1. Reviewing the communications model
In this lecture, we’re going to explore the communications model. It’s a model that describes how people communicate. Let’s begin by looking at some terminology in communication. The communication technology, first off, is the method you choose to communicate, which is often dictated by the urgency of the need for the communication. So what information, rather, do you need to communicate? How important is it? Does it require a phone call? Will an email suffice? Maybe a text message? Then we have to look at the availability of the technology. I mentioned text messaging. Text messaging is great, but it’s not always the best method for communicating. What if the person you want to text something to doesn’t have that service on their phone, they are somewhere where they don’t have phone service, or they’re in a meeting and they can’t respond to your text? So the availability of technology affects how you communicate. Then, in terms of ease of use, is it a very cumbersome piece of software or hardware to communicate with one another that would affect your communications? Your project environment may also dictate what technology you can use. Many organisations do not allow texting as part of their communications approach. Maybe you have to use a particular piece of software or a secured email server.
So the project environment can affect how you communicate. And then finally, what’s in the information? How sensitive or confidential is the information? That can affect how you communicate. Now the communication model describes how people communicate. So I like to use the example of a fax machine. I know fax machines are a little old, but it’s something we can all relate to. So let’s say that I want to send you a fax. In this case, I am the sender of the fax machine. I put that piece of paper in to send this to you. My fax machine becomes the encoder. It scans the image, converts it to analog, and sends it over the phone lines. The phone lines will be the medium. Now I’ll come back to noise in a second. Your fax machine receives that call, hears the analogue noise, decodes it, and puts it back into a readable format. As a result, it is the decoder, and you are the receiver. So you have the sender, the encoder, the medium, the decoder, and the receiver. So I sent a message. It’s encoded. The medium is how it gets there.
Your fax machine is the decoder, and then you become the receiver. Now I said I’d come back to the noise. Noise describes anything that may distort or interrupt the message. So, if we’re on a phone call and they’re static or you’re fading in and out on your cell phone, that’s noise that would disrupt the message. Sometimes we have barriers to communication. If I speak English and you only speak German, we’re going to have a problem communicating with one another. So the barrier could be a conflict. It could stop us from communicating. Now, some fax machines, once the message has arrived, will send a code back to the original fax machine. And then that code that comes back is called the acknowledgment. If you and I are talking, you may be nodding your head yes.
You’re acknowledging that you received the message. So that is another example of an acknowledgement. Sometimes, though, we have feedback and responses. So if we’re having a conversation, you may ask for clarity, give me some response, or contribute to the conversation. That’s feedback. Now, communication methods include interactive communication, where you and I may be talking face-to-face or several people are in a phone conference. So everyone’s contributing to the conversation. Then we have push communication, like a letter. I put the letter in my mailbox; it’s pushed out to you, and you receive it. As a result, it is a push communication. Then there’s pull communication. A “pull” communication is where you pull information, like from a web server. You are pulling information down to your web browser.
2. Planning project communications
Communications is one of the most important activities you can do as a project manager. So in order to effectively communicate, you have to plan for communicating. And this creates the communications management plan. This project management process includes a number of inputs, tools, and techniques, as well as a number of outputs. First off, for inputs, you have the project management plan, your stakeholder register, and then those rules, enterprise factors, and environmental factors. Then you may have organisational process assets, such as forms or templates that you use, as well as tools and techniques that you need to analyse your communication requirements—who needs what information and when do they need it? What’s the approved communication technology?
What about the communication model? Who’s the sender and receiver? and especially that feedback and response? And then finally, communication methods and meetings. Your output from communications planning is the communications management plan, and you may have to update some project documents. Well, who will you communicate with? Well, you’re going to communicate with stakeholders. So these are the people and organisations you’ll be communicating with. The project is being carried out by individuals. Recall that stakeholders are affected positively or negatively by the project. Many stakeholders can exert influence over your project, so they usually require more information. I’ve mentioned the stakeholder register several times just to nail this down. It is a directory, kind of like a database, of all the information about each stakeholder.
