By Emily Luijbregts
During project retrospectives, one of the biggest issues I often hear is inadequate communication. Perhaps the project manager did not communicate correctly, at the right time, in the right manner—or simply did not communicate at all!
Excellent communication skills are critical for project success. In this blog, I’ll share six ways to improve your communication skills and become a better project manager in the process.
1. Understand your team and stakeholders.
Whenever I enter a new project or organization, I like to use a notepad to write down any relevant or important information about the team members with whom I’ll be working. This includes information about the location of the team, where the team members come from, if they have taken any personality tests, what type of resource they are, etc. I normally complete this by the first stage of team development, but I make sure that I add updates as needed or when new people join the team. This also includes stakeholder analysis. I make a note about where stakeholders are from, the best way of communicating with them and which language is the most appropriate.
2. Seek out collaborators.
How often do you have your communications reviewed by relevant experts or a second pair of eyes? In my projects, I’ll have a project subject matter expert (SME) or team lead review any technical communications before they’re released. I’ll also have a project coordinator or SME review other standard project communications to make sure that they’re clear, easily understood and relevant to the communication group or stakeholders receiving the communication.
3. Create a communication plan.
An effective communication plan can make or break a project. This plan does not need to include the type of communications that you’ll deliver during the project, but rather who needs to be informed and in what frequency. I also like to include other information, such as:
- How would each stakeholder like to be informed? Are presentations, emails or face-to-face communications preferred?
- What times or days are best to discuss or deliver information? This is especially relevant for international or remote teams.
- How should communications be handled during urgent or critical periods?
I also recommend sharing your communication plan with everyone on the project. I put ours in a shared document repository and ensure that everyone on the team knows where to find it.
At its core, a communication plan will also ensure that you’ve identified all of the relevant stakeholders within your project. Without identifying all potential stakeholders, you run the risk of miscommunication, misalignment and potential issues at a later point in the project.
When it comes to communication, clarity is key. It’s for this reason that I delegate specific communications to SMEs and technical leads. I want every communication that leaves my project to bring value to the receiver; therefore, it’s critical that anything remotely technical or outside of your knowledge area is handled by someone who understands the topic thoroughly and knows its current status. As the project manager, I then can support the preparation and delivery of the communication and ensure that it meets the best practices of communication delivery (as outlined in the communication plan).
5. Assess your delivery methods.
In your communication plan, you’ll set out what you will communicate and how you will do it. I recommend managing expectations specifically on the “how.” For example, you cannot afford to have individual calls with a dozen stakeholders delivering the same message, simply because they are in different time zones. To solve this, you can look at grouping regions together and having a maximum of two to three calls, depending on the location of your teams.
If you’re working with remote teams, consider the use of video or having a local leader give the presentation, if appropriate. For example, on a previous project we decided to have joint technical leads bridging three locations globally. Each lead would deliver their update in their time zone to the team (perhaps even in the local language) and ensure that the other leads were informed if anything important arose or needed to be added.
I also recommend regularly recording meetings for anyone who can’t attend and making these recordings available on the team’s shared site, so that anyone can review the communications at any time and provide feedback.
6. Learn from others.
Does your organization have a lessons learned repository? Utilize it to learn from past project mistakes and ensure that your project communications do not run into the same issues. I’ve found lessons learned repositories to be an invaluable source of information about the organization and the pitfalls to avoid.
Becoming an effective communicator is not easy. It takes practice, and you will make mistakes. But if you can devote time to understanding what you are communicating, ensuring that you communicate effectively and providing value to the project, you are on your way to becoming a successful project communicator.
How do you ensure that you’re a successful project communicator? Share your favorite tips in the comments below.