion into the meeting, then use the firm but polite response of tabling that discussion for later.    Those people whose eyes are glazing over or rolling around will thank you for it!

5)  Presentation Styles

Here I go with another plug for Toastmasters, but you will learn everything you need about how to run effective meetings and effective presentations within those meetings if you join Toastmasters.    No more “Death by Powerpoint” presentations!

6)  Facilitation Techniques

In the project managers’ Toastmasters Club I used to belong to, many times the meeting would warm up with a joke, and many of these had to do with three people:  a software engineer, a hardware engineer, and a project manager.   The joke usually centered around some incompatibility or even hostility between the mindsets of the software engineer and hardware engineer.    Even though these are jokes, people laugh because they recognize the truth on which they are based:   that these engineers often times have different priorities and you as a project manager have to be able to facilitate discussion between the two groups.

7)  Listening Techniques

Active listening takes the feedback loop discussed in section 1) above and extends it to the verbal realm.    You ask a person, “so let me see if I understand what you’re saying” and then summarize their point.   This extra step may save a lot of confusion and misunderstanding.    Knowing how to use objective standards in discussing alternatives, but making sure people know that the opinion you are giving IS an opinion (“I think that …” vs. “it is the case that”) helps to get people’s ego “offline” to be able to discuss the question dispassionately without the perception that you are attacking them personally.

These are just some general observations about communications that I have elaborated on, but I think it was wise for PMI to include them in the 5th Edition because they definitely apply throughout the length of the project, from the kickoff meeting to the closing ceremony.

The next post will be about the contents of “performance reporting”, one of the key outputs of process 10.2 Manage Communications.

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