So who they are, what their concern is with the project, what their role may be in the project, and then the expectations they have for the project Once you have this information, you’re able to communicate more effectively. Now there’s one point here called stakeholder classification. So this is a way of grouping stakeholders. So maybe all of the people who live in a particular city or use a particular piece of software play a particular role in the project. so you could group your communications accordingly. Like, you need to communicate with everyone who lives in Phoenix because you’re going to be upgrading their systems. Next, for example, when you go about planning for communications, there are several questions you have to answer. Who needs what information? Who is authorized to access the information? Who will provide that information? When is the information needed? And in what modality will the information be communicated in? Paper, email, what have you? And then where will that information be stored? This is very important. You need a knowledge management system—just a way of retrieving all communications—and that will become part of our organisational process assets.
And then we also have to consider time zones, language barriers, and cross-cultural issues that affect communication. For your exam, you need to know this nifty little communications channel formula. It’s N times n minus one divided by 2, and it tells you how many communication channels there may be in the project. So, for example, if we have ten stakeholders, we would say ten times ten minus one divided by two. So that would be 90 divided by 245. So if we have ten people involved in the project, we have 45 communication channels. All that that tells us is probably what you already know, and that’s that the larger the project, the greater the chance or probability that communication may fail. Now pay attention to this idea of how many more communication channels exist now. So here’s the scenario: You have ten people on your project this week, and next week you’re going to have 23 people on your project.
You cannot just say, “Well, that’s 13 more people.” So it’s 13 times twelve divided by two. What you actually have to do is take the ten first, and then take 23. And so you’ll solve for ten stakeholders. Then you’ll solve for 23 stakeholders and find the difference. When you go about communications planning, you need to identify who needs what information and what the requirements are. So you can use charts, so look at your.org charts and the people that are involved in your project. You may look at your stakeholder responsibility relationships because sometimes stakeholders contribute to project information. You’ll look at the disciplines involved, all the different departments that are affected, any specialties that touch the project, and the logistics of getting those people involved to contribute and to communicate about project information. Some of your projects will have internal and external communication needs. For example, if we are constructing a bridge in a community, we must communicate with that community, as well as city inspectors. Another way to look at communication requirements from your stakeholder register is through construction stakeholder information. All of this planning creates the communications and management plan, and it generates a lot of business for your project.
So let’s walk through this. Now, you’ll have documented in the plan what the communication requirements are, the information that you’re going to communicate, why it needs to be communicated or distributed, the frequency of distribution, who’s responsible for communicating what information, and then who’s responsible for authorizing the release of confidential information, which may not always be the project manager. The communication management plan will also define the approved methods or technologies for communicating. What resources might you have to help communicate? What’s the escalation process for communication issues? How will you update and refine the plan? because stakeholders may change their mind about how frequently they want communication. Where’s your glossary for the terminology you use in the project? Do you have a flow chart of who contributes to project information and who receives project information? And then you may also have communication constraints that require you to use a particular form.
3. Memorizing a nifty communications formula
For your exam, you may need to know the number of communication channels that exist in a project. And there’s a really simple formula that will help you identify all of those channels. N times N-minus one divided by two is the formula. represents the number of stakeholders. So, for example, if we had ten stakeholders in our project, it would be ten times ten minus one divided by two. Or you would say it’s 90 divided by two, and that’s 45 channels in the project, 45 communication channels. What that tells you is that there are 45 opportunities for communication to fail in a project. Now pay attention to questions that might ask for how many more communication channels exist.
So, for example, if you had ten stakeholder organizations this week but will have 25 next week, we can’t just say, “OK, there are 15 more people,” and then apply this formula. You first have to solve for ten and then do the formula for 25 and then find the difference. Now, the reason why this is important is because it relates back to communication requirements.
You have to understand what people need, what information they need, and where these communication channels exist. So you can look at things like the chart; you might look at stakeholder responsibility or relationships. This includes who reports to whom. very important in a matrix environment. What about all the disciplines and different departments and specialties that are involved with your project? Those are all communication channels. And then communication—we’re talking about the logistics of involvement. So you think about some of those neutral stakeholders, like your procurement office, vendors, or the city inspector. You may have internal and external communication channels. So you think about public relations or dealing with government agencies and then stakeholder information. What information do you have to communicate?
