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Communication is the means by which information is exchanged and a common understanding achieved. Its goals are to:
- impart relevant information;
- ensure the information is understood.
In the P3 environment these basic goals are a means to:
- ensuring that members of the management team understand the objectives and their role in achieving them;
- building relationships with stakeholders;
- minimising conflict by avoiding misunderstandings;
- developing confidence and trust;
- maintaining the commitment of stakeholders and team members;
- effective control of the work throughout the life cycle.
Communication comes in many forms. The obvious primary forms are: written, verbal and body language but these are modified by many other factors, such as whether they are formal or informal; active or passive; conscious or unconscious.
Models such as Berlo’s provide simple structures from which an understanding of the many complex aspects of communication can be developed.
In its basic form, communication involves the person who originates a message; a channel for communicating that message and a person who receives the message.
Looking at the P3 manager and sponsor as the primary sources of communication, the first thing these people must do is decide what needs to be communicated and to whom. This principle is embodied, for example, in stakeholder management, where a great deal of time is spent in seeking to understand who needs to have what information and when. How that translates to different messages given to different people is embodied in the communication plan.
The way someone creates a message and the way someone else receives that message will depend on numerous factors, such as their personal values, vested interests, frame of mind and even their personal ‘learning style’ (someone’s learning style indicates whether they respond better to auditory, visual or kinaesthetic channels of communication).
The P3 manager and sponsor must take all these factors into account when deciding on the content and structure of their communications.
The range of available channels of communication is increasing all the time. Traditional channels such as paper, telephone and face-to-face are being supplemented and often replaced by email, social media and tele-conferencing. Every new channel brings its own opportunities and challenges for communication.
All communication will encounter barriers. This could be a simple as different languages in international teams or trying to be heard in a noisy environment. Habitual use of acronyms and jargon can make communication more efficient but can alienate those who are not familiar with it. Hidden barriers can include a history of conflict or lack of trust. All of these must be considered as part of the communication process.
As with any framework for managing projects, programmes and portfolios, Praxis contains many document definitions and associated templates. These are vehicles for communication but should not be seen as a means of shortcutting the principles outlined above. While consistency of documentation is very useful it must not become the primary objective. If a particular message needs to be structured and presented in a different way, the standard document must be tailored or even disregarded in favour of something more effective.
This is why capabilities and maturities at level 2 often use phrases like “standard reports are distributed at regular intervals” and at level 3 use phrases like “standard documentation is adapted to suit the context”.
Anyone performing assurance or assessment of capability maturity needs to understand this. Since communication is the means by which tacit knowledge is converted to explicit knowledge, it is also useful to view this in the context of the broader knowledge management function.
Projects, programmes and portfolios.
The basic principles of communication are exactly the same regardless of the complexity of the project, programme or portfolio. However, the way those principles are applied will be greatly affected by the context of the work.
On small, non-complex projects it may well be that most communication is verbal. This is fine as long as key decision are documented and communicated in a form that relies less on memory and interpretation.
As projects become bigger and more complex, the use of standard documentation becomes more important. This makes it easier for more people to be involved in preparing and receiving consistent information subject, of course, to appropriate tailoring to suit the context.
On large complex projects with many components or on programmes with multiple projects the audiences for communications become large and diverse. Careful planning of communication becomes ever more important, as does the co-ordination of different messages to ensure consistency. At this point the P3 manager may have to supervise others who are doing the bulk of the communication, perhaps as part of a dedicated support team within the project or programme.
Programmes and portfolios will create large amounts of communication using multiple channels. Some formal but most of it, informal.
The management of the formal information can be handled through formal information management procedures. The effectiveness of the informal communication depends upon the competency of individuals, the leadership of the P3 managers and the maturity of the organisation.
At portfolio level, the management team need to focus on co-ordination of communication but, perhaps more importantly, creating a culture of effective communication within an ethical framework.