How to Communicate Up Down and All Around: A 3-Dimensional Approach for 2-Dimensional Results

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

Communication issues are one the most discussed areas of project management on our forum and in organizations we consult with. We hear teams talk about them, and receive emails and calls requesting solutions to deal with them. Pardon the play on words, but communication is the most communicated issue relative to projects. We will be looking at how to communicate from multiple angles: up, down and all around, and what the 3-dimensional approach for 2-dimensional results really means.

One common complaint of executives is that they get too much information and are unable to cull through it to find out the true status of the project. They simply need to know if the project is on track, off track, and on or off budget. At the same time, those at the project level are not getting enough information to know what has been completed, or what dependencies are impacting their deliverables. A lot of times it can be a big ugly mess, so we want to go back to components of the communications plan and look at the relationship between a 3-directional approach and 2-dimensional results.

If we look at our project as a pyramid, with executives, sponsors and shareholders being at the peak, we see that there are fewer of these people. Below the top level is the change control board, where there are probably more members representing business units and different organizations external or internal to the project. At the bottom of the pyramid, the widest part, are the project teams. The project team can be internal, external, and can have multiple members at multiple levels. The pyramid schematic accurately represents the level of complexity of information that is required or needed at different levels. For example, people at the top are going to need less information and complexity; they just need to know the big picture. The change control board needs more information coming in to make decisions, address and escalate issues, resolve risk or handle change requests. Lastly, the project team needs even more information in order to complete their deliverables.

With that in mind, the communications plan is what defines the level and complexity of information needed at each level. This is the 3-directional approach, beginning with knowing your audience. In our communications plan template, we need to ask the following questions in order to set guidelines about where and how information is communicated:

Who?

Who needs to know this information? What is their role, what level are they, and who is my audience?

What?

What is the information needed? Do they need a high-level status report? Do they need a dashboard? Do they like the red and green yellow reports? Do they need numbers? Do they need budgets so they can make decisions? Do they need more information on dependencies? What do they need?

How?

How often do they need this information? How do they need to receive it? Do they need it in a dashboard, a weekly or monthly report? Do they need it by email or an online system?

When?

How frequently are they going to get this information?

Now, let’s consider where you, the project manager, are in relation to the pyramid: for this example, you are off to the side in your own bubble. Remember the results: the results are two-dimensional in that it’s an exchange, a giving and a getting. Before you go into any kind of meeting, or have information to communicate, you need to know what kind of information to give, and what to get back. A lot of times we go through and we forget that we are just culling out information but it’s important that we get information that we need from these people. We may need some decisions. They may need decisions, is this project still a priority? Where on we on the priority list? What kind of business-wide decisions are being make that may impact your projects? The change control board you may need to get important, timely decisions, information that you need for your project. And then the team, you may need to know, where are you really? Have you finished your task? Where are you, are there any issues you need to address? And then again, it’s giving. What information do you need to give to these people so likewise they can make important decisions too?

So always remembering of your communications plan when you are communicating up, down and all around that you are considering that this really, truly is a 3-directional approach for 2-dimensional results.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt) of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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