Why effective project communication is vital for software project success?

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Prior the significance of communication in project planning can be understood, communication itself needs to be understood. Communication is more than just talking: people can speak or send written or electronic messages without communicating if no information is transferred. Similarly, the exchange of information may indeed be communication, but if the information is neither relevant nor appropriate, that communication can be useless. Important project information needs to be communicated effectively through available channels in ways that it is received and understood.

Effective communication is interactive and relies on verbal, nonverbal, written, Subject , and contextual components to transmit a message while relying on similar cues for feedback. In project planning, the absence of good communication leaves external and internal stakeholders wondering about the status of project related issues and often prompts the formation of invalid assumptions that can ultimately lead to conflict and project failure.

Software project planning depends on clear communication for goals of the team and roles of its members to be understood. How vital is communication in project planning? It means the difference between life and death for the project and success or failure for the Business Analyst and project manager. Communication is the fuel that keeps the project running smoothly. A research study has found that the three major factors related to an information technology project success are:

  • Project Stake Holder involvement
  • Top management Executive Involvement
  • A clear statement of work documentation

A failure to communicate is often the greatest threat to the success of software development projects. All of these factors depend on having clear communication throughout the software development life cycle.

Importance of Effective Project Communication

The project communication plan sets the standards for how and when communication takes place. As the project manager, you want to set the tone for all communication concerning the project. This allows you to maintain control of the project and ensure all stakeholders receive the necessary information. Set standards for how participants communicate, including email, meetings, phone calls and memos. For regular communication such as meetings, timing is another consideration. Schedule weekly project meetings to keep participants updated on progress.

A solid communication plan increases the consistency of how the project is handled. The participants who follow the plan should communicate consistently with one another. You also need to ensure that all stakeholders have the same information on the project requirements and changes. If some stakeholders aren’t informed of changes, you risk mistakes or delays in the project work.

Regular communication allows the employees working on the project to remain productive. When they are kept in the loop on project happenings, employees will feel more comfortable with their duties. They are equipped with the necessary information to keep working rather than stopping frequently to seek out information they are missing. The employees are also better able to work together with proper communication, allowing for collaboration and effective performance on the project.

Project Communication Management

The goal of Project Communications Management is to ensure timely and appropriate collection, storage, distribution and generation of project information. Communication is so important on projects that it is an integral part of a successful project Every project should include a communication management plan – a document that guides projects communications. This plan should be part of overall project plan. The type of communication will vary with the needs of the project.

Project Communications Management consists of the following processes:

  • Identify Stakeholders
  • Plan Communications
  • Distribute Information
  • Manage Stakeholder Expectations
  • Report Performance
  • Escalation

An effective Project Manager spends most of her/his time in Communication. According to the PMBOK guide, a Project Manager spends 70-90% of her/his time in communication during a project. Communication Management needs to be planned during the beginning of the project. Communication Planning involves determining the information and communication needs of the stakeholders.

Identify Stakeholders
The Identify Stakeholders process involves the identification of all stakeholders that can impact the project. This Project Management Communication process involves documenting their level of interest, power, influence, and project impact.

Plan Communications
The Plan Communications process involves documenting the communication needs of the stakeholders identified in the Identify Stakeholders process. To effectively plan project communication, you need to use the Stakeholder Register and the Stakeholder Management strategy created during the Identify Stakeholders process.

The key tools and techniques in this process are Communication Requirements analysis, Communication Technology, Communication Models, and Communication Methods. The main output of this process is the Communication Management Plan. Other project management plans may also need to be updated, as the needs of stakeholders are uncovered.

Distribute Information
The Distribute Information process in the Project Communications Management PMBOK Project Management Knowledge Area involves effectively executing the Communications Management Plan. Simply put, it is in this process that you implement the communication needs of stakeholders. For example, a Daily Status meeting is a type of communication. The key tools and techniques in this process are Communication Methods and Information Distribution Tools. Communication Methods can either be Pull, such as communication via emails, or Push Communication, such as communication via Intranet.

Manage Stakeholder Expectations
The Manage Stakeholder Expectations process involves using the various communication methods, interpersonal skills, and management skills to ensure the communication needs of stakeholders are addressed. This will involve resolving conflicts in the workplace, facilitating meetings with stakeholders, and building trust.

Report Performance
The Report Performance process involves ensuring performance, progress and forecast information are communicated to the identified stakeholders. As you might have already deduced, variance analysis and forecasting methods, are key tools and techniques in this process. The others are communication methods and reporting methods. The key output of this process is performance reports.