4. Managing project communications
Managing communications is one of your primary activities as a project manager. And to manage communications, it’s all about ensuring correct communications. To ensure correct communications, you have to follow the communications management plan.
This will tell you how you will create or collect communications from stakeholders. Where are you going to store all of that communication? How will you distribute it, and then how will you retrieve it? We need an information or knowledge management system. The communications plan just helps you ensure the flow of communications among project stakeholders. Remember, communication is two-way: stakeholders have to talk to you, and you have to talk to the stakeholders. This is a project management process, so we have our inputs, tools, and techniques, and we output the inputs. To manage communications well, you need your communications management plan, work performance reports, enterprise resources, and environmental factors. You may have some rules about how you communicate. Think of external communications and then organisational process assets. You may have some forms, templates, tools, and techniques here for managing communications.
Communication technology, whether it’s a piece of web software like web conferencing or email or phone calls or whatever, communication models, how we communicate with one another, the methods or modalities, how do you communicate, what’s the tone? Formal versus informal And then, with that information management system for retrieval and then performance reporting, recall performance reporting, we’re talking about earned value management. Now that you have the outputs of this process—communication—you may have to update your project management plan, project documents, and organisational process assets. You may not always have to do that, but this is an opportunity for those types of updates based on how you manage communication in your project. Let’s look at some techniques here for distributing information. Of course, the sender-receiver model You and I are having a conversation, so there’s a definite flow of communication. So when I send an email, it follows that model. If I send you a text message, it may follow that pattern, or it may be as if you and I are speaking in the hallway. So the model serves as a kind of foundation for communications.
The choice of media, though, can affect the message; the message should determine the media. If I have a major problem with the project, sending a text message probably isn’t a good idea. You probably need a phone call or a meeting. The style of your writing, what you say, and how you say it are very important. So, formal versus informal, you need some meeting management techniques. You want to go into meetings with an agenda, a time limit, and expectations for what you are going to accomplish in the meeting. So we need some meeting management here. You need some facilitation techniques that are keeping the meeting on track, getting rid of some of those extraneous conversations, making sure people are involved, tabling things when they are not important, and focusing on the agenda and those items.
An information management system is a method of storing hard copy documents such as memos, letters, press releases, and the like. How are we going to store it and retrieve it? More likely, though, you’re familiar with this from an electronics perspective. So email, fax, voice, web conferences, and so on are easier to store than hard copies. And then you might have some project management tools, like if you’re using some type of web software like Basecamp or project management software like Microsoft Project. You might have some virtual office support or collaborative tools like Microsoft Link. You won’t need to know the names of any of those software programs; just be familiar with the concepts. You can have web software, web conferencing software, and collaborative tools where you can work together online. That’s the only concept you’ll need to know for your exam.
Your exam will be vendor-neutral. Performance reports are a way of predicting where we’re going to end up in the project. It’s a good idea to have performance reports available prior to project meetings, so you’re armed with performance information and, when you’re in the meeting, you’re not taken by surprise when the sponsor or manager asks you specific questions about the project. Performance reports allow us to do some forecasting. Remember, estimate to finish. How much more will you need for this project? An estimate at completion: what’s the predicted total for the project? Now, your performance report might use an analogy to similar projects. So this is a way of saying, well, Project A at this point had a CPI of zero and an SBI of zero 98.Project B, this current project, is at zero 99 on our CPI, and it’s at zero 97 on our SPI. So I can compare, especially if these are new projects that you’re working on. It’s possible you may have to reestimate your time and cost. So based on performance, probably what’s happened if you need to re-estimate is that this is the type of work you’ve never done before, or there have been some pretty big issues in the project, so you’re running behind on schedule and behind on cost, probably over on cost.
You might also have to explain some external events that impacted the project. Like waiting for an inspector, that’s a real common one. or waiting for a vendor to deliver materials and resources. So the performance reports provide an opportunity to explain as well as forecast how the project is doing. Now for the outcomes of information dissemination. Well, of course, stakeholders are notified. You might be creating project reports and presentations. Obviously, you’re keeping track of performance and forecasting. You will receive some feedback from stakeholders. Remember, in our communication model, we could get some feedback, and then this is an important project management concept here. Lessons learned happen throughout the project, not just at the end. They happen throughout.
