4 Critical Tools to Improve Project Communications

communications management Mar 28, 2021
4 Critical Tools to Improve Project Communications

There are four important tools a project manager can use to improve communications. These four critical tools are the elevator pitch, status report, project deck, and communication plan.  Let's take a detailed look at each of these one at a time.

Elevator Pitch: Your elevator pitch is a concise and compelling message about your project. It should start with an attention-grabbing opener or headline. For example, "My project is going to save Clark Inc. a million dollars a year by putting critical information at the fingertips of their IT staff."

Next, discuss what the project will provide. Focus on any unique features, and especially the benefits that will continue to engage the listener.  Finally, wrap up your pitch with an open-ended question that will draw the listener into the conversation. It could be a generic question like, "what projects are you working on?" Or maybe something specific about your project. Draft an elevator pitch, edit it, practice it until you are sure you can fit it into a 30 to 60-second window.

Once you're satisfied, set a timer or ride on an elevator and practice it multiple times until your delivery sounds natural and effortless. For example,

"My project is going to save Clark Inc a million dollars a year by putting critical information at the fingertips of their IT staff. We're modifying the Xanadu dashboard product to pull up information even faster to process Clark's high data volume. It's going to meet all requirements in a year, after which we'll sell an upgraded version to our other clients. Do you work with clients who could use these types of capabilities?"

Very simple, effortless. Practice, practice, practice.

Status Report: A project status report could be defined as a regular report stating the up-to-date project progress and comparing it to the project plan. It also serves as the primary communication tool to convey critical messages to the right people at the right time in the right format. The project status report helps monitor and manage the project and provides documentation for future project improvements.

When project planning is complete, the project's plans must be baselined. As project execution moves forward, the amount of deviation from the plan is referred to as variance. Most project status reports will include information on all major constraints such as schedule, resources, quality, and deliverables as defined by the scope. When creating a status report, it's important to use the stakeholder register and the communication plan to identify who needs to be informed with what information and when they need to be informed.

Multiple versions may be required, depending on the audience.  Senior management typically requires a high-level status report, while the project team may need a more detailed report.

Project Deck: Now the concept of a project deck is very straightforward. It is a compilation of all previously presented slides into a single deck or directory on your computer. Project decks make it easier to maintain consistency in messaging and communication.

As the first presentation is created, give some thought about how you're going to brand the project, perhaps by using a consistent PowerPoint theme and even creating a project identity in the form of a logo, title and tagline. Whenever you must create a new presentation, start by adding themes and slides from previous presentations to preserve the branding. Over time, the stakeholders are going to recognize that branding, and it will build confidence in the project.

Stakeholders and senior management can be very demanding. When a CEO asked for a presentation he could deliver, I used my project deck to select key slides quickly. My slides already had the necessary spoken text in the notes section, so I only had to focus on a few transitions to make the presentation more suitable for CEO delivery. The CEO well received my presentation. And in turn, his audience also appreciated and enjoyed the presentation.

Communication Plan: A communication plan is usually a tabular communication-by-communication plan that details what information or messages we want to convey, why the messaging is needed, the purpose of the communication, the responsible person for creating the communication, and more details of when, to whom, and how it will be delivered. The clearer and more detailed the communication plan is, the better the result.

It's also possible to create a separate communication plan for events or deliverables to optimize communication effectiveness, and overall project success. Be as specific about dates, times, timing, and frequency as possible. And be sure to consider any stakeholder communication preferences, requirements, or expectations.

Don't forget to include any repeated communications such as status reports, meetings, project newsletters, and other communications. Make sure they're all included in your plan.

Unlike other project management plans, most communication plans are not baselined. They become "living documents" updated as new stakeholders are identified, or additional messaging is needed.

Do you have these four critical tools in your toolkit? If not, add these now to improve your communications skills.

If you missed last week's related article, be sure to check out Get Your Listening Skills in GEAR!

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