6th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Process 10.2 Manage Communications: Tools and Techniques

This post covers the tools and techniques in this very important process 10.2 Manage Communications.

10.2.2  Manage Communications:  Tools and Techniques Communication Technology

This is also considered in making the Communications Management Plan.   The factors that influence the choice of communications technology are:

  • Urgency of the information–this will affect the frequency and the format of the information.   This will also require escalation procedures.   For example, If I send you an e-mail that requires a response, I should indicate in that e-mail what the deadline is for a response.  If you do not answer in the time frame I have indicated, I may go ahead and call you to get the information.   If you do not answer the office phone when i call you, I may leave a message and then text you on your cell phone so you get the message as soon as possible.
  • Availability and reliability of technology–this is important when choosing any type of technology.   For example, I find that when choosing a platform for virtual meetings (such as WebEx) may require that people install software or an extension to their browser before the meeting so that they are not trying to do it when the meeting begins.    Also, setting ground rules for virtual meetings is important, so that, for example mute their phones when not speaking in order to eliminate background noise for the other people on the call.
  • Ease of use–if communications technology is unfamiliar to people, there should be training events planned in order to get them up to speed so that, for example, meetings are not interrupted by people not knowing how to properly use the features of the communications platform.
  • Project environment–This will determine whether meetings are face-to-face or in a virtual environment.   In a global organization, there may be factors to consider such as setting the official language of communication for written and oral communication, and ground rules set regarding sensitivity to various aspects of the cultures which the organization operates.
  • Confidentiality of information–There may be some proprietary information which should not be shared with certain outside groups, for example, when communicating with vendors or with contract employees who are not directly employed by the organization.
  • Organizational culture–many of the ground rules for communication on the project will be ones that are set by the organization that is doing the project. Communications Methods

There are three basic communications methods used to share information among project team members and project stakeholders.   These can be broadly classified as follows:

  • Interactive communication (one-on-one or many-to-many)–this is a multi-directional exchange of information.   Examples:   meetings, phone calls, instant messaging, some forms of social media, and video-conferences.
  • Push communication (one-to-many)–this is information sent to specific recipients who need to receive it.   Examples:  letters, memos, reports, faxes, voice mails, blogs, press releases.
  • Pull communication (many-to-one)–requires the recipients to access content at their own discretion subject to security procedures; usually reserved for large complex information sets, or for large audiences.   Examples:  E-learning, web portals, intranet sites, lessons learned databases, knowledge repositories. Communication Skills

There are many sets of skills needed in communication.    Here are some of them:

