Why Is Project Management 90% Communication?

One of the first things an aspiring Project Manager will hear from a Project Management mentor or in a Project Management class is that Project Management is 90% communication. The immediate (and often unasked) question is Why?.

In order to analyze the claim, first let’s consider the very main responsibilities of the Project Manager:

  • Initiating the project
  • Developing the project plan
  • Managing the project communication
  • Managing the project resources
  • Managing the project stakeholders
  • Managing the project risks
  • Managing the project conflicts
  • Updating people on the status of the project
  • Closing the project

Of course the list above is not comprehensive, but it lists the most important tasks taking almost all of the Project Manager’s time. Now let’s examine each of the above responsibilities individually:

Initiating the project

When initiating the project, the stakeholders have to communicate with the designated Project Manager all the information they currently have on the Project. Additionally, the Project Manager has to meet extensively with the stakeholders to develop the SOW (Statement Of Work).

Developing the project plan

Project Managers do not develop plans from thin air; the project plan is developed based on the input of the team members and the internal/external stakeholders. Developing the Project Plan is essentially gathering all this input and formulating it into one document that will govern the management of the project until its closure.

Managing the project communication

The Project Manager manages the communication at the project level by defining the RACI matrix, defining formal communication in the project, setting intervals for status updates, and calling for meetings when necessary.

Managing the project resources

Managing the project resources is essentially monitoring the resources’ progress, see if they’re facing obstacles, train them if necessary. Naturally, the Project Manager has to communicate with the project resources in order to get the necessary input to assess their performance and see that everything’s on track.

Managing the project stakeholders

The main thing about managing stakeholders is to keep them satisfied and supportive of the project, while reducing, as much as possible, their negative effects on the project (which may result from hidden agendas). In order to do that, the Project Manager has to keep a constant stream of communication between him and the project stakeholders. The Project Manager also needs to report the status of the project constantly to the stakeholders, as well as major obstacles and issues. Additionally, the Project Manager needs to receive feedback from the stakeholders, and formulate this feedback into the project, whether it’s about change requests, cutting funds, etc…

Managing the project risks

Risks nearly always arise in any project. Be it a new government regulation, a union strike, a delayed shipment, a couple of resources quitting, etc…, risks can have detrimental effects on any project. The Project Manager becomes aware of these risks through his communication with the stakeholders and/or the team members. Once aware of the risk, the Project Manager will then have to assess and reduce the impact of these risks, and then report back to the stakeholders on about the risks and how they were handled.

Managing the project conflicts

Inter-team conflicts are common in any project. The Project Manager has to acknowledge those conflicts, and manage them properly through constructive communication with the involved team members. If a team member is consistently hindering the project in one way or the other, then the Project Manager needs to remove him off the project after communicating the issue to the resource’s direct manager.

Updating people on the status of the project

The current status of the project has to be communicated constantly to the team members and the stakeholders. Status updates may be done at regular intervals, or when the needs arise (such as a major risk or a conflict). Status updates may be communicated in an email or during a meeting. In case of a Project Management 2.0 environment, stakeholders can check status updates by themselves (without the need of the Project Manager to send this information).

Closing the project

When closing the project, the Project Manager has to verify the scope by making sure that the project satisfies the needs of the customer (this is usually done by getting feedback from the customer using a questionnaire), he will then have to communicate the release of the team members to their respective managers to ensure their availability for the next projects. The Project Manager will then have to gather the lessons learned essentially by collecting feedback from the project team members as well as stakeholders. Finally the Project Manager has to create a final report assessing the project and then communicate that report to the stakeholders.

When examining the above responsibilities of the Project Manager, we can clearly determine that almost everything the Project Manager does has to do with communication, and when he’s not communicating, he’s formulating some gathered information into documents to be later communicated. Hence, it is safe to say that Project Management is indeed 90% communication, the other 10% are spent preparing for communication.

© 2010 Project Management Learning – Reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Project Management Learning.

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  1. Quote

    Quite an interesting article. I would argue that even in a Project Management 2.0 framework, there is still demand for interpersonal communication that can best articulate common goals and understanding, thus obtaining much needed buy-in and consensus.

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