Good project communication is always a big challenge. The broader the project’s impact, the bigger the team — and the challenge. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise since communication in all areas of business (and throughout our lives) is challenging. How can we be sure that the right people across both the team and the organization are getting the right information and that the information is accurate and up-to-date?

All standard project management methodologies (e.g., PMI, Agile, Scrum, Prince2, etc.) include guidelines for establishing and managing project communications. I won’t review those here (selecting a methodology is a much broader topic), but you can find details at the links I’ve provided. I want to focus instead on how we facilitate the sharing of project information.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of tools ready to come to the rescue, right? In most organizations, you’ll find email (of course) and perhaps a company intranet. You may also find an assortment of other tools, like SharePoint, Basecamp, Dropbox, Google Drive, MS Project, Smartsheets, Jira, wikis, Skype, Messenger, Slack, and on and on and on. So how do you determine what tools your project team should use?

  • Identify the tools the team will use to manage the project:
    • Documents (e.g., SharePoint, Basecamp, Dropbox, Google Drive, wikis, etc.)
    • Discussions (e.g., email, SharePoint, Basecamp, wikis, etc.)
    • Teleconferencing and Web conferencing (GoToMeeting, Webex, etc.)
    • Bugs – for software projects (e.g., Jira, GitHub, Roundup)
  • Select tools that the organization and team members already use whenever possible (this can be challenging if the team includes individuals from multiple organizations)
  • Select tools that are appropriate to the size of the team; a 5-person team might just use email, while a 20- person team might need something like Basecamp (or that 20-person team might need to be trimmed; see Why Every Productive Leader Should Apply Jeff Bezos’s Two-Pizza Rules To Their Team)
  • Ensure the tools have security capabilities that are consistent with your organization’s policies
  • Define the processes and usage for the toolset and ensure that all team members understand and are committed to adhering to the team’s communication policies

So that’s it, right? We have a methodology supported by good tools and usage guidelines. That should do the trick, shouldn’t it?

Maybe not. If you are working with a large team and/or a team comprised of members that are assigned to multiple projects (and who isn’t?), you may find that all the methods and tools in the world don’t seem to have that much impact on improving the team’s efficiency. The deeper challenge lies in developing a team culture that understands and values effective communication. At the heart, it is more a people challenge than a tools challenge. To address this, you should consider having an open discussion with the group about what makes for effective communications or even developing some agreements that go into the team’s charter.  For example, team members might develop a communication charter that sets expectations so all team members will:

  • Direct communications to specific individuals (and if you’re unsure who to address; check with the PM)
  • Respond to all communications addressed directly to you within nn hours with either the requested information or a specific commitment as to when you can provide it (in other words, give them the answer right away if you can, and if you can’t, tell them when you can)
  • Provide complete, accurate, and actionable information (e.g., provide a link to a referenced file; don’t just refer to “the latest draft of the action plan”)
  • Anticipate additional questions and answer proactively

(see Developing a Communications Charter for more ideas)

Obviously, this list could go on and you don’t want to be too pedantic but, again, the real key to effective project communications lies not in the tools, but in effective team member behaviors. Too often there’s a tendency to jump to technology solutions because it seems like that will move things along faster, but it can often be a distractor instead. Remember, if you’re peddling the bike wrong; a new bike won’t make things any better.

Tell me what you think. What seems to work well for your teams?