Beyond reporting



Many project communication plans are simply a schedule for the distribution of project reports. But reporting and communicating are not the same.

Effective communication starts with understanding who the important stakeholders are, determining the reason you need to communicate with them and designing a strategy to reach your desired outcome. Finally, there must be processes in place to measure its effectiveness. Communication is a two-way street. It requires not only a clear message on your part, but also a response from the receiver so you can be certain he or she has understood you correctly.

Reports, on the other hand, fulfill a different purpose. Well-designed ones contain useful information in a time series, making them a valuable data repository. And the process of gathering and reviewing the information generates valuable insights for the project team. Be warned, however: The information in reports is passive, and you can't assume anyone will read, understand or use it.

The Feedback Loop

As project artifacts, reports have intrinsic value and can elicit positive emotional responses among stakeholders. Some people simply like getting reports, and some organizational governance roles are based on receiving and processing the data in your reports.

Project managers also feel comfortable with reports. They're part of our “clothing,” along with Gantt charts and other tools. For senior managers, the existence of a well-presented report suggests control, order and capability. Conversely, a project manager without reports is viewed as not behaving properly and will most likely be penalized for non-conformance.

This is not communication, however.

To transform a report into communication, you need to either deliver it in person or attach a note to highlight specific issues. You also must seek a specific response. Without the feedback loop, all you've done is forward a message. You have no idea if the message has even arrived, much less been seen and understood.


BE WARNED: The information
in reports is passive, and
you can't assume anyone will
read, understand or use it.

Concentrate your efforts on the people who matter. For everyone else, forwarding reports is an effective way to stay in touch and keeps the channels open for when you do need to truly communicate in the future.

Communication is a focused discipline—and it's hard work. But without it, your key stakeholders won't know what you need of them. And you won't know they don't know until it's too late! PM

Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP, is the managing director of Stakeholder Management pty Ltd. and director of training at Mosaic Project Services pty Ltd., both in Australia. Dr. Bourne graduated from RMIT as the first professional doctor of project management.





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