The Project Manager Survival Guide: 3 Communication Tips from Real Projects

Liz Murray

Director of Professional Services

Liz works closely with clients to align their people, processes, and information systems to maximize fundraising and engagement activities.
September 22, 2023

Effective communication is essential for any project manager. While these needs vary depending on the size of the organization and scope of a project, the business case for investing in project communication remains the same. Throughout the lifecycle of a project, there is a large volume of ideas, information, and data that needs to be communicated to the right stakeholders at the right time. Communication is also crucial to building awareness and acceptance for a change. Based on our experience working with different clients on many types of technology and operations projects, we want to share our top three survival tips from our project manager team to help keep project stakeholders well-informed, engaged, and on track.  

Survival Tip #1: Have A Plan

This may seem obvious, and while most project teams start with the best of intentions about providing clear, timely, and relevant information to project stakeholders, often once the project gets moving, communication can be one of the first areas to slip. As a best practice, your project plan should always include a communication management plan. Having a plan will allow you to be proactive about communication (and avoid the extra stress of relying on being reactive). 

During the planning phase, consider your communication needs holistically. Ask yourself: Throughout the span of the project, what information must be communicated for us to be efficient and effective? At a high-level, map out the following: 

  • What is the key message? 
  • Who will send the communication? 
  • Who will receive the communication? 
  • When will the message be communicated? 
  • How will the information be disseminated? 

Add communication tasks and milestones from the communication plan to your project schedule to make it official. Remember if you don’t write it down and track progress, it is unlikely to happen!  

On past projects, we have found it helpful to draft all communications for a specific project phase in advance to provide a head start during peak periods. For example, during user test runs for implementing a new CRM, we typically draft all emails related to a test run before it starts (e.g. testing information, reminders, progress updates). That way, the sender just needs to update and tweak the message when it comes to deployment. This easy step ensures that your testers are kept in the loop with timely and accurate information, which in turn, improves your testing results. It also can make the day-to-day workload more manageable for certain project resources and help them thrive during peak periods. 

Survival Tip #2: Know Your People 

It’s not enough to just send out an email—effective communication implies that the receiver understands the context and meaning of the information conveyed within the message. Knowing your audience helps you get your message out successfully. Each stakeholder group will have different needs and communication preferences. While it may be tempting to save time by communicating to everyone the same way, it’s not going to be as effective and may cause you greater hardship later, because people are uninformed about the project.  

During the project planning phase, your project manager will create a stakeholder register that lists everyone who needs to be kept informed and their specific interests and influence. This document will help you consider the information needs of different stakeholders. For example, the project steering committee has different information requirements than the core project team. The steering committee does not require as many day-to-day details as the core team and typically will receive communications in a recurring meeting format.   

On some projects, we have seen organizations leverage the in-house communication expertise of their marketing and communications team (MarCom). MarCom staff are assigned responsibility for executing the communication plan. This strategy works particularly well for larger projects like a CRM implementation where MarCom typically has bandwidth to take responsibility for this essential project area, as well as the required expertise. 

Survival Tip #3: Switch Up the Channels 

We are all guilty of ignoring mass email updates (despite those good intentions!). So, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that sending a periodical email is enough for our project stakeholders. Instead, we need to communicate in different ways.  

Consider your organization’s current communication channels—do you use Slack or Teams? Do you have a staff newsletter or regular “town hall” meeting? Build project communication into the existing channels first, as people are used to receiving information in this way and it saves you time, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Next, consider how you can augment the existing methods.  

Combine passive communication with active communication opportunities. You want to appeal to different communication preferences and also build excitement. It’s important to include opportunities for engagement. Ask for feedback to ensure your message was received and understood. Additionally, consider switching up the sender. As different stakeholders have different levels of influence, you can maximize the effectiveness of your communication strategy by including different voices in your plan.  

From our project experience, pairing food with project communications is a tried-and-true strategy. We have been to breakfasts, pizza parties, even a build your own taco bowl event! Seriously, who can resist free food served with a side of project information? We have also seen lots of success with leadership participating in project communication. Staff need to know that the project is supported and endorsed by senior staff. Senior staff can help set expectations and build acceptance and excitement for the change that your project will bring to your organization.  

By strategically planning, understanding your stakeholders, and communicating on multiple channels, you can maximize the impact of your project communications. We can confidently say, having informed stakeholders will make a huge difference. It will influence the quality of your deliverables and your ability to control both the budget and schedule. It will also make everyone’s experience working on the project much more positive and rewarding, and most importantly, set your organization up for the win.  

Need More than just Project Management Tips? Don’t Worry, We’ve Got You Covered 

Take a proven approach to project management to ensure you complete projects on-time and on-budget, with quality. JCA’s expert project manager team can align your teams, adapt to organizational realities, and advance your objectives. 

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