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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT Introduction. The greatest threat to many projects is a failure to communicate. Our culture does not portray IT professionals as being good communicators.

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The greatest threat to many projects is a failure to communicate.

Our culture does not portray IT professionals as being good communicators.

BUT, research shows that IT professionals must be able to communicate effectively to succeed in their positions.

Strong verbal skills are a key factor in career advancement for IT professionals.

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Communications planning: determining the information and communications needs of the stakeholders.

Information distribution: making needed information available in a timely manner.

Performance reporting: collecting and disseminating performance information.

Administrative closure: generating, gathering, and disseminating information to formalize phase or project completion.

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Every project should include a communications management plan to guide project communications. A Communications Management Plan should contain:

  • A description of a collection and filing structure for gathering and storing various types of information

  • A distribution structure describing what information goes to whom, when, and how

  • A format for communicating key project information

  • A project schedule for producing the information

  • Access methods for obtaining the information

  • A method for updating the communications management plans as the project progresses and develops

  • A stakeholder communications analysis.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTSample Stakeholder Analysis for Project Communications

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTInformation Distribution

Getting the right information to the right people at the right time and in a useful format is just as important as developing the information in the first place.

Important considerations include:

  • Using technology to enhance information distribution.

  • Formal and informal methods for distributing information.

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A well publicized example of misuse of e-mail comes from the 1998 Justice Department's high profile, antitrust suit against Microsoft. E-mail emerged as a star witness in the case. Many executives sent messages that should never have been put in writing. The court used e-mail as evidence, even though the senders of the notes said the information was being interpreted out of context.

Some companies, such as Amazon.com, have established policies to encourage employees to watch their use of e-mail and delete it often. Their "Sweep and Clean" program instructed employees to purge e-mails that were no longer required for business or legal purposes. They even offered free café lattes to employees who complied immediately.

Harmon, Amy, "E-mail comes back to haunt companies," November 29, 1998

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTThe Impact of the Number of People on Communications Channels

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Performance reporting keeps stakeholders informed about how resources are being used to achieve project objectives.

  • Status reports describe where the project stands at a specific point in time.

  • Progress reports describe what the project team has accomplished during a certain period of time.

  • Project forecasting predicts future project status and progress based on past information and trends.

  • Status review meetings often include performance reporting.

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A project or phase of a project requires closure.

Administrative closure produces:

  • Project archives.

  • Formal acceptance.

  • Lessons learned.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTSuggestions for Improving Project Communications

The following are important issues that project managers and team members must address if they are to deliver effective project communications:

  • Resolve conflicts effectively.

  • Develop better communication skills.

  • Run effective meetings.

  • Use templates for project communications.

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There are five basic Conflict Handling Modes. In preference order these are:

1. Confrontation or problem-solving: directly face a conflict.

2. Compromise: use a give-and-take approach.

3. Smoothing: de-emphasize areas of differences and emphasize areas of agreement.

4. Forcing: the win-lose approach.

5. Withdrawal: retreat or withdraw from an actual or potential disagreement.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTDevelop better communication skills

Projects rely heavily on leadership, teamwork, cooperation and mutual understanding. Empathy, a vital ingredient of communication, is influenced by the attitude and example of project managers and their ability in interpersonal communication.

It takes leadership to help improve communication. Senior management must set and lead by example.

Information technology professionals must have the opportunity to develop communication skills. They need to be able to gain experience in drafting reports, making presentations, and managing important business relationships.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTRunning effective meetings

A well-run meeting is an important means for encouraging team building and reinforcing expectations, roles, relationships, and commitment to the project.

However, a poorly run meeting can have a detrimental effect on a project. In particular, many people complain about the time they waste in unnecessary, or poorly planned and poorly executed meetings.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTGuidelines for effective meetings

  • Determine if a meeting can be avoided.

  • Define the purpose and intended outcome of the meeting.

  • Determine who should attend the meeting.

  • Provide an agenda to participants before the meeting.

  • Prepare handouts, visual aids, and make logistical arrangements ahead of time.

  • Run the meeting professionally.

  • Build relationships.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTTemplates for project communications

To make the preparation of project communications easier, project managers need to provide examples and templates for common project communications - eg: project descriptions, project charters, monthly performance reports, oral status reports, etc.

Good documentation from previous projects can be an excellent source of examples.

Samples and templates of both written and oral reports are particularly helpful for persons who are preparing or presenting reports for the first time.

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTSample Template for a Monthly Progress Report

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTSample Template for a Letter of Agreement for a Class Project

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTOutline for a Final Project Report

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTGantt Chart Template for a Class Project

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HIT241 - COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENTDeveloping a Communications Infrastructure

A communications infrastructure is a set of tools, techniques, and principles that provide a foundation for the effective transfer of information:

  • Tools include e-mail, project management software, groupware, fax machines, telephones, teleconferencing systems, document management systems, and word processors.

  • Techniques include reporting guidelines and templates, meeting ground rules and procedures, decision-making processes, problem-solving approaches, and conflict resolution and negotiation techniques.

  • Principles include using open dialog and an agreed upon work ethic.

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There are many software tools to aid in project communications. However, organisations will need to adjust existing communication systems to meet the special needs of a project.

Microsoft Project 98 (onwards) include an increasing number of features to enhance communications within projects (for example - publishing project data as a HTML file).

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MS Project 98 Information Saved as HTML File

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It is becoming more difficult to be a successful project manager.

Projects are becoming more complex and project team members more demanding.

Traditional management approaches have been replaced with those that depend on mutually beneficial linkage and relationship.

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To develop these relationships, the project manager must be a skilled communicator -

  • Skilled at getting information.

  • Skilled at expressing views without creating problems.

  • Skilled at discussing behaviour issues.