Communication is a key project management skill, and one that many project managers might take for granted.
If you’re finding that your teams and project stakeholders are unclear on things like next steps, timelines, scope, or objectives, it’s worth looking into these communication strategies in project management and improving your practices.
What Is Project Communications Management?
Project communications management consists of all the little things project managers do to make sure their project-related communications are effective and clearly understood by those receiving them.
From message formatting to deciding who is copied on project communications, project managers should review their project management communication strategies regularly to ensure their team members are getting the right information at the right time, and in the right format.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to implement communication tools and collaboration tools on your projects so you and your team can better share information, have discussions, and collaborate with each other.
9 Communication Strategies In Project Management
Over the past 12 years as a creative project manager, I’ve learned what makes or breaks project communications, and I've put together nine effective communication strategies for you.
- Say it with less, and be action-oriented
- Use links to encourage self-education
- Formatting is your friend
- Think of what works best for your team (not yourself)
- Define what “urgent” means
- Time it right and include the right people
- If there are next steps, capture them
- Standardize and templatize your communications where applicable
- Be consistent
1. Say it with less, and be action-oriented
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my career, it’s that no one wants to read or listen to project notes ad nauseam. It’s crucial to say what you need to say with as few words as possible and focus on action items.
Effective communications inform your team or stakeholders about progress, and bridge the gap between the current state of the project and the next phase of the project by requesting action items from your internal team or external stakeholders.
Before sending communications out to your team members, ask yourself:
- Are there any words that can be cut from this communication that will help me concisely convey what I need to say with clarity?
- Is my language direct and action-oriented?
- Do my words achieve the intended purpose of this communication?
Below is an example of poor communication and how it can be improved:
|On Monday at 1pm EST our team held an internal meeting and we’re in agreement that we need more information from you before we can start the project.
We’re missing dimensions from some of the photos you’d like featured on the website, and our lead developer had some questions for you.
We’d like it if we could schedule a meeting with you to align on project requirements before we move along to the next phase. Is this okay with you?
|We need to schedule another in-person meeting to align on project requirements before moving forward with development. Is your team available this Thursday at 10am EST?
|Internal information that was irrelevant to the direct ask was dropped. Confident, action-oriented language replaced a weaker method of asking for a meeting and with nearly half the number of words!
2. Use links to encourage self-education
Do you find yourself frequently sending links to your teammates when they ask you for things they could easily find themselves if they knew where to look? Using links to encourage self-education with your team is a wonderful approach that will save you (and your team) time in the long-run.
Let’s say you led your creative team through a brief before moving on to production, and you recorded and transcribed the meeting. Your meeting notes for the team do not have to be a play-by-play.
They can review the recording or transcription if needed, but your meeting notes could be as simple as: “Our team met to review X. Our action items are Y and Z. Full video conference meeting transcription and recording are linked here.”
Another way to do this is to use the project overview sections within your project management software. Include information for the project timeline, stakeholder contact information, internal team members, where the project files are stored in your file management system, and common document links that you and your team frequently refer to for every project.
There is a balance that should be struck here: you do not need to re-link every single file that’s already tucked away in the project parent folder in Google Drive or Dropbox. Think about what files your team often clicks on and refers to at a project level. I tend to include project management plan decks, creative briefs, and final asset folders.
3. Formatting is your friend
Formatting can make or break the effectiveness of a written communication. Your written communications should be scannable and arranged in a way that makes it easier for your readers to locate what they need.
As a project manager, one of the main functions of your job is to communicate project details to internal and external stakeholders on your project, but you don’t need to be reinventing the wheel every time you send a project communication.
Creating an effective project management communication plan is a helpful first step in establishing how communications will flow for your project and at what frequency, but let’s add another layer and discuss how your communications are formatted when you’re sending them out in real-time.
Here’s a list of formatting tips that will improve your project communications:
- Use bold, underline, and italics thoughtfully (but not too much!).
- Implement emojis or color coding to thoughtfully add visual interest and emphasis to specific parts of your communications.
- Keep your paragraph text short, with line breaks in between paragraphs.
- Keep your formatting consistent.
- Thread your conversations in Slack and other applications where applicable.
4. Think of what works best for your team (not yourself)
The best project managers are team players and know how to leverage the resources available to get the most desirable and successful project outcome, all while keeping their teams and stakeholders happy and informed. Sometimes this means there may be times you’ll need to make compromises in how you want work completed for the sake of the project team.
One hot topic I’ve seen at every creative agency I’ve worked at is the usage expectation for the rest of the team when it comes to project management tools and apps, and how to determine what information gets posted, and where. I’ve frequently been asked: “How should the team use Asana? How will they know what to share in Asana vs. Slack vs. Email?”
The short answer is: there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to this, and you’ll need to assess current usage and ask your team what works best for them.
You’ll likely need to create a training program to solve the issue, and sometimes there just isn’t enough time or resources to justify sinking time into this. You may have to swallow your pride and make the choice that causes the least amount of friction and churn for the team, and you may not get what you want (and that’s okay).
If your team is struggling with a process, that’s a sign to reassess and simplify wherever possible so your team members can get their work done. When negotiating workflows and tool usage with your teams it’s helpful to remember that not everyone is process and detail-oriented like most project managers are, so you’ll need to keep this in mind when making process decisions for your team.
5. Define what “urgent” means
I’ve worked at companies where everything felt like an urgent dumpster fire. “Urgent” meant “drop what you’re doing because I needed this yesterday”. Chaos ensued and everyone was constantly burned out and scrambling to get the project across the finish line. In other companies, “urgent” may mean “I need this by the end of the week”.
