~ 10 MIN READ
10 Key Project Management Communication Strategies
We asked numerous experts to weigh in on project management communication strategies that they’ve used successfully—here’s what they said.
Ask any project manager to name the most crucial part of their job and many of them would say the same thing: communication. In addition to the need to communicate effectively with team members, there are often external groups and company leaders to keep apprised of progress. Not only is all this communicating time-consuming, but it also takes some finesse—transferring information from one person to another isn’t always as easy as it seems.
That’s why we asked some experienced PMs: What project management communication strategies have you used successfully?
Below is a round-up of their responses. Their ideas cover all types of communication in project management and demonstrate a broad range of approaches. If you have other strategies not shared here, tweet us @clearpointstrat—we’d love to hear them!
10 Project Management Communication Strategies
1. Be clear.
According to Janis Bleichert of EXPERTE, one trend has become unmistakably clear across most of the agile project management methods: In order to be effective, project communication—regardless of whether it’s within teams, among stakeholders, or even between project owners—has to be clear and visible. “Everyone needs to be aware of what is being discussed (or has been discussed) or be able to consult or access it. When everyone is ‘in the know’ about what’s expected of them or what they should be working toward, the end goal can be more easily reached.”
Deadlines must also be clearly communicated. “One of the top reasons for missed deadlines is that they weren't communicated clearly to the whole team,” says Grant Aldrich of Online Degree. “When a manager assigns a task, the worst thing they can say is: ‘Get this back to me whenever you have time.’ It's better to give an exact date, then see if that's feasible for the other person.”
Other ways to promote clear communication: Draft an agenda for every meeting and send it to all team members (Richa Nathani, Dialed Labs), and clarify work that should be produced by individuals versus work that should be the result of group collaboration (Tim Clarke, SEOblog).
2. Check in regularly.
Most PMs have regular meetings with their teams. David Rutter at the Art of Teamwork says that daily standups or huddles help communicate the major tasks for the day, and align the team on tasks and dependencies. It also gives everyone a chance to speak with the project manager if they have urgent questions or issues to raise. “It is an important sync meeting,” he says.
For larger projects, a daily standup for the whole team is not feasible; instead, Rutter recommends smaller daily standups for sub-teams and weekly standups for the entire project team. He also suggests using a Kanban Board or Gantt Chart, so everyone gets visual—as well as verbal—information.
However, meetings aren’t just about progress reports. “Simply gathering, whether in person or via Zoom, encourages discussion and will assist with overall communication within your team,” says Hadeel Hijazieh of Ontario Chrysler Group. Ethan Taub of Billry agrees, saying meetings “offer an opportunity for everyone to be present while project activities are being discussed, and create a level playing field by giving all team members a chance to voice their ideas and concerns.”
Other than the usual check-ins around typical project KPIs, Ludovic Chung-Sao of Zen Soundproof recommends occasionally gathering to talk about the company's objectives. “Every two weeks, have a meeting not focused on operations but on the goals and objectives of the company. The purpose of this kind of meeting is to give insights about where the company is at, what major challenges are coming, what good results have come up, etc. Doing so breaks the routine of daily tasks. By raising awareness of the stakes and the destination, it gathers people around a common target. It also helps everyone to feel part of a team.”
3. Get help from the appropriate technology tools.
“Embrace the digital medium,” says Dave Nilsson at ConvertedClick. “COVID-19 has forced major organizations to work remotely. If you’ve been struggling to establish effective communication with your team, you should invest in innovation. Leverage tools like Zoom, Slack, and Skype to connect better. Invest time in learning about new apps and share the same with the team.”
Devin Pickell at Nextiva points out that tools like these, however, aren’t always enough. “Some companies find managing projects through a collaboration tool like Slack or Discord is effective. While I won't knock their style, centralizing communication in an actual project management tool has proven to be much more effective for us here at Nextiva. Tools like Trello or Asana allow you to move projects across Scrum or Kanban Boards, whichever you and your team prefer. There is really no substitute for a good project management tool.”
Dean Jones of Societal agrees, “All the communication options are important, but the most effective way to communicate throughout the project is by using project management software. Adopting a system that helps you track, update, and assign tasks to a team member within the project is by far the easiest way to encourage communication.”
