Strong communication skills are a must for any project manager. But when it comes to planning and executing projects in the highly demanding power plant environment, the ability to craft, plan for, and oversee communication efforts moves to the top of the priority ladder. Tackling these unique challenges requires experience and expertise.
Multiple stakeholder groups add complexity to communications. Power plant PMs must be able to bring multiple, disparate stakeholder groups together around sticking points and potential problem areas. This requires a level of competency in the communication sphere that exceeds the needs of many other types of projects. Discussions need to occur between vendors and internal staff, between executives and the project team’s leadership group, and sometimes between authorized spokespeople and the public.
Information sharing must happen in multiple directions at once. It’s important to ensure that strategic directives filter down through the plant team while also moving project updates and other progress reports upward to the executive group. In addition, PMs need to facilitate information flows across any number of cross-functional sub-teams, not just when there are changes in activity timing and sequencing but also during common task hand-offs that might otherwise result in vital data slipping through the cracks.
Tight scheduling windows make communication a top priority. There is very little scheduling flexibility in most power plant projects. Labor resources and specialized equipment is often booked far in advance and customer satisfaction is sure to drop if the anticipated disruption window becomes a moving target. Because changing schedules at the last minute is rarely an option, PMs must be ready to communicate any deviation that could create downstream problems. This requires several distinct skills, including an understanding at the granular level of where task dependencies exist, which teams are responsible for every activity in the sequence, and what sort of information each group will require as they realign their own tasks to keep the overall schedule on track. Moving these highly variable and time-critical communications across the broader project team is about more than just directing messages from one place to the next.
Diverse stakeholder interests and expectations can clog standard communication channels. The volume of messages coming into the power plant project team can be overwhelming if the PM isn’t experienced and prepared to handle it, and each type of communication likely has its own particular set of requirements for timeliness and content. Power interruption schedules, for instance, must be quickly and accurately communicated to consumers and other utility partners. This may entail not only typical e-mail notifications but also media releases on local news channels or through customer newsletters. Coordination of technology activities often includes a host of outside experts, internal IT staff, and equipment manufacturers, each of whom may need detailed datasheets or information on regulatory or audit requirements. Facilitating these various discussions requires PMs to have a thorough knowledge of each stakeholder group’s activity schedule and their needs at each stage in the project’s lifecycle.
Public-facing communications require careful management. There may be times when a power plant project team interacts with members of the public. For example, it’s not uncommon for utilities and other power generation or transmission firms to solicit feedback or questions from consumers and individuals in the local community. PMs are frequently required to provide the public with timely information on planned utility interruptions or changes to how power consumption is tracked or analyzed. Follow-up activities are also crucial in some power plant projects, as consumer satisfaction and partnerships with other utilities drive everything from revenue forecasts to future plans for infrastructure or technology upgrades, or new sustainability initiatives.