We communicate with each other all the time, both knowingly and unknowingly. Whether we speak out what we think inside your head or express our feelings through body languages, we are constantly sending out communicative signals to others. The same communicative signals are then being perceived differently by each one of us in such an interesting way that it’s hard to explain. Needless to say, communication isn’t as easy as it seems. Especially, in complex IT projects where various parties across nations taking part in a daily basis, the communication skill of the project manager is the key factor that decides the success or failure of the project. And by communication, I mean communication as a concept, no matter if it’s through a written down task, a message in Slack or deliver in person through spoken words.
In this blog, I’m going to share with you 6 ingredients that you must bring into your action plan if you want to improve your communication effectively. This blog is dedicated for IT projects, and for that, my message is customized for IT project managers.
Below are 6 ingredients that I want to share with you:
You need to have a clear message that resonates with your target audience, whether it is your developers, your boss or your client. To achieve an effective communication, your message needs to be designed to fit the recipient and easy to understand. You will need to ensure that the readers not only gets a full picture but will have a clear idea on where to start and what to do next.
So, what does it mean by designing a fitting message in a real context? Let say that you have new members to your team, you can’t expect them to fully understand the big picture just yet. For these people, you’ll want to carefully explain how each piece of the puzzle fits together. If they are tasked to develop a new feature to your web app, then you need to ensure that they understand how it’s connected to the existing infrastructure and the future plan of the project. So write down the sources of information. Write down, perhaps, how the old system worked and what the flaws were. Write down who they could talk to regarding other systems. Write as much as possible because these people need more information.
You also need to communicate a clear goal and objective of what the project needs to achieve to all people that involve. Because, often that not, people are not motivated to do things which they don’t understand why.
In effective communication, it’s important to keep in mind that Quality over Quantity is the key. If you dump too much information on your developers at once, you’ll risk them not being able to comprehend the big picture (which results in a lot of wasted time having to explain things again and the inevitable misunderstanding as communication then gets scattered between different channels). On the other side, providing them with too little information, and they will be left to fill in the blanks on their own which could lead to a lot of damages.
Timing is of course also a key ingredient. The best time to deliver a key piece of information is at the time they need it. If you are building something big, cut the project into milestones, let them focus on something small that they can complete and once that is done then set them up for the next milestone, instead of dumping all the information in one go at the start of the project.
4. Choice of medium
The choice of medium is perhaps the most important part. You must know that each one of us prefer to receive information in a different way. Some people only receive information effectively through visual methods like charts and presentations, some prefer to read carefully written-down materials, some like to brainstorm in groups while some others prefer to fathom about the topics and find things by themselves before moving to a project meeting. You – as a project manager – need to constantly learn about the people you are involved with your project to understand their preferred communication styles more.
If you have an avid book reader as a colleague who prefers to go over things in text, well then write more. If you have someone like me (a simpleton) then you’d be wise to rely more on imagery. In my previous article, I went over how to carefully design tasks and medium choices for writing tasks. Check it out here.
Ineffective communication also means over-communicating. If you send out too many emails at once or set up too long and too frequent meetings, we will lose the attention, engagement and motivation of people. There needs to be a fine balance between too much and too little communications.
So, remember in the previous example where I told you that you need to write as much as possible when there are new members? That will not work at all the time, just to clarify. Why? Because for some people, you don’t really need to provide that much of information. Only key information is enough.
For instance, if you need to manage a senior colleague who’s been there for a long time. He obviously won’t need all the extra information that you would have given a junior coder. You better be wise to deliver the key goals and the important details this person needs to know to accomplish their tasks in the project instead. If you overload these people with unnecessary information, you’ll risk them skipping over parts of your message as they’ll assume that there are parts which aren’t necessary to their understanding.
It may sound counter-intuitive but providing too much information often results in the recipient gaining less information as they’ll start to skim the pages to find the important parts.
“It may sound counter-intuitive but providing too much information often results in the recipient gaining less information”
You also need to answer these questions along with your team to find out the appropriate level of communication:
- Who needs to know what information?
- How often must that information be communicated/shared?
- By what means will information be communicated/shared?
6. Connect emotionally
This perhaps sounds a bit strange, but in my opinion this is the key of effective communication. When managing a team, consider to have a friendship with them. Ask yourself these questions: Do I know my team well? Have I interacted with them outside of work? The true is, if you can make someone think of you as a friend instead of a boss, it’s more likely that any message you deliver to them will stick better.
My advice on emotionally connecting is to listen more and talk less. That particular works well when you just come to know the other persons. Let others speak, get to know their interest and make an honest attempt to get interested in their stories and their works yourself.
I used to have a colleague who were a bit uncomfortable in social situations. He would often get very defensive and would show very clear signs of anxiety every time I went up to him to discuss a task, which in turn, made any conversations with him quite awkward. So what I did was to ensure that every time I approached him we’d talk a bit about his interests first. He loved games (and luckily i’m a gamer as well) so I would often talk with him about game, latest news trailers or what we’d recently played, before we get to the main topic of discussion.
Building a friendship with your co-workers and team members take time and effort. But keep in mind that, the best project managers out there cultivate these relationships long before they need them.
Communication is important, and I believe that most people working in IT has problems with the communication skill. That’s why I personally believe that effective communication is something that should be taught in schools as the youth needs to be well-trained to communicate better before they enter the workforce.
This article is a result of many internal discussions at Aurora Digital. As 80% of my job at Aurora Digital is to communicate with clients and team members, I am trying my best to up my project management skills and communication skills.
Please let me know what you think about my approach to IT project management. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, and tell me what you liked and disliked. I would love to learn more from other IT project managers! 🙂