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Ways to improve client communication

Updated: Mar 5

Communication is an essential process in our day-to-day life, and the entire world revolves around it. Lasswell's Maxim defines communication as “who says what to whom in what channel with what effect”. Communication is exchanging information from one point of the project to the other point in an efficient manner.

Every project manager learns that the most valuable factor for project success is communication. The richness and effectiveness of the communication channels must be considered while deciding the channel to use in Agile projects. Agile always recommend face-to-face communication, as it promotes trust and two-way communication.

Whether you lead a project, own the product delivery, or involved as a subject matter expert, you are all in the communication business.  In this business, effective communication is the most important success factor. And, increasing communication complexity is a major obstacle to ineffective communication.

Now the question is how to discover your project communication complexity? The answer lies in the number of people who are communicating with each other.

Based on stakeholder analysis, the project manager and the project team can determine the communications that are needed. There is no advantage of supplying stakeholders with information that isn't needed or desired, and the time spent creating and delivering such information is a waste of resources.

As per the PMBOK® Guide,

The total number of likely communication channels is n (n – 1) /2, where n signifies the number of stakeholders. For example, a project with 10 stakeholders has 10 (101) /2 = 45 likely communication channels”

A communications management plan can organize and document the process, types, and expectations of communications. It provides the following:

  1. The stakeholder communications requirements in order to communicate the appropriate information as demanded by the stakeholders.

  2. Information on what is to be communicated. This plan includes the expected format, content, and detail—thinks project reports versus quick e-mail updates.

  3. Details on how needed information flows through the project to the correct individuals. The communication structure documents where the information will originate, to whom the information will be sent, and in what modality the information is acceptable.

  4. Appropriate methods for communicating include e-mails, memos, reports, and even press releases.

  5. Schedules of when the various types of communication should occur. Some communications, such as status meetings, should happen on a regular schedule, while other communications may be prompted by conditions within the project.

  6. Escalation processes and timeframes for moving issues upwards in the organization when they can't be solved at lower levels. Methods to retrieve information as needed. Instructions on how the communications management plan can be updated as the project progresses.

  7. A project glossary.

The communications plan may also include information and guidelines for project status meetings, team meetings, e-meetings (that's electronic meetings, not meetings about the letter e), and even e-mail. Setting expectations for communications and meetings early in the project establishes guidelines for the project team and stakeholders.

The project manager and the project team can identify the demand for communications using the following,

  1. Organization charts

  2. The project structure within the performing organization

  3. Stakeholder responsibility relationships

  4. Departments and disciplines involved in the project work

  5. The number of individuals involved in the project and their locales

  6. Internal and external information needs

  7. Stakeholder information

1. Identify the 5Ws (Why, What, When, Where, Who) and 1H (How)

  1. Who needs to be communicated to. This is based on the communication formula and needs to be determined.

  2. What needs to be communicated. All information related to the project need not be communicated to everyone in the team.

  3. When it should be communicated. The timeline of communication should be monitored.

  4. Where should it be communicated? If the team involves many people, then individual level and team level communications need to be resolved.

  5. Why communication of information is essential and to what level is important. Why is it not encouraged as it is blame rather than change?

  6. How the communication needs to be done. Is it conducted via e-mail, phone, or a presentation done to the team members?

Now let's see :

What are the Major Obstacles in Communication?

In order to understand the major obstacles that come a long way in a project, it is essential to know the interfaces any project may have. The interfaces are as follows:

  1. Between organizations (e.g., customer-supplier);

  2. Between departments within an organization (e.g., marketing-IT);

  3. Between teams within a department (e.g., testers-developers);

  4. Within distributed teams (e.g., part of the team is in Seattle and the other in Sydney).

The main communication obstacles (across interfaces listed earlier) can be drilled down to the following three broad areas:

  • Political: Whenever there are many groups involved, there is the possibility of vested interests and power games getting in the way of dialogue. Such political obstacles usually originate in the upper ranks of an organizational hierarchy, a step or two above levels at which projects are planned and executed. Project managers, therefore, need to make special efforts to be aware of the key political players in the organization. Once the political players have been identified, the project manager should take steps to gain their confidence and buy-in on project goals. This should help eliminate political barriers to project communications. It is best to settle political issues at the level where they originate; escalating political problems up the hierarchy (i.e., to the manager's manager) generally does not help, and may even be counterproductive.