Escalation
Set up an Escalation Procedure for rapid communication with upper management when a project begins to run over cost or schedule, or rapid decisions need to be made in response to internal or external changes. This escalation should determine which level of upper management to contact depending on the degree of variance from the project plan. Some communications can be accomplished in a quick email. Others require an extensive spreadsheet, report, and executive summaries. Some communication is expected in quick, ad-hoc meetings, while other needs may mean business suits and, PowerPoint slideshows. The point is simple: Give stakeholders the information they need in the modality they’ll be expecting.

Improving Project Communications

You’ve seen how a good communication is vital to the management and success of information technology projects. It is also explained above the importance of project communication management, which can ensure that the essential information reaches the right people at the right time. Some of the areas to be considered for improving project communications are:

  • Communication skills to resolve conflicts
  • Developing better communication skills
  • Using templates for project communications
  • Developing communication infrastructure

Communication skills to resolve conflicts

It is crucial for project managers to identify and resolve any kind of conflicts in projects. Conflicts could be due to project priorities, technical issues, project issues, personalities, staffing, procedures and process. There are five basic modes for handling conflicts as mentioned below:

Confrontation Mode : When using confrontation mode, the project manager will directly face a conflict using a problem-solving approach that allows them to work through the disagreements. This approach is also called as problem-solving mode. It is a win-win situation mode and is the most favoured mode used for conflict resolution.

Compromise Mode : With the compromise mode, the project manager uses a give and take approach to resolve the conflicts. In this both the parties will bargain and search for solutions that brings satisfaction to some extent.

Smoothing Mode: With the smoothing mode, project managers will place emphasize on areas of agreement and avoid areas of disagreement.

Forcing Mode: With the forcing mode, project managers will force their viewpoint. It is a win-lose situation and managers who are autocratic in nature favour this mode.

Withdrawal Mode: With the withdrawal mode, project managers will withdraw from a disagreement. This approach is least desired.

Research has indicated that confrontation mode is most widely used for conflict resolution followed by compromise mode. Successful project managers are less likely to use the other 3 modes for conflict resolution.

Developing Project Communication Infrastructure

A communication infrastructure is a set of tools, techniques and principles that provide a foundation for the effective transfer of information among people.

Tools include e-mail, project management software, fax, telephones, online chat, videoconferencing systems, teleconferencing systems, document management software and so on. If the project team is not co-located (which is increasingly common) video conferencing is good, followed by phone calls. After that, Instant Messaging (IM) has its place, and then comes email. Email is asynchronous, meaning that it works in one direction at a time, and whilst it has its place, especially when working across time zones, it should not be the primary communication method.

Techniques include reporting guidelines, templates, meeting ground rules and procedures, emailing guidelines decision-making processes, problem solving approaches, conflict resolution techniques, and root cause analysis. Communication is a two way street, and the PM needs to ensure that traffic flows freely in both directions. Listening and observing non-verbal cues is at least as important as talking, and this highlights the need to actually see team members. Particularly at launch, it’s a good idea to get everyone together. Personal contact helps build relationships that lubricate the flow of information.

As the project progresses, the PM should monitor the status of each activity, especially those on the critical path. It’s essential that he get early notice of any possible problems so that he has the opportunity to take corrective action before the situation deteriorates any further. The best way to learn about problems is through informal face-to-face conversation, which is easily achieved while “Managing By Walking About” (MBWA). Seriously, the PM should make a point of walking through the team office on a daily basis and chatting with everyone to ask how things are going.

Principles include providing an environment for open dialogue using straight talk and following an agreed upon work ethic.

Lastly, to mention it is challenging at times to install a well coordinated and effective project communication system. The vital job has to be planned meticulously to be efficient enough for the short time. Better communication capabilities are necessary for successful results of the project. Make sure to give due attention to communication tool, medium, responsibility, goals, recipients and regularity. It’s not essential that all the information pass through the PM, in fact to avoid delays it’s probably best that it doesn’t, but to stay in control he or she must be able to tap in to these flows.

By implementing these key aspects, you will definitely be successful in providing an efficient communication system to your project.

Conclusion

A communication plan enables you as the project manager to lead the team to the desired project outcome. Without proper communication with all stakeholders, you might fail to meet the requirements of the project. You need clear communication from the stakeholders to figure out exactly what they want and need from the project. For example, if you are developing a software program for a third party, regular communication with the third party is imperative to figure out exactly how they want the software to work. Continued communication ensures that the final product will meet the expectations when it is delivered

The Author

Lakhendra Singh is Founder and CEO of iQuinceSoft .. He is a highly motivated and goal oriented person. Lakhendra comes with 12 years comprehensive experience in the software industry. He is an effective communicator with strong skills on team and project management.  Lakhendra has experience in setting up the complete project management and communication process and infrastructure for iQuinceSoft which includes tools, techniques and principles to provide a foundation for the effective transfer of information among customer and employees.

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