5. Controlling project communications
Controlling communications is about following our communication management plan. It’s ensuring that we get the right information to the right people at the right time. It follows, but it also enforces the communications management plan. Recall that the communications management plan defines who needs what information, when they need it, and what modality they need it in, but it also defines who has permission to view certain types of information and who has permission to talk to internal or external stakeholders.
That is part of controlling communication: ensuring that information flows correctly among the parties and that the right people are providing the right information. Well, this is a project management process, so we have some inputs, tools, and techniques, and we output our inputs. Here are the project management plan, project communications, issue log, work performance data, organisational process assets, tools and techniques, information management systems, expert judgment, and meetings. The outputs include work performance information change requests, project management plan updates, project document updates, and organisational process assets updates. Let’s look at the activity of controlling communication. So I’m going to use information management systems like a database or a log. It’s just a way of retrieving information that I’ve stored. And then I can also rely on expert judgment.
So leaders in the organization, consultants, your SME’s, or maybe a PMO, and then, of course, meetings You’re going to have lots of meetings, so we need good meeting management skills. So this means you have an agenda, you have time limits, and you take control and facilitate the meeting. It’s all part of controlling communication. Now, within communication, you may be required to do some performance reporting. So we talked about performance reporting. The first thing that comes to mind is earned value management. But you don’t have to use EVM; you could just use a status of red, green, or yellow, or sometimes called “rag ratings,” which are red, amber, and green. So it’s an overall way of seeing how we’re doing on the project. Now, progress measurements are where we show our progress against our milestones.
So maybe we don’t report on individual activities; we just say, “Well, we’re 30% of the way to Milestone 2” or whatever you have forecast. Again, earning value management is a way of saying where we’re going to end up in the project and then setting a baseline for actual comparisons. This is a way of showing the overall performance and where we are in the project. So recall that we have the cost baseline, and then the red line that you see here could be our expenditures, and then the black line may be actual performance. So it’s a way of showing what was planned when we’re actually spending the money and then how well we’re performing. Are we having any waste or rework, as it looks like there might be a little bit in this case? So there’s a variance. When there is a variance, we will most likely have to create an exception report or explain it in our status reports, explaining why the variance exists and how we plan to recoup it. Performance reports can also give some insight into when we’re going to have big expenses or when we’re going to need more money for the project. So this allows the organisation to do some cash flow forecasting because there may be some big expenses coming up in months two, three, or what have you. The forecasting method is a way of predicting where we’re going to end up in the project. The most common one, and the one you should know for your exam, is value-based management.
There are a couple of others, just to be topically familiar with them. I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time on these others, but you could have these ones called moving averages. We have extrapolation, linear prediction, trend estimation, and the growth curve. Those are all time series that simply show you’re progressing with the project. This is where we’re likely to end up. Judgmental methods include intuitive judgments, opinions, and probability. Some other forecasting methods are causal or ecolotric. So, linear regression as a causal factor based on experience. Auto-regressive, moving average, and econometric models are all available. And then there were some other methods. You could do simulations, some probability forecasting, or ensemble forecasting. You don’t really need to know how to do any of these. In fact, just for time’s sake, we’re not going into each one of these. Just be topically familiar with the fact that these are ways to predict where the project is going to end up. I would guess you’ll probably see one question on forecasting methods, but for the most part, ERD value management is where your questions are going to be for forecasting.
6. Section wrap
Managing communication and controlling communication Of course, in planning, we talked about who needs what information, when they need it, and in what modality. And then we talked about who has permission to access that information and who will talk to the public versus internal resources. So that’s all part of our communications management plan. Now, in executing our communications management plan, we’re talking to the appropriate stakeholders, and we’re giving those people the appropriate permission. And then finally, with control communication, we want to ensure that we’re following our plan and that we’re not allowing rumours and gossip or just things that aren’t true to tear down our project. So we work with our stakeholders and keep them involved. Now, this session will really track closely with our future session on stakeholder management, because how you manage stakeholders directly affects communication and vice versa. So, great job. Let’s keep going.