Charles Edward Oliver
C.E. Oliver & Associates Limited
Most project managers rapidly come to understand the need for good, clear communication tailored to the needs of the recipient. It has been stated that the success of any project depends on communication, and that most project failures can be traced either to poor communication or a lack of needed communication. Mr. Charles E. Oliver was Chairman of the Communication Task Group, which has considered systems, meetings/conferences, and personal aspects of communication functions in this segment of the Report.
Communications management is the key to project control; the essential element of project management. Without the benefit of a good communications management system, the processes involved in the development of a project from conception to completion can be seriously constrained.
Communications management provides the vital project integrity required to provide an information lifeline among all members of the project team. This data must flow downward, upward and laterally within the organization.
This paper examines the basis of project control: the documentation, the tools, the language and the resources of communications management. We will deal with the systems, progress monitoring and the human element in detail. What is addressed here is a baseline for communications management.
Communications management is both master and servant of project control. It is the action element, the integrator of the process of putting the project together. As project management is both an art and a science, the project manager conducts the multidisciplines of the design and construct team.
At the outset we must address the factor of the human resource element in communications. Speaking, writing, listening are fundamental attributes of good communications. The objectives are to create and maintain a parity between reality and one's perception of reality. Programs and policies are ineffectual if members of the whole team do not know about them and why they exist. If they are not told or misunderstand them, the individual interpretation of the project can be wrong and the performance and productivity objectives jeopardized.
To overcome these human problems requires a tactical plan designed to assure the free flow of information and data throughout the organization. This flow should be planned in such a manner as to provide total information through the project management group where it is filtered and forwarded on to those who need to know all or part of that information.
The benefits of such planning are many. Some of these are improved morale and attitudes; increased performance and, therefore, productivity; removal of misconceptions about objectives and policies of the project organization; improved relationships with union members; improved interactions between the various disciplines involved.
It is also important to avoid “jargon” and “buzz words” in communications unless these words are fully understood by all of the people involved.
A word about integrity. The development of mutual trust takes time. It is a worthwhile effort to build trust and confidence among members of the team. A sense of humor is also a worthwhile objective in creating a smooth functioning communications system.
Throughout the human resource side of communications management are the related skills and technical knowledge of the individuals involved. The system functions best at the level where the team members selected have above average competence in their respective disciplines.
The tools for communications management are in the form of documents and equipment. The documentation of the project takes the form of financial input data; design and planning drawings; specifications and contracts; standards and codes; policy and procedures; scheduling and monitoring; and the reporting systems. Depending upon the project the aforementioned are generally required. In some projects, additional paperwork may be necessary.
The hardware requirement takes the form of calculators, typewriters and other similar equipment. On more sophisticated projects the use of a computer processing unit with peripheral terminals, printers and graphic plotters is an important adjunct to the efficiency of project control.
Software for project control include scheduling, reporting, accounting, estimating and costing. The project manager can produce many forms of control data to assist in the assessment of where the project is at any selected time and make accurate calculations as to where the project will be if a particular trend persists. The computer is an invaluable tool for the project team through the saving of time in plotting and projecting the project's schedule and cash flow.
It is important to hold scheduled progress meetings. The reporting system provides the basis for decision-making. This is what project management is all about. The ongoing performance of the various phases of the project and the monitoring of the planning, scheduling and control mechanisms provides the data required to assess progress. Is the project on schedule? Are the objectives being met? What decisive action must we undertake to get back on schedule?
These meetings provide the free flow discussion essential to the decision-making process related to project parameters.
All professional disciplines have their unique individual language to facilitate communications within their particular field of endeavor.
Project managers need an understanding of the language and “jargon” of architecture, several engineering disciplines, accounting, contract law, construction, industrial processing and the various trades. The computer has a language dimension in its own right. The project manager must understand a “babel” of languages to facilitate the communications management requirements of a project.
It is essential that all members of the project management team understand the objectives of the project. Communications management must serve as the interpreter of the information and the documents, in addition to the oral messages presented by the various disciplines. This data, when processed by the project manager, should be forwarded and/or presented in a form which will be fully understood by everyone, no matter what their profession.
The communications management aspect of project management is, by definition, the media component of the project. Through a communications management system the data is managed and transferred from origin to the various action centers. Communications management is the key to getting things done.
The basic components in the process are the human resources utilizing their respective skills and knowledge; the hardware and software systems; the decision-making procedures; and the language interpretation processes.
Communications management is project management!
Communications Management is the master and the servant of a project in terms that relate to the interaction of the many disciplines involved in the process of producing a complete project.
SYSTEMS — The orderly arrangement of the various tools and devices required to produce effective communications.
Documentation — The written evidence of project information.
Procedures — The manner, methods and forms of action.
Standards — The authority or model for action.
Functions — The specific activities required to provide adequate and reliable communications.
MEETINGS — The assembly or gathering of people to confer on project matters.
Definitive Meetings — For instruction and direction.
Progress Meetings — For the purpose of reporting, analyzing and deciding on the relevant matters required for the advancement of the project.
Reports — The periodic documentation of progress and problems.
Analysis — The review of reports, data and pertinent information.
Decision — The resulting conclusion from the review of reports, data and information.
PERSONAL — The human resource talent.
Skills — A proficiency and technical ability of the individual.
Writing skills — Relates to the expression of language in written form.
Speaking skills — Relates to the expression of language orally.
Listening skills — Relates to the art of comprehending the spoken language and sufficient attention to absorb the ideas presented.
Deciding skills — Relates to the ability to reach conclusions or make judgements.
Acting skills — The performance of the individual team members in their respective team roles.
Interaction — Cooperative action between members and between other groups.
People — The individuals of various disciplines involved.
Systems — Relates to the various tools and the media utilized for interacting with others.