Communication Channels, Made Simple

Project Managers Are Communicators First !

Project communications management is probably the most important portion of the project plan, yet many people don’t fully plan for dealing with the number and complexity of communications throughout a project.  How important are communications to a project manager? Think about two quick statistics:

  • Project Managers spend up to 90 percent of their time on projects communicating with stakeholders and team members.
  • Additionally, communications issues are the most frequently reported problems on projects. 

Even though project managers have a great responsibility in planning for communications on a project, it need not be overly complex.  One critical aspect of planning is understanding how many different routes (channels) communications can take on a project, so let’s make it easy to understand!

How Do We Communicate?

Let’s first talk about ways in which we can communicate as a project manager.  There are four types of communications that we use all the time.  Here is a quick list with some examples of how we use them:

  • Formal Written – Project Management Plans, Reports, Complex Problems, & Long-Distance Communications
  • Formal Verbal – Presentations
  • Informal Written – Emails, Notes, Memos
  • Informal Verbal – Conversations

These types of communications are used both internally and externally to the project team, up chains of management, and among the team.  Just think about the sheer number of emails alone that you receive, and that are sent between your team members!

Calculating Communication Channels On Your Project

Luckily, there is a simple formula for figuring out how many communication channels there are between a given number of people:

[N x (N-1)] / 2  

Where N is the number of stakeholders

We use this formula for identifying the number of routes of communication on the project.

For example: If we have a total of 10 people on our project, then the number of possible routes a communication can follow is [10 x (10 – 1)] / 2 = (10 x 9) / 2 = 90 / 2 = 45

That is a lot of possible channels for communications to happen already, but what if we add another person to the project?  Our total number of channels goes up to 55.  (Calculated as [11 x 10] / 2 )  That’s 10 more channels just by adding a single person!

You can easily see that the sheer volume of communications on large projects creates complexity in your planning.  Remember to always include yourself, as project manager, in the total number, N, of people when calculating communication channels.

We need to recognize that each of the paths is a channel we need to manage, but that we cannot control every single communication that happens.  This is why creating and following a communications management plan is so critical.

Tips For Stakeholder Management

A stakeholder is anyone that is impacted by the project or can influence the project.  Given this broad scope of people, the number of communication channels can be very large on your project.  Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be even more successful in your communications management!

  • Identify and know all stakeholders – Understand their needs, find their expectations, listen for their interest, & know their influence on your project.
  • Plan your communications with stakeholders – The better you plan communications on the project, the less likely they will cause issues later on.
  • Manage their expectations – Communicate early and often with your stakeholders, even when the news is not good.  Managing expectations is a key to keeping stakeholders happy!

Remember, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time as a project manager communicating with your stakeholders.  Plan and manage this component well, and you’ll be ready to tackle any challenge a project brings! Don’t plan it properly, and you won’t hear the end of it from your top management !

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