Communications Skills for Project Managers

 Communications Skills for Project Managers

Author: G. Michael Campbell
Pub Date: May 2009
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814433065
Page Count: 288
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814410547

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Thinking About Your Project

Communications in a New Way

Today, business is changing faster than ever, and most of

those changes are being implemented through projects

that require even stronger project management. Demand

for project management methods and skills has driven

the dramatic growth in organizations such as the Project

Management Institute. However, just using sound project

management methodology will not guarantee successful

projects, as many project managers have learned to

their dismay.

Why Isn’t Good Project Management Enough?

Too many project managers have been in the situation where a project,

which was a technical success from a project management perspective,

was viewed as a business failure from the point of view of

an operations group. How can that be possible—to be a “technical

success” and “business failure”? In the Information Technology

world where it frequently happens, it means the software application

works as advertised and therefore is, by definition, a technical

success. However, the user groups either don’t use the application

correctly, or they don’t use it at all! As a result, the project never

produces the projected business value—and is considered a business


This book is designed to help you overcome that daunting

hurdle and several others that are caused by the wrong communication

strategy. I will show you in a step-by-step way how to use

communications to deliver a successful business project and bring

the business benefits promised.

Why Are Project Communications

So Important?

As recently as twenty years ago, the only time you might come

across the use of project management techniques was in the development

of high-technology products at places like NASA or in engineering

or heavy construction. Outside of the military, aerospace,

defense, electronics, and building industries, project management

tools and techniques were rarely used, and then only portions of

those available were put into action. Even in companies and organizations

where project management methodology was well established,

the focus on communications was minimal. Usually, these

companies were building large capital projects where people could

often see and mark progress. Also, people had different expectations—

when they moved into a new building or plant, they fully expected

things to be different—and better! In today’s era where more

and more projects are centered on information, progress and other

factors are not so clear. And the expectations are different. People

expect the project to allow them to do the same work, only faster

and easier. Managing expectations is a key driver for effective project


Another piece of data about the importance of communications:

My company, MCA International, was conducting a series of

workshops for the project managers for an oilfield services company

with locations literally all over the globe. In conducting these

workshops, we worked with over 500 project managers representing

over thirty countries. As part of the workshop evaluation, we

asked these project managers to assess what made projects successful

and what caused projects to fail. The number one success factor

identified by this diverse group was communications. When we

asked for more details, what we learned was that when communications

were strong among the project team members and between

the project team and the customers within the energy companies,

the projects were nearly always successful. If the projects failed,

poor communications was always identified as a critical factor in

pinpointing what went wrong.

The other key success factor these project managers identified

was the support and engagement of leadership in their projects. It

seems that all project managers recognize the need for leadership

backing, but are often frustrated in their efforts to get it. That is why

the second chapter in this book, titled Preparing the Leadership, is

right at the front of the book. It will demonstrate how you can keep

the company leadership interested in your project from beginning

to end. With vigorous project communications, your chances of

success soar and your frustration will fall off dramatically.

What Happens If You Ignore

Project Communications?

