You can never put a value on Communication or the lack of it. Simply put it is invaluable and outright precious to every sphere of your life. More so when it comes to your work and professional success.

Take a quick walk down memory lane and you will find lot of those small incidents that could have turned better or changed decisions in your favour. It can be as simple as getting buy-in for your idea, saving a friendship or winning that big deal you have worked tirelessly for.

So what is it about communication that makes it so crucial for us irrespective of who, what and where we are?

From my experience, there are 4 specific elements that must be attended to in all our communications.

1. What?

You should be absolutely crystal clear in knowing "what is that you wish to communicate". One must accord that extra care in segregating the emotion and the facts in your communication to ensure the point is well received. Else emotions will generate a further emotional response thereby diluting the facts & defeating the very purpose of your communication.

It is furthermore important to be very concise and crisp with no beating around the bush and neither keying in info that can be shared at a later stage.

What Your Antidote to Project Stress ?
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Now, this is no rocket science, each one of us are aware of it, and even then one can safely say that it is overlooked 95% of the time and practiced far too less. And this is what separates the hugely successful people from the not so lucky ones!

2. Whom?

The second element in your communications is to "identify & understand" your audience. You must filter information based on who needs to know what and to what extent. In most cases, we fail to identifythe right people and share far too much or too less. And in both the cases you run the risk of confusing and/or alarming them. Not very helpful, is it?

On the other hand, knowing what to be shared is very crucial in meeting your objective in the first place. This where understanding your audience comes into play.

Whom Your Antidote to Project Stress ?
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A simple e.g. you cannot go to your steering committee with a list of bugs or open Change requests while presenting a project status. That is more valuable to your project team who will actually work on them. Your leadership just needs to know the bigger picture, the figures and facts, what is on track, what is causing delay and what needs their attention and help.

3. Why?

Once you have taken care of the What & the Whom you must very clearly indicate as to Why the information is being shared with them. What’s in it for them? It is evident from experience leadership is always over burdened with things that need their attention. Not having it called out explicitly in your communication will add to the delay and may derail your project or request altogether.

On the other hand, with proper action items, the recipients would be forthcoming in giving their support, buy-in or take required action in a timely manner thereby contributing to the project success.

Why Antidote to Project Stress ?
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Know full well that once you miss the opportunity to garner their attention or support, you are setup for an uphill task which obviously means more time and work at your end. And in cases of urgency you may not have that luxury there by making matters worse!

4. When?

You may have got all the above elements perfectly sorted, but you skew the When and you lose! As the saying goes, being at the right place at the right time! Timing is the most important element in your communication.

Timely communication not only sets things in motion but is also helpful in prevention of mishaps and reduces response times in crisis situations. And yes, it definitely helps in setting the right expectations thereby eliminating any cause of unpleasant surprises in the future!

The When is basically well understood by the proverb - Prevention is better than cure!

Having understood the 4 key elements in communication, let us explore the challenges & strategies we can deploy to maximize benefits of optimum communication in our business and projects!

Information Flow in our Projects

When Antidote to Project Stress ?
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Organizations across the world run multiple projects simultaneously involving multi departments and geographies as well. Some projects may be with in a single team and straight forward and some may be strategic in nature. Thereby, organizations have to be nimble to handle varying levels of project complexity and execution. Add to it the cultural differences or preferences that comes in with a diverse workforce.

So, a typical communication challenges list would look like:

- Emails & Spreadsheets – tons of it!

- Remote Teams spread across geographies and time zones

- Use of multiple tools

- Communication styles and preferences

- Building rapport and Trust issues

- Getting timely updates

With the above glimpse of the mess we are all capable of getting ourselves into, let us take a pragmatic approach on how to turn each of these obstacles into opportunities for

- Greater project success

- Higher customer satisfaction

- Happy and energized workforce

- Matured organization processes

- And rising revenue levels

Emails & Spreadsheets

Ah! A project manager's eternal love Not exactly. Project Managers across organizations are synonymous to emails and spreadsheets for their project team members. It is sad but true.

Emails & Spreadsheets
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Emails and excel sheets are powerful communication tools in their own right but do not always fit in the greater scheme of project management activities. You cannot wait for emails or excel updates when you are fire-fighting or amidst major product/service release with the ever so tight deadlines right around the corner.

Just take the following aspects of managing projects that need our utmost attention:-

- Misunderstood requirements

- Conflict resolution

- Stakeholder perception or expectations

- Customer reviews & approvals

- Risk mitigation

And imagine addressing these via emails. Not a great idea is it?

Each of these require beyond the edge planning, transparent and timely communication via a medium that enables real-time information sharing with all involved and most importantly one that is relied upon by one and all.

Emails are great for not so urgent notes, ideas and plans. Or when you have to reach a wide audience spread across various time zones. You can rely on emails for one on one conversations and discussions mainly involving confidential information.

