Wonder what’s missing from your project team’s communication plan? Project managers sometimes discover there are multiple versions of the truth existing within their team. One sub-group thinks it’s on track—in reality, they’re working from a schedule that’s out of date. Another department is late on several key activities, but they haven’t updated the master plan so no one else is aware of the delays that will soon affect their own scheduling. Or an outside vendor has almost completed a custom piece of equipment. Unfortunately, they don’t realize the specifications have since changed.
Your team may already understand the benefits of working from a single, integrated plan. The problem is getting from here to there—how do you put the right strategies in place to eliminate all those various iterations of the truth and bring everyone together under a shared approach?
Communication across the project team can’t be a free-for-all. The various cross-functional groups involved in executing the project will have many conversations throughout the process, and most can happen in an informal way. But at some point there needs to be a clearinghouse-type role established that ensures important information is shared with the right people at the right time. This helps to maintain communication flows that are efficient as well as effective, and it also creates an oversight function to keep sensitive information from being shared with unauthorized parties.
A crucial component in any communication plan is the ability to drive accountability at the individual level. If important data points—about delays of key milestones, the progress of high-level tasks, questions, concerns, etc.—aren’t being shared among the team, the entire communication flow begins to break down. There needs to be a coordination function that will help to hold people accountable if their information is late, if it’s vague or incomplete, or if they aren’t responsive to new inquiries from other stakeholders.
Even when all team members are working with one version of the truth, it’s still possible that conflicting information may occasionally appear. By assigning an individual (or potentially a small handful of individuals, depending on the project’s size and scope) to manage the communication function, discrepancies can be spotted and tracked down. Once the correct data has been confirmed, it can then be broadcast in a controlled manner to the other sub-teams. This approach keeps everyone on the same page and helps to stops the proliferation of multiple versions of the truth.
Many projects move at a fast pace, with activities scheduled simultaneously and dependent tasks beginning as soon as the one before is completed. There’s little tolerance for slow-moving communication channels when each functional group relies so heavily on the information coming in from other departments. PMs must be mindful to ensure that critical data points are shared on time, and that any team-wide communications are distributed without delay. When information isn’t shared quickly, outdated (and possibly inaccurate) knowledge may be used to drive decisions, leading to additional problems down the line.
There are disagreements, concerns, questions, and uncertainty in every project. Stakeholders may have difficulty coming to a consensus on priorities, or one group’s preferred timing for a key activity could conflict with the scheduling requirements of another group. Preserving the flow of information in these instances requires a skilled facilitator to work through the friction, identify acceptable compromises, and avoid the kind of infighting that can severely hamper a project team’s ability to move forward. Without an expert filling this role, project team members may instead chose to avoid uncomfortable confrontations and simply proceed with their own plan, creating challenges that will inevitably need to be resolved later.