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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chapter 40: Planning Project Communication

In the previous chapter, we learnt how important project communication is. So as a responsible project manager, it is our responsibility now to plan for the project communication. This is what we are going to learn in this chapter.

So, lets get started!!!

Planning Project Communication

In a project environment, communication means communicating with the project stakeholders. Planning Communication is the process of determining the information needs of the project stakeholders and accordingly designing the communication approach.

To be specific, communication planning determines the following:
• The communication and information needs of the program stakeholders
• The four Ws: what information is needed, when it is needed, who needs it, and who will give it
• How the information will be delivered? say by e-mail, phone call, or presentation

Remember the chapter on Identifying Stakeholders? During the process of identifying stakeholders, you create the stakeholder register and develop the stakeholder management strategy. Both of these items are used in planning project communication.

Planning communication is the process of determining the information needs of the project stakeholders and accordingly the communication approach. Incorrect planning will produce undesired results, such as incorrect individuals getting sensitive information, necessary information not getting to the right stakeholders in time, wrong communication methods being used, and so on.

As expected, the planning of project communication activity is a process and as with all processes, it has some inputs, uses some tools and produces a certain output. Look at the image below:

Inputs to Plan Project Communication Process:

As expected, the stakeholder register and stakeholder management strategy developed during the Identify Stakeholders process will be the major input into the Plan Communication process. Also, because communication is the common thread running through the whole project and because it must be adapted to the whole project environment, all the enterprise environmental factors and all the organizational process assets should be considered as input. Historical information and lessons learned are particularly important because they can be used for wisely planning the communication based on past experience.

Tools and Techniques for Communication Planning

The tools and techniques used for Project Communication Planning are:

Communication Requirements Analysis

Communication requirements, needed for the communication planning process, must be analyzed. This analysis will generate the communication needs of the project stakeholders. For example, a communication requirement may specify the type of information and the format in which this information should be delivered. The analysis of this requirement will estimate the value of this communication requirement; for example, fulfillment of this requirement will significantly contribute to the success of the project, or the lack of it will result in the failure of the project or one of its components. So, one of the purposes of communication requirements analysis is to optimize the use of resources in communication.

Following are some examples of what types of information you will need to analyze the communication requirements for your project:

• Relationships - Organizational and stakeholder responsibility relationships. Organizational charts can be helpful to figure out some of this information.
• Groups - Different groups, disciplines, departments, and specialties involved in this project; for example, marketing, sales, and engineering as departments and software engineering and testing as groups in the engineering department.
• Logistics - How many individuals and groups will be involved in the project and where they are located? Obviously, this information is necessary to plan communication.
• Information needs - Communication is performed to deliver or exchange some kind of information. So to plan communication effectively, it’s important to know the following information needs:
      o Information needs of the stakeholders
      o Internal information needs; for example, communication across the performing organization and communication within the project team
      o External information needs; for example, communicating with contractors, media, and the public

You can appreciate the complexity of communication by realizing that there are n(n—1)/2 possible communication channels among n stakeholders. So, if there are 20 stakeholders, the possible number of communication channels is 20×19/2=190.

Based on communication needs, you can determine which communication technology will be appropriate to meet these needs.

Communication Technology Determination

Depending on the communication needs and the nature of the information, a communication technology may vary from a conversation in a hallway to a sophisticated information system. The following factors can contribute to determining the communication technology to be used for your project:

• Availability - If you are considering a number of options, obviously the technology that’s already in place is more likely to be chosen. (A conference call or a group email etc)
• Project environment - The project environment can also affect the choice of communication technology. For example, the communication technology requirements for a project team that meets face to face will be different from that of a virtual team.
• Project length - The length of the project affects communication technology requirements in the following ways:
      o Is it worth it to spend time on a technology for the given length of the project?
      o Will the technology under consideration change during the course of the project? If yes, that will mean extra cost for the new technology and for training the team members to use it.
• Urgency of the information need - How frequently the information needs to be updated will also play a role in determining the communication technology. For example, information that does not need to change frequently can be delivered in written reports, whereas information that can change very frequently can be delivered through spreadsheets or emails.
• Staffing preparation level - Another factor that can be considered in making the communication technology decision is the users’ or readers level of preparation for using a given technology. Are the users already fluent in this technology or will they need to be trained? Training and learning for the project staff could be the valid issues for consideration.

Communication Models and Methods

If you have some experience in IT or in the field of communication, be aware that when PMI refers to communication models and methods, it has very specific things in mind. Although it’s a very broad topic, we will confine our discussion to what PMI means by communication models and methods, for the purpose of the exam.

