Seasoned project managers understand that a successful project never results from a single endeavor. Instead, it takes a myriad of cumulative and often-subtle accomplishments to bring even the simplest project to completion.
Consistent communication with stakeholders is arguably the most important of those many factors. Motivating, coordinating and managing various internal and external stakeholders – many of whom may not fall under the project manager’s direct authority – can be challenging. Without clear communication, however, a project will likely never get off the ground.
Good marketing is, at heart, good communication. Indeed, the best project managers tend to be proficient marketers, whether through deliberate study or natural affinity. In crafting a communication strategy, there are core skills and practices that should be part of a project manager’s arsenal. Among them:
Know your audience. This basic rule of every freshman composition class persists for a reason: it works. People are apt to choose what they want to hear and retain, so veteran project managers know the value of studying stakeholders’ values and motives before initiating a project. Regardless of their individual goals, stakeholders typically want a voice in a project’s processes and outcomes. Inviting dialogue throughout a project is crucial.
Another consideration: There’s truth to the old adage that a picture speaks a thousand words. Various researchers have found that people are more likely to remember information they see compared with information they hear. In addition, they are even more likely to remember information that is presented both visually and orally.
Write a vision statement. Vision statements help project managers solidify and formalize their objectives. By inviting collaboration on vision statements, project managers can make stakeholders feel empowered, which leads to stakeholder engagement. A vision statement can also keep stakeholders invested throughout a longer or more challenging project. Clarity, concision and simplicity are fundamental aspects of project vision statements; like abstracts or executive summaries, they serve to inspire as much as to inform.
Integrate a detailed communication plan into the planning and design phase. Project managers must consider both the mode of communication and the frequency of communication. Flexibility is an imperative, meaning project managers should leverage a variety of communication channels, from morning meetings to project management software and social media. The message must always fit the media. As schedules permit, face-to-face meetings remain perhaps the most effective form of communication.
Offer key stakeholders additional opportunities for shared ownership of process and outcome. Project managers who understand the fundamentals of modern marketing know that any changes in project processes, goals or protocol should be shared with—if not directed by—stakeholders. Key stakeholders appreciate the opportunity to communicate in the manner of their choice. Additionally, external stakeholders should be apprised of any unforeseen difficulties, delays or revisions to the project and associated processes.
Reflect on communication after completion. Expenses, procedures and unexpected challenges are typical factors included in a project manager’s post-completion review. The communication strategy and its outcomes should also be part of that appraisal process. Simply stated, one project’s mistakes must be the next project’s strengths; one project’s missed opportunities should become the next project’s key breaks. Feedback from stakeholders is an invaluable resource and possibly the most under-utilized of all those applied by project managers. Listening is as important to effective communication as speaking, and lessons-learned sessions can profit from the insight of external and internal stakeholders.
The Bottom Line
In the same way that a marketer promotes products and services, an effective project manager must be a booster for his or her project. Stakeholders must be made to feel as if they are valued members of the project team, with shared ownership in the outcome. That is only achievable with consistent and clear communication from the project manager, who often must guide a disparate group of individuals toward consensus.
Project managers must also model and foster a tone of respect and collaboration, encouraging the participation of even the most reticent of stakeholders. Audience research, vision statements, communication plans and lessons-learned sessions are as vital to a project manager as a hammer and nails are to a carpenter.