Communications is one of the 10 Knowledge Areas that PMI covers in the Project Management Body of Knowledge. When I teach it, I tend to get on my soapbox about it, just because it’s so important. It’s my contention that the average person does not know how to communicate in any clear and consistent fashion whether it’s in person, by email, or text. (Especially the latter two). Further, while PMI has good ideas about how important this is (use a communications management plan) it does absolutely nothing to raise the bar on it in the chapter. If you are not good at writing emails before reading it, you will still not be good at it after reading it.
I was not born thinking that people are inefficient communicators. It’s a hard-won opinion based on endless amounts of (admittedly) anecdotal information inside and outside of projects. For example, I’ve lost touch of how many times I’ve sent emails to people asking them for a meeting for one thing or another. Very often they will tell me they read the first part of the note but never got to the meeting part because they didn’t read that far! Or else they read it really quickly, misunderstood half of it and then dashed off an answer. And this is not necessarily related to intelligence. For instance, I was trying to set up a meeting with a local university professor about self-publishing a book. I told him (via email) that I would be out of town in May and could we meet in June. His answer was something along the lines of “May will be fine, let’s set a date.” So when we later spoke about it, he admitted he was clearly moving in two directions at once.
I have had many discussions with students in my classes about the use (or misuse) of email. One student told me he hated it. So he had mail rules that shunted all email cc’ed to him into a folder (which one assumes he never read). Another student got so many emails per day that she spent every break and every lunch hour sorting through them. Clearly she had no strategy whatsoever for handling email. I think that’s the key word – strategy. Don’t just unleash workers on email and let them fly. I like to have meetings before projects to explain project management to the team. Part of that is “how will we most effectively communicate.” I suggest coming up with an email strategy and rules (not answering is not enough to say no, for example) and sticking with that.
More on communications in my next post.