Communication is the means by which information or instructions are exchanged. Successful communication occurs when the received meaning is the same as the transmitted meaning.
Communication is fundamental to the P3 environment. Poor communication can lead to misunderstood requirements, unclear goals, alienation of stakeholders, ineffective plans and many other factors that will cause a project, programme or portfolio to fail.
None of the tools and techniques described in this body of knowledge will work without effective communication.
Communication takes many forms. It can be verbal, non-verbal, active, passive, formal, informal, conscious or subconscious. How communication is executed affects understanding and feelings, both of which impact the meaning received.
It must be tailored to convey the communicator’s meaning as accurately as possible to the target audience. This is why all projects, programmes and portfolios have a communication management plan that spells out what needs to be communicated: why, how, when and to whom.
There are many factors that affect the effectiveness of communications. Cultural background and transient features, such as mood, current environment and team dynamics, create a ‘moving target’ for the communicator.
The effective communicator is sensitive to the prevalent atmosphere and structures the message and method of delivery accordingly.
Language should be neutral, clear, objective and avoid unnecessary emotive terms. However, there may be occasions where appropriate emotion and associated delivery mechanisms such as body language can generate a specific, desired effect.
There are often barriers to effective communication. These can be physical, as in the team location or the working environment. They can be cultural, arising perhaps from lack of a common language or understanding across disciplines. Barriers can lead to negative perceptions and related emotions such as envy, fear, mistrust and suspicion.
The range of media available for communication is greater than ever. Paper, telephone and face-to-face meetings are often replaced by email, intranets, social media and SMS messaging.
The wide range of media available provides great opportunity but also increases the risk of poor communication through poor choice of medium.
Selecting an inappropriate delivery medium will create barriers. Poor structure and weak delivery obstruct meaning and have the potential to create barriers to understanding or communication that can hasten or aggravate failure.
Professionals must recognise different needs within their audience and use appropriate and specifically targeted media.
Effective communication is a two-way process. Actively seeking out and listening to feedback are integral parts of good communication. This feedback should inform and make the next round of communication more effective.
Most organisations have well-established communications functions, systems and standards. These should be exploited to the full.
By adhering to organisational standards, projects, programmes and portfolios will be aligned with the organisation as a whole. Such standards may have been developed in relation to specific audiences, both internal and external. Communications with government and regulators often need to follow a particular standard and format.
The importance of tailoring the message and medium to the target audience cannot be overestimated. The communicator must always consider the intended impact of the communication and fashion it accordingly.
A project communication management plan should be prepared as part of the project management plan and is subject to the approval of the sponsor. This is a live document and will be subject to updates as the project progresses and communication requirements change.
A project communication management plan must conform to policies set out in the communication management plans for programmes or portfolios of which the project forms part.
Communication skills will initially be used in gathering stakeholder requirements and preparing a business case. The resulting specifications, plans and governance arrangements must be communicated effectively to obtain approval for the project.
Once it is under way, progress must be communicated and stakeholder support maintained. The project team must understand what is required of them and be confident that appropriate mechanisms are in place to communicate and resolve issues.
All of these factors require the project manager to be a highly competent communicator.
By their very nature, programmes contain greater uncertainty and complexity than projects. This makes carefully planned communication with the increased range and diversity of stakeholders even more vital.
Programme-level communication will initially focus around the vision. The aim is to ensure that all those affected by the programme have a common understanding of why it is necessary and beneficial.
As more detailed information is developed, the benefits of the programme and how the necessary changes will affect business-as-usual must be communicated.
The levels of change instigated by a programme are often difficult to accept by some groups of stakeholders. Effective communication is central to mitigating the effect of opposition and marshalling support for the programme.
The programme management team must maintain an overview of project communication. Projects will be responsible for their own plans. The programme communication plan must coordinate and harmonise project communications and deal with matters outside the scope of individual projects.
Communication is most effective when it is relevant and targeted. Some communications are better handled at project level, some at programme level and some at portfolio level.
The portfolio management team must establish policies for communication. They must set standards to maintain consistency and determine principles for how each entity within the portfolio will engage with its stakeholders.
Inevitably, there will be overlaps in stakeholder groups. Individuals could find themselves swamped with communications from various projects and programmes. The portfolio must oversee communication across the board without attempting to manage communications on behalf of individual projects and programmes.