We’ve all heard the stereotypes. Project Managers: IT geeks that are excited by spreadsheets and their only interaction with people is through a computer screen. Their only job is to check off boxes when things are completed and then deliver a perfect outcome for a project.
We’ve come a long way. Most project managers know that the PMBOK is right … about 80 percent of a PM’s job is communication. But how do you communicate effectively and how do you manage those relationships to produce that successful outcome you crave?
As a Change Management professional, I learned early on how to help people move more comfortably through change. The intersection of Change Management and Project Management is inescapable. Prosci, a research-based consulting company, created a Change Management methodology that focuses on the people side of change. One of their tools is a checklist for communications that also happens to include a few things Project Managers may want to make sure they cover for their team members and stakeholders. Let’s look at some of them with a PM lens.
Make sure you understand and can answer “Why is this change happening?” Early understanding of the project and the implications of the change to stakeholders is imperative. A good project manager will make sure they have a deep understanding from the project sponsor to better enable their ability to motivate the project team and engage stakeholders.
Answering the question, “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” It is critical you understand the impact on not just the individual stakeholder, but on members of your project team. Every person on the team can be affected differently by the project process. Tailor your communications around that impact, highlighting what’s in it for them as a team member when they help make this project successful.
Finding the best way to communicate with your stakeholders. Every project is different, and the people attached to it are, too. Stand up meetings, emails, and 1:1s are all ways to get information to (and from) your stakeholders. Don’t think that whatever communication works best for you, works for everyone. Make sure you understand how they like to receive information and tailor your communications plan to it.
Using face-to-face communications. Too often, we believe that sending an email fulfills our communication requirement. While that may be a good first step, true project management communication goes much deeper. Email is too often formulaic and may not even been seen, let alone understood by many on a project. Whenever possible, face-to-face, even if it’s over Zoom, is the preferred method of communication.
Repeating key messages five to seven times. Too often we think that sending an email is one and done. People must hear things multiple times before they take action. So, after you think you’ve said it enough, say it a few more times.
Creating opportunities for two-way communication. I have often heard the complaint that project managers just send directives and don’t want to hear any negative feedback that may come from those demands. This idea that any resistance to a project is negative should not be the status quo. Sometimes resistance is justified and can help give context to trouble that may be seen by someone on the team and can help make the project more successful.
How do you know if your communications are working? Tracking milestones is nothing new in project management. But paying attention and looking at the root cause of a milestone failure forces a project manager to dig a little deeper. Was the missed deadline because of a communication failure? What might you have to do differently to get a better outcome?
Projects bring together a diverse set of stakeholders and the project manager is in the center of it all. Discovering the makeup of the team is critical in the early phase of a project.
Understanding the motivations and needs of people involved in the success of the project should start with ensuring you gather as much information through questionnaires and 1:1 conversations even before the first project meeting. This will help you identify what resources you might need and what communication methods to use to ensure milestones are met and the benefits are realized.
It also will help you understand, and set, expectations as a team. Setting those expectations early on will help you craft those communications and meet the needs of your stakeholders. Remember, every project is also a change for those involved. And with your project leadership and curated support, everybody can see what a true project manager looks like.
Stacy Dunbar is a Principal Consultant with Avaap. Her experience includes managing large scale projects for Fortune 100 and international companies. As an organizational change management consultant and PMP, Stacy helps companies advance strategic priorities and successfully transition employees to a business’s new normal. Stacy’s work in HR and deep experience in Change and Project Management focuses on helping employees be ready, willing, and able to make a new transition.
Originally distributed by PMI-Central Ohio Chapter.