  • Communication competence–this is mainly dealing with interactive (one-on-one) communication.    Clarity of purpose and brevity help you create an efficient message, one that does things right; using leadership to inspire others helps you create an effective message, one that does the right things.
  • Feedback–In your role as project manager, you will need to give feedback to your members to correct behavior that does not conform to the ground rules set at the beginning of the project or that addresses a conflict that has arisen between members.   Any such “negative” feedback should be accompanied by the following to reduce the resistance on the part of the person receiving it:
    • Empathy–telling the person if you yourself have done the behavior in the past, but more importantly, understanding why the person did what he or she did.   This shows that you are not criticizing them personally, but focusing on what was done.   If a person makes an error that needs to be corrected, it puts them more at ease to know that I myself may have done the same in the past and have corrected it.   The implication is “if I could change, you can too” without saying it directly.
    • Objective standards–telling the person what the ground rules are and why you think the behavior isn’t consistent with them.   Explain that the ground rules are there so that everybody will work well together on the project.   This takes the focus off the person’s own ego and helps them look at their own behavior objectively.   Avoid the word “wrong” with its moral implications that the person is somehow a bad person; focus on the ethical implications of the behavior when it is inconsistent with the ground rules.   Something that helps here is when you post the ground rules or go over them at the very first group meeting so that everybody is aware of them.   This gets away from the excuse that “I didn’t know the ground rules.”
    • Subjective impression–be sure to tell the person that your feedback is from your viewpoint.   You should be sure not to use language that says simply that their behavior was inconsistent from the ground rules.   Add phrases that make it clear that this is your subjective impression from where you sit (“it seems to me …”, “from where I’m sitting,” “now I may be wrong, but my impression is …”, etc.)  Although you are trying to point to objective rules, you are still a human being that views the situation of the project from your perspective.   This allows the person to realize that you are not sitting as the sole judge or arbiter of reality on the project.   You are a person, like them, who is trying to come to grips with the situation and from where you sit, you think there may be a problem with their behavior based on your reading of the rules.  Especially when dealing with conflicts between individuals on a project, there will definitely be at least two sides of the story and you should be willing to listen to both.   If you do that, and then you still feel that the behavior of one person is going against the ground rules, then by saying that this is your observation, rather than saying it is definitely so, this gives the person you are talking to the message that you are not taking one person’s side over the others.   You are taking the side, as the project manager, on getting the project done and that means everybody, including yourself, abiding by those ground rules.
    • Observation and participation rather than advice–in order to come up with an alternative behavior in the future, rather than saying “in the future, you should…”, it may be more effective if you let the person you are talking to come up with an alternative.   “If you had to do this over, what would you differently?”
    • Support–let them know they are not in this alone.  “How can I help you so that you can change what you are doing?”   Should I send you a reminder?   Do you need more resources (including more training) to gain confidence in what you have to do?   Do we need to make the ground rules clearer in the future?   There are many ways to have the person know that you are going to support the change that you are asking them to make.
    • Sweetening the pot–this is very important when giving negative feedback.  Find something that the person IS doing well at on the job (nobody is able to do EVERYTHING badly on the job, there’s got to be something, however minor, that they just happen to be doing right).   Before you lay it on with regards to the negative feedback, start with the positive feedback and tell them that their contribution on the project is valued.   That way they take the negative feedback and the corrective action from a standpoint of confidence rather than defensiveness.
  • Nonverbal–when you are speaking, learn to use vocal variety (varying the tone and pitch of your voice, using pauses for emphasis), gestures to punctuate the meaning of what you are saying, and facial expressions (even exaggerated ones) again to emphasize your point.
  • Presentations–clear and effective presentations are important.  You need to get across the four categories of preferences people have in communication.
    • Ideas–how do you relate the information to what people think?   This means giving the “big picture” of how the information relates to the project in general, the organization as a whole, or even current ideas within the field of project management.
    • Action–how do you relate the information to what people do?   This means giving takeaways or action items that people can use to put the information into practice on the project.
    • People–how do you relate the information to what people feel?   This means two things:  first of all, relating to the experiences and memories people have by your relating your own experience with regards to the information.   (How did you come across the information?   How did it affect you personally?)   It also means setting up the relationship with the person early on in the communication so that they relate to you.   This is done through storytelling and asking for participation (starting the talk with a question, “how many of you have had the experience of . ..”, or periodically asking people “does this make sense to you?” or at the end asking questions so people can interact with you with regards to the information if they have some doubts.    I put a lot of emphasis on this category because it is what that I personally lacked when I first started working on projects.   I cared so much about getting the information across that I started almost immediately shoveling it out to the audience without spending time first establishing the relationship with them.  I found out if they don’t care about you, they won’t care about what you have to say to them.   This isn’t true of everybody, but it is true about those with a “people” preference.   For them, a simple greeting and asking how they are doing or remarking on the weather will create a simple baseline of interaction upon which you can get THEN use to get the information across.
    • Process–yes, yes, I know there are people who enter the field of project management because they are borderline of having obsessive-compulsive disorder, or in common parlance, they are focused more on doing things right than doing the right things.   For this group, you need to make sure you relate the information to the process of the project.   Do you have information in bullet points that ensure to them that you have crossed your proverbial t’s and dotted your proverbial i’s?   Now, you don’t have to burden the rest of the group by going through all of those details in your presentation, but you need to reassure the detail-oriented people that you have at least thought of all the details.   Instead of asking for their feedback at the end of the presentation, include some of the details in slides (if you are giving a Powerpoint presentation) that you invite their feedback on AFTER the meeting.

By incorporating these four viewpoints in your presentations, you will reach the individuals of the audience who have different viewpoints and get all of their support for the information you are trying to present.

For any project manager wanting to improve their communication skills, I personally recommend Toastmasters as an organization to join because the three sections of the meeting focus on the following

  • Prepared speeches–this is where you learn public speaking skills to make your presentations more effective
  • Table topics–this is where you learn skills in answering questions (useful for interviews or Q&A at the end of your presentations)
  • Evaluations–this is where you learn skills in giving feedback which is welcome and useful for the person receiving it and which effective in getting that person to improve his or her performance.  Project Management Information System (PMIS)

This is a software tool like Microsoft Project which can be use to help manage the following:

  • Project management–this can help you establish a schedule, and create a dashboard to help monitor progress in maintaining that schedule
  • Electronic communications–this can help you with various forms of communication with project team members and stakeholders on the project
  • Social media–helps form online communities that can engage stakeholders with what’s going on in the project Project Reporting

This is a matter of taking work performance information (the comparison of the actual work with the work as projected in the plan) and putting it in a useful form as work performance reports that go out to the stakeholders.   The most important information should be sent out to relevant stakeholders on a regular basis, although you should also be prepared to send out information as requested by key stakeholders. Interpersonal and Team Skills

These are skills that are used in working one-on-one with project team members (interpersonal skills) and the project team as a whole in meetings (team skills).