Communication models - PMI’s basic communication model is illustrated in the picture below:

• Sender - The individual that initiates the communication by sending the original message.
• Receiver - The individual that receives the original message sent by the sender.
• Encode - To convert thoughts into a format that can be sent as a message to the receiver.
• Message - Encoded piece of information that travels from one individual to another.
• Feedback message - The response sent by the receiver to the sender. It may be a simple acknowledgment or it may be a full message that may require a response.
• Decode - To convert the encoded message back into thoughts and ideas upon which one could act.
• Medium - The means of communication used to send and receive the message. E-mail, telephone, and face-to-face conversation are some examples of media.
• Noise - While the message travels through the medium, it can be interrupted and modified by some interfering entity called noise. Anything that interferes with the transmission and understanding of the message is called noise. Some examples are distance, lack of background information or context in which the message is composed, and unfamiliar technology being used. For example, e-mailing and texting have their own lingo, acronyms, and symbols that can become noise for people who are new to these technologies.

Note: In the picture, noise will be between the arrows from the sender/receiver and the communication medium. I did not want to write too much info in the picture text so excluded noise…

For the communication to work, both the senders and the receivers have some responsibilities. The responsibilities of the sender include ensuring that the message being sent conveys the complete information clearly and ensuring that the information is received correctly and understood properly by the receiver. The responsibilities of the receiver include ensuring that the information is received correctly and understood properly in its entirety and that it is acknowledged.

Communication methods - In its most basic form, communication is an exchange of information between two entities. Even communication among several entities is better handled by looking at it as a set of exchanges between two entities. For example, A communicating with B, C, and D is a set of exchanges between A and B, A and C, and A and D. In other words, exchange between two entities is the basic building block of communication. So we can always break down a communication as an exchange between a sender and a receiver.
From the perspective of how the sender and the receiver are involved with each other through the communication system, communication can be classified into the following two categories:
1. Interactive communication - In this type of communication, the receiver receives the message and sends a response to it. This way, the communicating entities keep switching the roles of sender and receiver. There are two kinds of interactive communication:
      o Asynchronous communication - A communication in which the two communicating entities do not have to be present on both ends of the communication line at the same time. E-mail is an example of asynchronous communication because when the sender of the e-mail pushes the send button, the intended recipient of the e-mail message does not have to be logged on to the e-mail server. The recipient can log on later, retrieve the message, and read it.
      o Synchronous communication - A communication in which the two communicating entities have to be present on both ends of the communication line at the same time. It’s a live, real-time communication; if you are not present when the sender is sending the message, you miss the message. Speaking with someone face to face and conversing with someone on the telephone are two examples of synchronous communication.
2. One-way communication - There are two kinds of one-way communication:
      o Pull communication - In this kind of communication, the receiver pulls the information from a pool of information. Downloading from websites is an example of this communication.
      o Push communication - In this kind of communication, the sender broadcasts the information to a set of entities without waiting for the request of information and without the need to confirm that the information reached its destination. Marketing e-mails and letters are examples of push communication.
The pull and push methods can also be used in conjunction with each other. For example, the sender can also push the information to a pool, and the receivers can pull it from there at their own convenience.

Communication types discussed here are called communication methods in the PMI Standard. Depending on the purpose, the project manager can decide which of these communication methods to use. Quite often a hybrid approach is used in the real world; i.e., a mix of more than one method.

Output of Communication Planning

The major output of communication planning is the communication management plan. It also results in updates to certain project documents.

Communication Management Plan

This is the document that describes the communication expectations, needs, and plans for the project. It specifies what information will be communicated, when and how it will be communicated, and who will communicate it and to whom. It includes:

• Communication requirements of the project stakeholders
• Information to be communicated: content, format, and level of detail
• Who will communicate the information, who will receive it, and why
• The person responsible for authorizing the release of confidential information
• Methods of communication that will be used, such as e-mail, presentation etc
• The frequency of communication, such as daily or weekly or monthly
• The method and procedure for escalating the issues that cannot be resolved at a lower staff level, such as project level
• A glossary of common communication terminology
• Methods and procedures for updating and refining the communication management plan if needed as the program progresses
• Communication constraints

The communication management plan may also include the technology requirements plan. With all the available technical advancements, it is important that you plan for the communication technology requirements. This planning has two components: the tools that are needed and the usage of those tools. To determine which tools are needed, ask questions such as the following:

• How frequently do you need to update the information?
• Will the team hold face-to-face or virtual meetings?

For the information that does not change often, the written reports will be sufficient, whereas the information that needs to be updated frequently and on a moment’s notice needs web communication tools. To plan effective usage of the tools, ask the following questions:

• Are the tools (communication systems) already in place and ready to be used?
• Will the available communication tools change before the program ends?
• Are the team members familiar with the tools or do they need training to use them?

Updates to Project Documents

During communication planning, you might realize that you need to make some changes in the project schedule, stakeholder register, and stakeholder management strategy. Accordingly, you will need to change these documents.

While planning for communication (or doing anything, for that matter), pay attention to details, ask questions, and probe the situation to come to a better understanding. A well understood problem is already half solved. Be an active and effective listener.

Prev: Project Communication

Next: Summary

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