Finally, don't be afraid to use different types of communication in project management. Hop on a phone or video call occasionally, says Aldrich. “Communicating over email or Slack can only take the team members so far. Far greater of a connection can be established through a video call, especially if they're not often done.”
4. Communicate with purpose.
“Whenever you have a meeting or another type of communication, make sure everyone is familiar with the purpose of it,” says Paw Vej of Financer.com. “Before every meeting, ask yourself a few questions that will help you communicate more effectively: What is the purpose of this communication? Who am I communicating with? What do I want to achieve?”
To keep the focus on purposeful communication, Chris Fenning suggests identifying all hour-long weekly meetings on the project communication schedule, and see if they can be changed to 30 minutes every other week. “This requires having a clear purpose (not just a series of boring updates) for the recurring meeting. Each session must contain only important information that requires action from the people in the room.
“Focus on the first minute of every communication (verbal and written). The first minute lays the foundation for good communication and must be clear and concise. To achieve this consistently, I taught my teams simple methods to structure the first minute of every project conversation to give the critical information clearly. The methods are described in my book The First Minute: How To Start Conversations That Get Results.”
5. Listen actively.
“The keys to creating good communication within a team are to create an open space and to be a good listener,” says Ian Peterman, CEO of Peterman Design Firm. “Without the freedom to express their thoughts, team members will not open up, and you won’t have the open and clear communication you need. If you are the leader in the team, whatever role that might be, being a good listener and showing that you are listening by acting on the information shared with you will create the space for good communication.
“Tools are, of course, great… but just because there is the tool doesn’t mean it’s used to create meaningful and clear communication. Achieving a space for communication can range from team building to simply showing over and over that things shared are listened to, and you do hear your team. Leading by example will also help the rest of the team, and show that this is how the team works.”
“Active listening surely helps,” agrees Nilsson. “For most managers, communication is like one-way traffic. They always expect team members to blindly agree to their thoughts. Honestly, things don’t work like that. You need to be an active listener to communicate better. Let your team members speak, and pay attention to what they’re saying. Analyze and respond back based on what you’ve processed about the situation. This makes the team members feel valued and equips them with a sense that you recognize their contribution. Plus, it motivates them to connect with you, and they’re willing to contribute to the success of the project.”
One way to demonstrate active listening is to summarize or paraphrase a team member’s main points to show you were truly listening—and then discuss them, says Vej. “This way, everyone feels acknowledged; you improve understanding and the level of collaboration. It might sound time-consuming, but through the paraphrasing technique, you will save time in the long run because you avoid many misunderstandings.”
6. Be transparent.
Chung-Sao believes transparency is key to promoting good communication. “Transparency must be two-sided between the team members and the manager. So, be transparent about your side of the progress and lead by example. For example, don't hesitate to share with the team tasks you've been working on lately and how you're making them move forward. Seeing the manager delivering for the team will inspire the team to follow his or her attitude.”
Transparency doesn’t just apply to giving project updates; it also means promoting real two-way communication around the company’s strategy as a whole (which your projects should naturally align with). Cody Crawford from Low Offset says the fact that “everyone is aligned with the company’s vision has played a major role in our company's growth. While strengthening corporate culture and boosting productivity by making use of management tools within our remote team has opened new doors for the company, making our company mission loud and clear to our team from the start has ensured teamwork toward our goals.”
7. Invite communication through multiple channels.
Just as in real life, not everyone likes to communicate via the same methods. “Some people prefer to give status updates by email; others like to talk in person or over the phone. Some people cannot spend time in meetings because they are individual contributors, but they can commit to engaging at other times and in other ways,” says Fenning. For that reason, he encourages PMs to “talk one-on-one with their stakeholders, and ask them for their preferred communication method. By talking with the people in the project as individuals rather than as names on a stakeholder list, better relationships developed. It also allowed for the customization of the communication plan to best fit the needs of the stakeholders on the project.”
“Some people fancy speaking face-to-face while others find it more powerful to send text messages to communicate information,” agrees Jeff Cooper of Messagely. “You may want to hold to your preferred communication channels, but this isn’t going to make interaction with others simple for you in the extended run. Just like you, everyone has their personal set of favored methods of communication. However, to deliver your messages to everyone on your unit without any resistance, you need to make yourself comfy with various modes of communication. You can get yourself one step closer to becoming a conversation expert by making use of various courses for communicating with your team.”
