Why Monitoring Communications Begins with the Ask

The best way to monitor project communications is to ask if people are receiving the intended informationAsk.

That’s all I’m asking of you. Just ask.

“Ask?” you ask.

“Ask,” I say.

I initially introduced the topic of project communications in an article entitled, “How to Prevent Project Communication Faux Pas.” I strongly advocated for the development of a Communications Management Plan. I followed that with an article that focused on the need for Project Managers to master the art of communication: “Why You Should Focus on Communication Skills.” With a strong communication plan in place, the next step is to put the plan to work (refer to “How to Make the Communication Management Plan Real”).

But how does the Project Manager know the plan is working? How does he or she know that the right people are getting the right information at the right time in the right way?

I find it interesting that as I reviewed the various disciplines within the Monitoring and Controlling Process Group in the PMBOK® Guide, I noticed section titles such as: “Control Scope,” “Control Schedule,” “Control Costs,” “Control Quality,” “Control Resources,” and “Control Procurements” (Project Management Institute, 2017, pp.167-501). However, the section regarding communication used a more passive title: “Monitor Communications.”

Why is that? After all, we are told that most of a Project Manager’s efforts – 90% according to some experts – are in communicating with the various stakeholders, team members, and external entities. If communication comprises the better part of a Project Manager’s day, surely, he or she can control communication!

I suppose there is some aspect of control of the communication. It may be found in adhering to the communication plan and distributing information according to the content, format, cadence, and intended audience. But those aspects really fall under the “Manage Communications” processes.

Control of communication is more elusive than management of communication. I have witnessed projects where the attempt to control information was so tight that the project teams were left in the dark as to their next steps. I have also witnessed projects where information was not controlled well at all, and rumors and misinformation floated throughout the project like a broken feather pillow on a breezy day.

The truth of the matter is that once the information leaves the Project Manager’s domain, he or she loses control of its intended effect. It may still have the intended effect, but that is no longer in the Project Manager’s control. It is now in the hands of the recipients to act upon as they wish.

Hence, “Monitor Communications.” Hence my encouragement to ask.

  • Are the project stakeholders receiving exactly the information they need to enable them to fully engage in their project responsibilities? Are their reports succinct, thorough, and informative? Ask. Observe.
  • Is executive management being kept completely apprised of project progress, issues, risks, victories, challenges, and the like? Ask. Observe.
  • Is the client’s Project Manager able to fulfill his or her role as a full partner, acting appropriately on information provided to them? Ask. Observe.
  • Are the project teams, including the client staff loaned to the project, receiving timely and adequate information for them to complete their tasks on schedule? Ask. Observe.
  • Are status meetings, leadership meetings, staff meetings, all-hands meetings, and vendor meetings informative, well-facilitated, and action driven? Ask. Observe.
  • Are inter-team, intra-team, team-to-client, lead-to-team, lead-to-team member, team member-to-team member written and verbal communications respectful, appropriate, clear, concise, useful? Ask. Observe. This area is a little more difficult to gauge simply by asking. However, reviewing those communications to which the Project Manager is privy provides opportunity to monitor and offer instruction.
  • Are team members’ social media posts devoid of comments about the project, the team, or the client? Instruct, then observe/monitor (and cross fingers).
  • Are team members’ hallway conversations, after-hours banter, behavior in social settings respectful and appropriate? Instruct, then monitor as opportunities present themselves.

These last two items are difficult to monitor well. However, Project Managers who develop the trust of their staff, and keep their antennae up, can monitor the underlying health of the project and teams.

What of all this asking and observing and monitoring?

The purpose is to make adjustments along the way:

  • to review what is being communicated against the reasons for communicating it.
  • to instruct staff in areas in which they are lacking good communication skills.
  • to counsel staff who behave and/or communicate inappropriately.
  • to bolster reports that lack complete information.
  • to educate client staff in their project roles.
  • to tighten up meetings.

To fix what is not working.

As communication needs change and adjustments are made, the Project Manager must maintain the Communication Management Plan. Oh, and let’s not forget updating the Lessons Learned document while the lessons learned are still fresh.

It seems that a Project Manager’s list of required skills is never ending. True, but not impossible to acquire them all. In the monitoring of communications, he or she must develop the expert judgment necessary to spot developing issues regarding project communication. Understanding body language, facial expressions, vocal variations, how to read the room, and how to read a person are all invaluable learned skills that are useful to monitoring the communication health of the project.

These are the critical people aspects of project management that result in successful projects.

Footnotes

Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newton Square, PA: PMI Publications, 2017, Print.


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