  • Cultural: Organizational culture, which is essentially the totality of assumptions and values commonly held within an organization need to be dealt with. Clearly, this can vary considerably between organizations—some may be more open than others may, for example. Communication at the interface between two organizations with vastly differing cultures can be difficult. For example, one might expect some differences of opinion at a joint project planning session involving a very forward-looking, can-do supplier and a conservative, risk-averse customer. Project managers can ease such difficulties by understanding the divergences in attitudes between the parties involved, and then acting as intermediaries to facilitate communication. In geographically distributed (or virtual) teams, differences between regional cultures can come into play. These could manifest themselves in a variety of ways, such as differences in fluency of language or social attitudes and behaviors. Here again, the project leader, and the rest of the team for that matter, need to be aware of the differences and allow for them in project communications.

  • Linguistic: Linguistic needs to be understood in the sense of specialized terminology used by different disciplines such as accounting, IT, marketing, etc. Often when specialists from diverse areas get together to discuss project related matters, there is a tendency for each side to make assumptions (often tacitly) regarding a common understanding of specialized jargon. This often leads to incomplete (at best) or incorrect (at worst) communication. So practical techniques that would solve the above three obstacles need to be identified and implemented. In other words, communication sharing should be best at any project level

As part of the communications planning, the project manager should identify all of the required and approved methods of communicating. Some projects may be highly sensitive and contain classified information that not all stakeholders are privy to, while other projects may contain information that is open for anyone to explore. Whatever the case, the project manager should identify what requirements exist, if any, for the communication modalities.

Communication modalities can also include meetings, reports, memos, e-mails, etc. The project manager should identify the preferred methods of communicating based on the conditions of the message to be communicated. Consider the following, which may have an effect on the communication plan:

  1. The urgency of the information: When the information is communicated can often be as important as what is being communicated. For some projects, the information should be readily available, while other projects are less demanding.

  2. Technology: Because of the demands of the project, technology changes may be needed to fulfill the project request. For example, the project may require an internal Web site that details project progress. If such a Web site does not exist, time and money will need to be invested in this communication requirement

  3. .Project staffing: The project manager should evaluate the abilities of the project team to determine if appropriate levels of competency exist to fulfill the communication requirements or if training will be required for the project team.

  4. Project length: The length of the project can have an influence on project technology. Advances in technology may replace a long-term project's communication model. A short-term project may not have the same technical requirements as a long-term project but could benefit from the successful model a larger project uses.

  5. Project environment: How a team communicates often depends on its structure. Consider a collocated team versus a virtual team. Each type can be effective, but there will be differing communication demands for each type of team.

The project manager may need to be in touch with people in the same location or various other locations in which project work is being performed. It is the project manager's duty to determine how to do this information sharing; he or she should categorize the means of communication. Information sharing in the current world makes us think of fax machines, telephone, e-mail, and similar tools. How do you prioritize the means of communication and convey what is really required?

  1. In-person: The best communication is still face-to-face. The project manager can determine the person's body language and get their tone and nuances. Very importantly, this often tells more about what is going on in the project.

  2. Telephone: The tone of the voice can be heard. Note that you should always smile on the telephone, which gives a feeling of upbeat and confidence in the project.

  3. Videoconferencing: This is very useful in saving travel costs.

  4. E-mail: The most popular of these is obviously e-mail next to the telephone. It is amazing that people are taught how to use an e-mail system, but are not provided with any guidelines on effective use. Here are some specific guidelines that would help to increase the efficiency of communication via e-mail:

  • Avoid using email for any sensitive topics;• Beware that everyone in the company will read your emails

  • Think about what medium to use for communications before you resort to e-mail

  • Make sure that the title of the email is either very specific or very general

  • Avoid using email to discuss an issue in any depth. The E-mail was never intended to be used as groupware


If we don't plan for communications with stakeholders early on in the project, we run the risk of either spending too little time on communications so as to disengage our stakeholders or spending so much time being inefficient in our communications that we are unable to effectively manage our project. Planning for communications means that we take the time to understand our stakeholders and how they want to be communicated with so that we engage them in the project and get what we need to be effective in meeting the goals of the project.

When working with virtual stakeholders with a variety of cultural backgrounds, an understanding of their communication needs and expectations is essential for success. Cultural differences can have a negative impact on our project communications when we believe we can simply communicate as we always do without taking into consideration the needs of others. Taking the time to build relationships and understand your stakeholders enables improved communications.

Use a variety of communication modes to capture the greatest number of stakeholders – keeping them engaged and communicating in a way that works for them. The use of technology enables better control of communications, especially on complex global projects.

As a best practice, take time upfront before the project officially starts, to develop your communication plan and outline the ways and tools to be used for communications. Validate this information with your stakeholders to be sure it will meet their needs.

The more effectively you communicate with your stakeholders, the more engaged and committed they will be to the project enabling for increased project success.

#clientsatisfaction #customerengagement