  • Active listening
    • acknowledging that you receive a message, or when sending an e-mail, setting up an alert system that confirms that the receiver opened the e-mail (whether they read or not, and whether they understood the contents or not is another matter)
    • clarifying and confirming (asking the person to summarize what you just said is a way to do this, or if you are the receiver, telling the sender your summary so that they can confirm whether you understood)
    • understanding (are you talking to a person at a time when they can devote their full attention to you)
    • removing barriers that adversely affect comprehension (speaking clearly)
  • Conflict management (for all conflict resolution techniques, see p. 349 of the PMBOK® Guide)–PMI prefers by far the following technique
    • “Collaborate/problem solve” method which incorporates multiple viewpoints and insights from different perspectives that can result in a win-sin situation.
  • Cultural awareness
    • Minimize misunderstandings and miscommunication that may result from cultural differences within the project stakeholder’s community.   For practical tips on how to analyze these differences, see Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map.
  • Meeting management–project meetings are the bane of every project manager’s existence.   You may not get people to love meetings, but you can certain make them resent them less by paying attention to the following rules:
    • Have a single, specific objective for the meeting.  You should not have a meeting that is both a brainstorming meeting AND a decision-making meeting because those require different modes of thinking by participants.  If you need to both of those, have separate meetings.
    • Prepare and distribute the meeting agenda stating the objectives of the meeting and indicating whether the people need to read anything beforehand and indicating if there are key members presenting information.   The more work done before the meeting, the less time you’ll have to spend doing it in the meeting.   If possible include how much time will be allotted to which section of the meeting.
    • Ensure that the appropriate participants are invited and attend.  If key participants cancel, you may have to cancel the meeting and reschedule when they are available.
    • Ensure that the meetings start on time.   If a person comes late to the meeting, DO NOT recap the meeting for them as that will enable them to keep being late.   If they feel uncomfortable by the fact that they’ve missed something, maybe next time they’ll show up when they’re supposed to.
    • Ensure that the meetings end on time.   Just like on a project, have a buffer of time that you can use if some discussion goes over on a certain section of the meeting.   However, when it gets to be about five minutes before the meeting is supposed to end, you need to start wrapping it up.   Many people will have another phone call or appointment or something lined up immediately afterwards, so you need to let them transition to their next activity.  If you end up finishing early, you will get bonus points from people by releasing them from the meeting early.
    • Stay on topic.   Keep a “parking lot” list or other device to record issues that come up but are either off topic or for which there isn’t sufficient time to discuss at the meeting.    This will allow people to feel their issues are being addressed, even if not immediately at the meeting.
    • Manage expectations for the meeting by repeating the objectives and restating ground rules if necessary.
    • Resolve conflicts that arise, preferably with the collaborative/problem-solving technique described above (see above paragraph on Conflict Management)
    • Record the main points that come up with the meeting, but this taking of meeting minutes needs to be done by someone other than the facilitator of the meeting.   The meeting minutes need to be processed and distributed to those participants within a certain specified date of the meeting, preferably within the next 24-48 hours.
    • Record all action items that stem from the meeting, including those who have been allocated the responsibility for completing the action.
  • Networking–This is either personal, face-to-face networking or virtual in the form of e-mails and/or social media.  This is done to
    • Solve problems
    • Influence actions of stakeholders
    • Increase stakeholder support
  • Political awareness–this helps with influencing actions of stakeholders and increasing their support for the project.   It includes:
    • Recognition of power and influence relationships within the organization (which are the stakeholders who have influence on the project)
    • Understanding the strategies of the organization (which are the stakeholders who are influenced by the project and will therefore be interested in its outcome)  Meetings

These are a tool where communication management is vital in order that they be efficient (not take too much time of the participants) and effective (they help move the project objectives forward).   For techniques on meeting management, see the sub-paragraph on Meetings above under Interpersonal and Team Skills.

These are the tools and techniques used in managing communications on the project.  I’ve got into a lot of detail because this is vitally important to do this process well in order that succeed on the project as a project manager.   The outputs of this process will be covered in the next post.


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