In my experience, company culture sets the definition of urgency. When everything feels urgent it can be tough to know how to prioritize what needs to be done first. Prioritization is one of the top project management skills, and there are multiple approaches you can take to determine what is truly urgent.
When you’re faced with urgency and have multiple project tasks that need to be completed, you can refer to these methods for guidance and direction:
- Use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you determine what’s urgent and important. All tasks are placed on a grid to determine priority in the following categories:
- Urgent + Important (highest priority)
- Urgent + Not Important
- Not Urgent + Important
- Not Urgent + Not Important (lowest priority)
- If the sense of urgency is internal, ask company leaders to define (or redefine) what urgent means. Does the task need to be completed in minutes, hours, days, or months?
- Ask the key stakeholder to clarify their priority list and have a level-setting conversation about what’s feasible and realistic based on the previously agreed upon scope and current resources at hand.
6. Time it right and include the right people
Hopefully you’ve already crafted a project communication plan that will be your guiding light for clear communication. Your projects will go more smoothly if you’re only communicating with the people that need to be involved.
In situations where there is a lengthy list of external stakeholders, determine a singular point of contact on the client side that’s in charge of funneling project communications and requests to the right people.
Check out these tips on how to send project communications at the right time and to the right people:
- Instead of posting updates to your team every time something happens throughout the day, sometimes it’s more beneficial to post a short summary at the end of the day and avoid bombarding everyone’s inboxes with notifications all day long.
- Instead of making the team listen to an entire client feedback call that they didn’t attend, point out the times in the meeting recording or transcript that are relevant and tag in your teammates accordingly. Your development team may not need to listen to the same sections as your creative design team. By taking a couple extra minutes to mark down areas that specific team members need to review, you’re making everyone else’s workday easier and cutting back on time spent reviewing meetings as a whole.
- Do not send emails (or messages through other communication channels) at the end of the day on a Friday and expect to receive a same-day response. Think about your team and stakeholders, and thoughtfully time your communications where they have a bigger chance of being seen and being well-received by the recipients.
7. If there are next steps, capture them
Documenting next steps and action items and making this information available in a centralized location is crucial to your project’s health and overall timeline. Do not let this information live only in your head or your private notes. As a project manager, part of your job is to capture action items and inform your team in a timely manner when they arise.
Make sure that action items are not left to open interpretation. Action items should be direct and clearly assigned to the right person on your team with no room to guess what the task is or when it’s due. These action items should be added as a task within your project management software and assigned to the correct team member who's responsible for completing the task.
|Revise the homepage.
|Revise the homepage with the following changes by 12pm EST this Thursday: -Update header image with new image supplied by the client (attached)-Update copy for the “About” section on the page to the new text provided by the client (attached)
|The task assignee may not have full context of what “revise the homepage” means, so it’s better to include specifics. The original example also did not include a due date or time. Even if the client doesn’t give you a due date, you should set a clear due date for your team so nothing falls behind.
When action items aren’t clearly noted and shared with appropriate team members, your project timeline can get thrown off track which can negatively affect your budget, too.
Keep your team on track by assigning out action items resulting from regular meetings, check-ins, phone calls, and other communications as soon as you can, always include a due date, and reduce any guess work that could arise from your team.
8. Standardize and templatize your communications where applicable
If you find yourself regularly sending out the same types of communications, create templates for the different types of messages and communications you send. This way they’re ready to use and fill out when you’re sending messages and emails to your team members.
Here are some examples of project events that can trigger the need for templatizing communications frequently sent out for a project:
- Meeting invitation details: Save a text file you can easily copy and paste that includes the common sections you typically include in meeting invitations. I highly suggest including meeting purpose, meeting outcome, and resources sections.
- Internal and external project status updates: Format your team communications and status updates with information that’s most important to your team.
- Meeting summaries: This could include sections for meeting date, time, attendees, a link to the meeting recording and transcript, a summary section, and a next steps section.
- Action item requests: Templatize action item requests you send to clients via email. This could include the assignee, the task, and the due date with formatting that easily copies and pastes so you don’t have to adjust formatting when you copy it into the body of your email.
- Client or team member onboarding: It’s highly likely you’ll onboard and welcome clients and team members in similar ways each time you kick off a new project or bring on a new team member.
- Project templates: Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you need to set up a new project in your project management system. Do yourself and your team a favor and create a project template.
- Task information: Sections to consider are deliverable specifications, process, background information, and linked resources.
9. Be consistent
It may sound cliche, but consistency really is key. If you’re being unpredictable and inconsistent with your methods of communication, your team and clients will notice and it will not be received well.
It’s important that you send project communications in a similar cadence with consistent formatting and methods. Your teammates and clients will notice, and they’ll start to learn where they can find information from you and what to expect when working with you.
You will likely meet with your clients and team members many times throughout a project life cycle. Think about the touchpoints you have with everyone, and if there are any ways you can improve your communications and make them more consistent across the board.
Are action items always included at the bottom of your email to a client in a bold font, with color-coding? Do you always post meeting notes for the internal team in the same spot with the same formatting every time?
The answers to these questions will vary based on the preferences of your team and clients, and there may be times when you need to change your communication methods. If you make any big changes to how you’ll be sending and sharing project communications with your teams, be sure to keep them informed about it so they know what to expect.
Any other good communication strategies or tips for improving communication skills that you’d like to share? Become a member and join the conversation in Slack with 100s of other digital project managers. You’ll also get access to over 100 templates, samples, and examples for key project documents.