The Role of Communication in Project Management

Communication is the most important of the tasks project management person or team for any given project. 90% of a project management leader’s work on the project will be communication. Delegating, receiving and following up on progress reports, and holding meetings all demand highly effective communication lest something go wrong with the project. It probably goes without saying that highly effective communication should be included in all IM chats, e-mails, and telephone calls, as well.

It is the most crucial task of project management leaders to understand and facilitate clear and circumspect communication for the simple reason that most of the members of a project development team probably have surprisingly mediocre, even sub-par, communication skills. Communication skills are very much taken for granted by the general business population. It is assumed that if one has graduated from a college or university and has basic spoken and written skills in English (as this essay is being written in English, let’s assume that you conduct your business in English), one must have effective communication skills. But as those with experience in project management understand, this seemingly logical, even inevitable, relationship is quite often absent. Indeed, in the business world one of the important factors that helps to decide if someone is qualified enough to be a project management leader is their having above-average (preferably excellent) communication capabilities.

Communication in projects is about the transferring of relevant knowledge from one party to another party or parties. If the knowledge that is intended to be conveyed is distorted or poorly received, clearly this interferes with the transmission and therefore with the use and application of knowledge. A lack of knowledge translates into an inadequately completed or, worse yet, an incomplete project. Such a poor result costs the company a lot of money, and it may cost the company a client. It may cost someone their job, as well.

The two main methods of communicating are through written words and spoken words. A great deal of time is spent in the business world using the written word for communication. Those involved in project management can certainly attest that they often do a lot of reading in order to try to steer a project through to successful completion.

Written words have great power and utility. When you are writing, you can take your time to ponder the words you will choose. Even if you are talking via IM, you can take more time to pause and think about what you’re reading from the other person and what you really want to say next than you can on a telephone call or from just the spoken words during a meeting. When you receive written communication, you can read over the words again and again as needed in order to cull the right meaning. You can go back over your archives of written communication in case you have forgotten something or need to clarify your memory.

However, there are some drawbacks to written word communication. One of these is that the person writing a message may have less than desirable grammatical and punctuation skills. Poor spelling ability can muddy the waters of clear communication, too. Inferior grammar, punctuation, and spelling can lead to distorted written messages. These factors may lead to miscommunication that cause problems with the development of the project, such as for one example a poorly written and thus misunderstood message that leads to friction between two parties. They may also lead to an unwanted slow-down in the progress of a project, and this in turn can threaten the meeting of deadlines if one party must wait for clarification of a written message from another. Another problem with written words is that many people, especially in today’s digital age, actually do not use the advantage of more time to think that writing affords. This is especially true with IM communication, but it goes for e-mails as well. Too many people write like they speak, and don’t think that capital letters where appropriate really matter. Project management absolutely demands that you, as a manager, have advanced written communication ability (like the author of this essay!). It is also a good idea for you to suggest training in business writing skills for any employees whom you find to be lacking in fundamental English writing skills.

As mentioned above, the other aspect of verbal communication is oral. The advantages here are significant. Communication flows faster without the need to write things out. If you use virtual meetings online, it’s possible to create audio recordings of everything said for playback later, and voice-activated tape recorders can be used in in-person meetings to the same ends, so in this way oral communication can be archived and referenced later just as written can. When one only has to listen instead of having to read, one can often act on the knowledge more rapidly (such as drawing, typing, writing, opening up computer desktop files, or Internet surfing in simultaneous response to what’s being heard).

But, there are drawbacks to oral communication. It is more difficult for many people to retain information that is only spoken versus that which is written (which makes it audio-visual, not just audio). It is often more tedious to pause, rewind, and fast forward through a recording than it is to simply flip through pages. And, oral communication can be more complex than written because it involves paralingual aspects (“it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it”) and, when it comes to spoken words, 55% of the message is delivered by non-verbal cues-body language. Body language is more difficult to follow in these days of the Internet virtual meeting. And many people are somewhat inept when it comes to understanding how to use paralingual and non-verbal aspects of oral communication on the telephone and in live meetings. This can clearly cause a great deal of havoc.

To understand just how easy it is for communication efforts to go awry in project management, there is a nice little formula that has been worked up through the years: to calculate the possibility of miscommunication, use the formula (N*(N-1))/2, with N = the number of people directly involved in the project. So on a project that has a mere five people involved, with you being one of them as project manager, there are 10 possible ways, with each and every piece of communication, for things to go wrong if they’re not done “to perfection”.

There is also a nice solution to help with effective communication that has been drawn, called the communication matrix. This is a table of all of those directly involved in the project, and each and every one of those people is entered under both the row and column headings. A check-mark at the intersection of two project participants means that those two participants will definitely need to communicate directly with each other for the project to be successfully completed. You can focus on this matrix to help yourself facilitate clear and effective communication at the right time and in the right place for the right people concerned.

Your bottom line here with alls this is straightforward. It is imperative that you ensure and facilitate effective communication as a project manager. It is 90% of your project management task.