To illustrate the consequences of ignoring communications in managing

expectations, I would like to relate the personal experience of

one of my clients. His team was installing a new software application

for traders who buy and sell commodities. He had used most

of the communication techniques you will read in this book, and

things had gone very well. However, my client found himself in the

same tough situation that all project managers find themselves in

at one time or another. It was a long project coming into the final

months. However, because the project team began to get sloppy

with its communications, the traders’ expectations were not being

managed carefully, and a storm of resistance to the new software

began to build up. Unfortunately, if something wasn’t done quickly,

the final few months threatened to undo all the goodwill that had

been built up over the previous 18 months within the commodities

group. While many of the issues that caused the resistance were

more complex than is necessary to detail here, the critical failure factor

in this instance was a basic flaw in his communication strategy

(the earlier reference to “sloppy”). The project manager and his

team had fallen into the habit of communicating with the business

users only through email. As most of us know, between the tremendous

amount of daily email (most of it barely necessary) coupled

with spam, most people will ignore email after a while, particularly

if it is seen as simply “a status update.” This is what happened to

this project manager. So how did he fix the problem? First, the team

worked together and, instead of relying on only email updates, he

built a new and more hearty communications plan (see Chapter

10: Developing the Communications for the Project) that provided

several “rich” communication events such as brown-bag lunches

and town hall meetings (richness is explained in more details in

Chapter 5: Common Elements for All Communications) in addition

to email updates and personal phone calls. We also created a series

of very targeted messages to key commodity traders who could influence

others on their team. These changes, and some other technical

fixes, helped him to finish the project with the amount of

goodwill that the project team deserved based on the terrific job

they had done.

So What Will You Get from This Book?

This book will give you the foundation of all communications,

whether written or oral. Chapter 5: Common Elements for All

Communications covers the basics for all types of communications

and helps you build those communications for the maximum effect.

Throughout the book, you will see a wide variety of tools,

templates, and techniques to help you prepare and deliver these

communications for a wide range of audiences and purposes.

In Chapter 12: Using Communication to Handle Risks, you

will see how effective communications can help you manage an assortment

of risks. This is important because new technology has

increased business risk and, consequently, the requirement for high

degrees of project management competency in communications. It

has raised the ante for project success due, in no small part, to the

extraordinary investments companies have made by implementing

new technologies and systems. Now the management teams of these

organizations are demanding the same Return on Investment (ROI)

that they would expect after building a refinery or any other major

capital project.

A good illustration of the growing acceptance of project management

methodology is the phenomenal growth of the Project

Management Institute (PMI), the world’s largest nonprofit professional

organization that promotes the art and science of project

management. Founded in 1969 with fewer than 100 members, by

1979 membership was still only 2,000. By 1990, the organization

still had less than 10,000 members. However, by the turn of the

century, membership had swollen to 50,000. As of the writing of

this book, PMI boasts over 150,000 active members residing in 140

countries across the globe.

Business Project Management

The wide varieties of demands placed on organizations today quite

naturally affect your individual approach to work. If you want to

survive and thrive in these changing times, you must be effective in

both your field of expertise (the ordinary work you do) as well as

in your ability to rally with others to solve problems, pursue opportunities,

and effect change (the project work). That requires competency

in both project management and communications. Most

people would have a tough time trying to figure out the link between

project management and change management (change management

is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and

organizations from the status quo to a desired future state; the

current definition of change management includes both change

management processes and individual change management models,

which together are used to manage the people side of changes)

as disciplines. Project management is seen as more of a methodology

with defined tasks, hard deliverables, and standard techniques.

Change management, on the other hand, is seen as the “soft” side—

the people side. Project managers who have thought about change

management usually think about it as communications, including

posters on the wall, and maybe some training. However, ask most

project managers some pointed questions such as, “What is the

most difficult part of your project?” and nearly all of them will respond,

“People!” If you follow up with another question, “Why

are people the hardest part?” they will usually respond, “Because

they always resist the changes that my project requires.”

If that is generally true, then maybe there is a link between

project management and change management. But most project

managers are probably like me: We think in processes, meaning we

like a systematic set of steps to reach a predictable conclusion and,

while we multitask, we do much better with methodologies such as

the approach proposed by the Project Management Institute, or

PRINCE2 developed by the Office of Government Commerce in

the United Kingdom, than “flying by the seat of our pants.” This

linkage is called “Business Project Management.”

So this book will show you how to link project management

methods, as outlined by the Project Management Institute (PMI),

with change management methods and how communications impacts

each phase of a project. The book will follow the four phases

of PMI’s methodology and show you how to build them together

at each phase.

Finally, throughout the book, you will find a series of reminders

that will aid you as you work your projects in the future.

They will allow you to recall the major points to consider without

the effort of reading the book again or trying to figure out where

those points are in each chapter. I believe that will allow you to

replicate your success over and over again.

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