However, just because you implement multiple communication channels in project management doesn’t mean everyone feels comfortable using them. “It's important to make it apparent that communication is welcome,” advises Timmy Yanchun of LTHR Shaving. “Too often, team members feel as if they're being a bother or that their questions or ideas may not be relevant enough for consideration by their team leader. This is the start of miscommunication, as well as employees who are not happily engaged in a business culture that does not feel supportive. As early on as the hiring stage, make team members aware of your open-door policy, as well as any communication tools or software that you provide, so everyone can stay on the same page—literally.”
8. Encourage one-to-one communication.
William Cannon from Signaturely says “the one-to-one conversation is important to acquire a bond and understand your teammates more solidly. When you communicate with others on a personal level, you get to understand more about them. You can understand their body language, know the communication means they are most suited to, know the visual signs they use, etc. Additionally, when you want to share classified information with someone, you need to interact one-on-one with someone you trust.”
One-on-one meetings are also a good way to connect with team members who might be struggling, says Chung-Sao. “Some members of the team will not dare ask for direct help. They might not dare to express their weakness or lack of skills. It's important not to judge, as everyone has their strengths, weaknesses, and a different background. You can identify the areas of struggles of your team members by setting individual meetings to assess if they need any help. It's especially effective with people just starting out in a new position.”
9. Recognize that being right may be wrong.
Brack Nelson of Incrementors SEO Services says “being right might seem like a big win, but this victory can have far-reaching consequences if it affects the attitude or morale of other team members. Your need to be right can be a communication barrier among your project team, and can end up alienating others to the extent that they stop communicating altogether. You cannot be successful in any project with a team of one. The ego must be outside of the door when team members are communicating.”
Other PM professionals also agree that effective project communication is a two-way street and gaining feedback from your team is important. “You can’t only give orders and expect your project team to follow them,” says Kent Oyer of MX Guardian. “It may sound like a command rather than communication. Feedback plays an effective role in two-way communication, and it also helps clarify what you’re saying, and even improve your ideas. In a nutshell, feedback is a win-win strategy.” One way to collect feedback is to implement the strategy of Parker Russell’s company, Black Ink Coffee: Use online survey tools to gather feedback and ideas.
10. Be sincere.
Simon Elkjær of avXperten believes one of the reasons teams struggle with project management communication strategies is because they often forget that effective communication needs to be practiced and nurtured every single day. “My years in the industry have taught me that any strong and effective communication strategy needs to be consistent and sincere. Teams should make the most of communication and collaboration apps and practice kindness in the form of sending warm and sincere messages to each other or commending each other for a job well done every now and then.
“Of course, this doesn’t mean that one should rely on chat and emails alone. Teams can also try other activities, such as video calls, seminars, and even playing online games together. Efforts to nurture good communication within teams doesn’t always need to be extravagant, but they should be sincere. Making everyone feel valued and that they have a place in your team even in the simplest of ways will help you nurture good communication and create a positive work culture.”
Remember: Most projects are about meeting organizational goals.
Projects that are completed successfully bring your organization closer to achieving its key goals and KPIs. That’s why, other than the usual check-ins around typical project KPIs, Ludovic Chung-Sao of Zen Soundproof recommends occasionally gathering to talk about the company's objectives. “Every two weeks, have a meeting not focused on operations but on the goals and objectives of the company. The purpose of this kind of meeting is to give insights about where the company is at, what major challenges are coming, what good results have come up, etc. Doing so breaks the routine of daily tasks. By raising awareness of the stakes and the destination, it gathers people around a common target. It also helps everyone to feel part of a team.”
ClearPoint is an excellent tool for strategic project management. It allows you to track hundreds of projects across your organization—including the tasks associated with each—and lets you see how each individual project contributes to the overall organizational strategy. It also promotes transparency around project updates and tasks and simplifies your reporting process.
Clearly, a lot of excellent project managers are out there—many thanks to everyone who contributed to this article! Feel free to reach out to us at ClearPoint if you’re looking for project management software that will support your communication efforts—we’d love to show you around.