Communications Skills for Project Managers

Communications Skills for Project Managers

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by Michael Campbell

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Congratulations. Your latest project is nearly in—on time, under budget, and with all of its components poised to function in perfect harmony.

So why isn’t senior management as happy as you expected? Why did your project team need to put out one fire after another? Why are your end users confused and besieging you with


Congratulations. Your latest project is nearly in—on time, under budget, and with all of its components poised to function in perfect harmony.

So why isn’t senior management as happy as you expected? Why did your project team need to put out one fire after another? Why are your end users confused and besieging you with frantic phone calls and endless emails?

What’s all too easy to forget is that the reason the project was approved was to support your company’s strategic and fiscal objectives. Even the most soundly designed project methodology, expertly implemented and technically flawless, can result in a business failure if the project purpose, applications, or very existence aren’t fully understood throughout your organization.

The answer is all about communications skills. In fact, the number one factor in the success or failure of projects is the quality and consistency of communications. If you’re a project manager, the bulk of this responsibility falls to you. In Communications Skills for Project Managers, Michael Campbell unlocks this critical component of project success, illustrating how to keep every project stakeholder in the loop every step of the way—from concept through delivery and beyond. A veteran of countless projects on every conceivable scale, Campbell gives you the universal elements of all communications as they pertain to the specific demands of a project management environment. And you’ll get a generous selection of powerful tools to help you:

• Present the case for your project to senior management and other key stakeholders

• Secure and maintain the right level of leadership support throughout the life of the project

• Combine written, phone, and in-person communications for maximum effect

• Use communications to help manage expectations, risks, and scope change

• Link the hallmarks of project management (defined tasks, specific deliverables, and repeatable techniques) with the change management challenges that sometimes inhibit acceptance of new projects, and learn how to “sell” the need for change by taking the fear out of it through great communications

• Apply top-notch communications strate­gies to every project you manage from now on

As a project manager, you have to know how to react on the fly to shifting business priorities, evolving expectations, and perennial leadership changes—and to make sure everyone around you understands exactly what’s going on, all the time. Communications Skills for Project Managers shows you how to develop a practical approach to the biggest and most critical part of your job—relating the work of your team to the goals of your organization and the daily lives of its people.

Michael Campbell, PMP, is the President and leader of the Energy Practice at MCA International LLC. He is the author of Bullet­proof Presentations and co­author of the fourth edition of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management. He lives in Houston, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt


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 a which was a technical success from a project management perspective a 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 failure.

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 a 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 a 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 communications.

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 a the projects were nearly always successful. If the projects failed a 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 a 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 a 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 a 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 a 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 a 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 a 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) a 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.

Meet the Author

Michael Campbell, PMP (Houston, TX) is an experienced project manager and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management, 4th Ed. and author of Bulletproof Presentations. He is a Managing Director for Energy Practice at MCA International.

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Communications Skills for Project Managers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
If you work in a large, complex organization that routinely handles expensive interdepartmental projects, this book is for you. Michael Campbell presents the basics of communications theory with techniques that can improve the interplay among project team members and their stakeholders. Unfortunately, Campbell built the book around a long, detailed case study threaded through the narrative. The hypothetical tale is a noble attempt to personalize methodical project management guidance, but as readers follow the people and job titles in the account, it tends to bog down in jargon, predictability and plodding detail. Indeed, without the case study, the book would still be useful and far more concise. getAbstract recommends this text to serious students of project management's intricate details and to novice project managers, who will learn necessary strategic lessons about communicating during a complicated, ongoing project. To learn more about this book, check out the following Web page: