How to achieve effective communication?

We all know that project managers usually spend more than 90% of their time on communication, like communicating with stakeholders from inside/outside organization, project team members, contractors and so forth.

Different stakeholders may have different culture or different organizational background, different skill sets, opinions and interests, or even different working styles, communication styles, ways of thinking. Therefore, it’s very important to maintain effective communication, in order to make the project successful.

Here is an example.

When Kyle was managing a subway’s video monitor system project, he was in a weak matrix organization. The project’s scope included system development, hardware procurement and system integration. Project team members included site engineers, technicians, safety supervisors et al.

After Kyle took over the project, he realized there were too many peoples he needed to communicate with:

1. First of all, downward. Kyle had to communicate with the four team members of this project. Furthermore, he had to communicate with many cooperative equipment suppliers.

2. Sideward. Kyle had to communicate with other project team members in the organization, along with other system integration manufacturers.

3. Upward. There is a program manager and a company’s chief inspector who’s supervising Kyle’s project.

4. Outward. The external stakeholders, including client company and owners of construction company.

As we can see, there were so many stakeholders related to Kyle’s project, which made him encountered many difficulties when developing the project communication management plan.

The first difficulty: communication with his own project team members.

Due to the characteristic of subway, construction of the project must be performed at a deep tunnel underground. When the entire subway tunnel was still under construction, there was not even a little reception signal of cellphone. As for the site engineers, they had to perform the construction separately. Some of them had to do the front-end debugging, while others were in charge of back-end dispatching and directing.

This situation had caused enormous inconvenience for the project team members’ communication. Message and information could not be transmitted effectively or effectually. The dispatching velocity was extremely slow and caused the schedule to be delayed.

Regarding to this situation, Kyle’s team concluded that it was the lack of communication technique that caused the problem. That’s because of the extreme urgency of the need for information. In other words, many messages must be transmitted as soon as possible. Since all the cellphones could not receive any signal under that particular circumstance, Kyle eventually applied wireless interphones from the company, and then all team members were able to communicate without any obstacle. Problem solved!

The second difficulty: that subway crossed nine subway-stations in total, and Kyle’s team was separated into 3 units to carry the project forward simultaneously.

But that caused another problem: those 3 units weren’t able to be colocated, which caused the information or message between different units could not be shared or aligned in time, especially the information about project’s schedule. That had caused schedule variance, which means some units were faster than others.

Regarding to this situation, Kyle’s solution was simple: every single morning, every captain of all units firstly went to a certain location where they had daily stand-up meeting. In that meeting every captain would share information like what they had achieved and what to achieve that day. And then, after a full day’s work, those captains would meet at the same location to have another meeting, to share information like what had been done for that day and what the plan of the day after would be.

The third difficulty: when facing throng cooperative suppliers, owners, main contractors, and other parent companies like them, effective communication became especially important.

There was an incident which was memorable to Kyle. One day, Kyle received a complain from one owner, who said that the wiring standard in the cabinet had not yet been modified based on his request.

Kyle was shocked receiving that complain, because he had never received such a job of modification. After a thorough examination of what cause the misunderstanding, Kyle discovered that the modification task was orally passed on to an engineer when the owner was inspecting the project one time. That engineer then tried to call Kyle but could not reach him, eventually the engineer had no choice but to text Kyle the message. And accidentally Kyle had not noticed the message in his cellphone.

After that incident, Kyle had concluded that, different cooperatives, contractors, or owners would have different communication channels, or communication methods, which would cause misalignment of information among all those stakeholders, and cause execution problem of project.

In order to solve the communication problem, several key points must be followed:

1. First, analyze communication requirements of all stakeholders;

2. Confirm the communication methods, channels, frequency and level of detail of all stakeholders;

3. Develop detailed communication plan and effectively communicate project’s information and updates;

4. Confirm that the communication is effective or not, and get feedback from stakeholders.

Following these key points, we then again analyze the former case of Kyle:

First of all, regarding to the internal communication of team members, we need to analyze the team members’ communication requirement and communication method based on specific circumstance of the project, in order to guarantee all members can share information effectively and finish their job cooperatively. In the Kyle’s case, so as to change all members’ communication equipment would be sufficient.

Secondly, regarding to the communication among three different units, we need to consolidate all the communication frequency and communication contents, which would make all members’ communicating all at a steady pace. That would guarantee the effectiveness of information updates, which would push the project forward in a healthy way.

Once more, in the situation of having many stakeholders and complicated communication channels, we must consolidate all the communication channels and methods. Furthermore, we must make all team members realize that if a message had not passed on to its receiver, it would be the deliverer’s responsibility.

Finally, after all communication requirements and methods have been confirmed, we also need to make sure that all information would be collected, generated, published, stored, retrieved, monitored and disposed properly.

In summary, in order to achieve effective communication, project manager would have to develop a reasonable communication plan, confirm various stakeholders’ communication requirements, select proper communication technique, model and method, and then don’t forget to get feedback from all stakeholders.

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