Communication in project management

We all have heard about the importance of communication.

We all know that there is a chapter in PMBOK called Project Communication Management.

Projects require numerous discussions with various stakeholders. You will have to present the project plan to the sponsor or a governance committee. During the execution phase, progress reports will regularly be presented to debrief on the status of the various tasks and deliverables.

Communication definitely helps the success of your project. However, communication can only help if you keep it real. If it doesn’t meet this condition, then the communication is only a fancy form of pretending something to extend the illusion.

Professional project management requires real and authentic communication

The real strategic progress report

We know that progress reports presented to a senior governance body should be strategic. You do not want to drown the audience in useless details. But being strategic doesn’t not mean being inaccurate and hide key information that would impact decision-making.

Project Dashboards are useful, as long as they are not designed to hide the reality. If a dashboard only has so few indicators, the color becomes the average, and it tends to be green. After all, often most activities are progressing. Yet, often you only need a few critical activities to have issues to put the project at a significant risk of failure.

I have seen too many projects with green indicators even if the reality was different. The fallout happened. It would have been better if the project manager had presented a strategic but honest view of the project.

The progress report is a key source of information that supports the governance of the project and the decision-making process. Stakeholders need to be reassured that the progress is progressing well. After all, they are the clients, the one paying and the one who is waiting for the expected benefits of the project. They also need to be informed of issues and challenges. A progress report is only useful if it is factual and strategic.

The temptation of hiding

There is a temptation to hide issues and challenges. It is usually done in the hope that they will disappear through either the beauty of our actions or just pure random luck. This is often justified with the rationale that “After all, we are paid to manage”.

This is a weak rationale. It is true that the project manager is paid to manage, but he is not paid to lie or hide key piece of information.

Manage and discuss reality with leadership

Leadership requires courage, and your project needs your leadership.

With leadership skills, you can (and should) communicate the facts, and explain your action plan with confidence. When you do that, two important things happen:

  1. You have a chance to obtain the perspectives of stakeholders on the issues and your proposed action plan. It can potentially enhance your action plan.
  2. You have an opportunity to obtain their buy-in for the current actions
  3. It will be very helpful if the issue remains unresolved or become a better problem. The other persons will be ready to assess rapidly the situation and make decisions. Otherwise, a lot of time is often spent in trying to explain the whole story, receiving advice that we should try this and then, and informing them that it was already done and didn’t work.

The role of a project manager includes planning, executing and monitoring the activities. It also includes the courage to be a leader, face the reality and make it transparent.

Organizational culture

Yes, I know, some organizations have a culture that doesn’t tolerate well bad news. It creates the habit of putting makeup on reports and hiding the reality. It results in less useful meetings, where decisions are made on incomplete or inaccurate facts.

We should still stand our ground and communicate the reality of the project. After all reality will exist anyway, whether we accept it or not. So for the sake of the success of our project, we may as well accept reality and manage based on it.

Of course, it will likely create some reactions on the first run. However, the organization and the other persons usually get used to it. It creates a better leadership of the project. It builds trust. And if challenging issues arises, it will significantly enhance your ability to make and obtain decisions, take appropriate actions, and still complete the project successfully.

In all cases, pretending and extending is always a dangerous approach that has the powerful ability to backfire.

The project team culture

In this post, we talked about the importance of communicating the real information in project reports and communicating with stakeholders. It will create a culture of transparency and help you succeed.

It is equally important to do the same with your project team. And this time, there is no excuse. You are the leader, and you can influence the culture. Your behavior will set the tone at the top and will influence the level of transparency and collaboration of the team members with you.

Be a leader, one that speaks about reality and encourage authentic conversation.

Michel Dion, PMP, CPA
Founder and Developer of Project-Aria
Discover my book:
Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve Better Results in a Dynamic World