Students in my training classes often ask me this question, and it is a difficult question to answer. Of course, we all know about the triple constraints (scope, schedule, and budget) as well as other ancillary groups of activities, such as resources, risk, and quality. Still, for me, the most important part is communication. And, as long as humans work on projects, effective communication is crucial. You can have the tightest scope ever drafted, the most detailed schedule and budget, as well as the most exhaustive risk analysis ever done. Still, it will all fall apart if you cannot communicate it to your team and other stakeholders. This is not to say that good communication alone is all you need to achieve project success, but rather that communication will be the engine that drives your project.
Whenever my firm has provided training consulting services, my client’s issues and challenges always stem from poor communication, which is related to stakeholder engagement. In other words, you have to be able to communicate the constraints of the project, such as scope, budget, schedule, quality requirements, risks, and so on, in order acquire buy-in from your team and other stakeholders, which translates into higher accountability; clearly inform all interested parties regarding the goals of the project, thereby ensuring that there is clarity in work required; and manage the communication being disseminated to the appropriate people, as well as monitor its effectiveness and ensure that it meets stakeholder expectations.
As in all parts of a project, we have to start with a plan. In this case, the communication plan needs to adhere to the requirements of the stakeholder management plan. Therefore, we have to start with a list of stakeholders (the stakeholder register,) including their expectations. And the expectations have to be detailed ad nauseam in writing, which is where the importance of clear communication is essential. For example, a client might say, as most do, I want my project to be a success, which a lot of us might interpret simply as: “I want my project to address and include all my requirements as written in the scope, as well as come in on time and within budget,” which is part of any successful project. However, the client may also mean that a “successful” project will include absolutely no change requests, or that it will be set a corporate and/or industry record in whatever category, or that the project will lead to his/her personal success within their company or community. Therefore, the term “success” must be clearly specified and lend itself to be measured for such success. In other words, if success includes “making the client look very good,” that might be measured through attaining a promotion, a bonus, or even an award.
As the communication plan, in concert with the stakeholder management plan, is being developed, we need to include a communication flow chart that demonstrates what and how certain project elements are communicated. For example, budget reports need to:
- Be submitted once a month.
- To key stakeholders, such as client, company CFO, team leader, and so on.
- In an Excel spreadsheet, for example, or other formats
Once the communication plan is completed, then comes the most challenging part, which is executing, monitoring, and controlling communication, which includes:
- Draft communication required, such as reports, speeches, memos, presentations, etc.
- Collect and distribute communication accordingly.
- Ensure that communication is reaching the right people, at the right time, and with the necessary impact.
As an engineer, calculations, design, and backchecking are straightforward for me. Math is logical and controlled, as is design using physics and statics. Still, good communication for a project manager requires emotional intelligence, empathy, a collaborative nature, and being able to keep one’s cool in the most stressful of times; even if those around us may be falling apart and even if our client is losing his/her temper with us. That is why I think that communication, good communication that is, is the most important part of any project.