Types of communication
Understanding why and when to communicate with the team is critical to doing it effectively.
Transactional vs. relational
The purpose of project communication can be broadly categorized by two intentions: to exchange information (transactional) or to build relationships (relational). Knowing which category your information falls into will determine which mode you use to communicate it (Figure 4.1).
Figure 4.1. The differences between transactional and relational communication and common scenarios in which to use each.
YEAH, BUT...How can I execute relational communication if I don’t have access to the client?
GLAD YOU ASKED...If you’re in an organization where project managers can’t connect with the client directly, contact the account manager with the same messages you would send the client. From there, suggest that you both reach out—or just the account manager, if that’s more appropriate for your workplace.
Scheduled communication could be daily, weekly, biweekly, and in the form of email, meetings, and so on.
The most common example of scheduled communication is the status report. Make a schedule for disseminating the status report and stick to it. Also, establish what the report’s content will be and stick to that, too. For example, weekly status emails might be sent on Wednesdays to all stakeholders. The emails could include what was accomplished the previous week, what is currently being worked on, and what is slated for the following week. (Look for guidelines for kick-ass status reports later in this chapter.)
Who gets status emails? Everyone. Yes, everyone. Not just clients and/or decision makers. Everyone should be in the loop and on the same page. Think back to those four attributes we talked about: open, clear, collaborative, and thorough. These group emails will help keep the project working within these lines.
Establishing regular communication will also help organize the stakeholders—both internal and external (Figure 4.2). People can be loosely grouped into three types based on how they participate: discussers, deciders, and communicators. This will also create a sense of calm. Everyone knows when they’ll find out the details that they need to know. And it helps avoid the dreaded, “Where is this?” emails from stakeholders.
Figure 4.2. As the client and your team determines the discussers, deciders, and communicators on each team, the chain of communication starts to look more organized and efficient.
Ad hoc communication
This is the most frequent and least defined form of communication. It’s all the stuff that happens apart from the scheduled emails and documents. It’s the random emails, impromptu phone calls, handwritten notes, or feedback. Let’s face it: This is the most typical kind of correspondence that happens during a project. And it can also be the most difficult to wrangle.
Most clients won’t be as organized as you want them to be with their communication. Most of your designers and developers won’t be, either. They’ll pepper you with rapid-fire emails with ideas, changes, or questions. Sometimes, they’ll shoot you many of these a day. Or their feedback will be something really clear, like, “Can you change this? It doesn’t seem right.”
How to handle this
Being aware of what you may be communicating nonverbally is as important as creating a good paper trail. Poise and calm will have a huge impact on the morale and outlook of the team.
TAKE YOUR TIME. Don’t let questions coming at you with lightning speed throw you off. Responding within 10 minutes of every email doesn’t mean you’re better. The quality of the response is far more important than the speed of the response.
Clients look to interactive teams for insight and knowledge. Give them that. Not surprisingly, sometimes insight and knowledge take longer than 10 minutes. Nearly every question leads to a few more due to the interconnectivity of interactive projects. Proactively analyzing what potential follow-up questions may be or what aspects of the project the original question affects takes time.
BE CALM. As you find out information or details that make you feel like your project is going off-course, stay levelheaded, at least in front of your team. Even if you never say, “How the hell are we going to get this done?!” the team will see it on your face if you’re not careful.