Consensus building, troubleshooting and ideation cannot happen over emails and excel sheets. They require the human touch, instant collaboration and quick answers.

And these are the very building blocks of a successful project delivery that teams rely on collaborative software and platforms. The primary benefits being:–

- accessible from anywhere, anytime

- ensure the right people receive the right message at the right time

- no distractions & focus on actual work and outputs

- negligible unnecessary manual efforts

- no scope for administrative delays

Remote Teams spread across geographies and time zones

Technology has reduced boundaries like never before and distances do not matter when it comes to running your business. This also means increased access to the global talent pool to build the best team possible for your projects.

Having remote teams is the new business order as the benefits far outweigh any perceived drawbacks.

Remote Teams spread across geographies and time zones
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A business may deploy remote teams for better work-life balance, proximity to customer locations, delivery centres or cost-effective locations in terms of labour & real-estate, compliance & regulatory requirements etc.

Now, to ensure maximum output and optimum success of the remote team model, the communication aspects must be well-addressed.

Time-zone lags & information delays are the most common communication disruptor when it comes to delivering with remote teams at the helm. And these can be best handled by defining:-

- the right communication medium

- communication frequency

- and a robust communication strategy

The most common strategy deployed is that of having regular checkpoint meetings at a time that is conducive to stakeholders from different time zones. "Follow the sun" is a successful and widely popular model deployed for collaborating with teams at either ends of the globe.

Having a business model is one thing and running that model successfully is an uphill task. Visionary Project Managers are quick to lay out

- robust task management plan

- plan the task start and due dates well

- transparent task and resource allocation

- clarity around the deliverables

- desired quality levels

- precise roles and responsibilities

With the above actions rightly executed, we move closer to strengthening our business model, deliver optimally & provide a thriving environment for our teams to perform and excel. All of them with a direct positive impact on the customer happiness index and revenue.

Use of multiple tools & Communication styles and preferences

This one is a bummer! Major project discrepancies begin when the teams start building their own "source of truth". A highly dangerous trait that must be curbed with utmost diligence. Within no time you start seeing information silos being created that send mixed signals to the team members.

And before you realize there is absolute chaos. No one knows which source to rely on, what data to trust and present.

Use of multiple tools & Communication styles and preferences
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The consequences and disruption to your overall project plan and execution is just unimaginable. And the most heart burning aspects are:-

- You now have maybe 100s of hours of data cleansing & massaging which were never part of your original effort estimates

- Unavoidable non-billable work

- Absolute waste or precious time and money

- Immediate resource requirements and burn

- Customer and Stakeholder trust at risk

- Most importantly a major loss of face for a Project Manager

Worst nightmare of any project manager ever! So how do we prevent from this data storm?

The foremost thing to do is have your “ground rules” established. Use your experience and knowledge of the company culture to understand what works best for the team.

Note: nobody likes managing data, writing updates, maintaining time logs etc.

The idea is to provide mediums that encourage your team to be forthcoming with sharing updates preferably very precise and on time. So what must the ground rules be?

- Single source of truth at all times

- Team's benefits and greater good over personal preferences

- Grant relevant access to all project members to this source

- Define a frequency at which they are expected to update the source

- Make it as easy as possible for them to share and receive the required info

- Ensure each team member knows what info, format and update is expected of him

When you have a platform that is easy to adopt, obtaining team buy-in becomes easy. We all want to spend our time on things that we excel at, have passion for and love doing. And like it or not, giving updates is never part of the above list

Also, being the Project Manager, take time to understand how your teams like to communicate & what is most time saving and efficient for them.

Help them realize the benefits of having access to the right information augurs well for them. And the fact that ambiguity can never deliver tangible outcomes or anything of business value and it is highly detrimental to the overall success of the project, the team and the business itself.

Building Rapport and Customer Confidence

I have saved the most important challenge at the very end of this chapter for a very simple reason that "Customer" is the North Pole, the guiding light or the very glue that ties everything we have discussed so far.

Building Rapport and Customer Confidence
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The business, the products, services, projects all exist because of the customer and the success of each one of these endeavours lies in the success of the customer.

For the Customer, success is outcomes that have business value. Independent products and services mean nothing to them. Hence, the project manager must himself have the customer’s mind set the moment he sets foot on the project.

It is about having a clear understanding of not only the customer's requirements and business needs, but also the outcomes that the customer so very much desires, the vision he wants realized and the mission to be achieved.

Easier said than done! You need to be one with the customer in terms of articulating, helping him shape his project's mission and finally deliver it. This needs more than the technology know how or the implementation expertise.

Remember that you are not the only one with these skills. There are lot of other options in the market, but the customer chose you for a reason – Alignment with his definition of value and success.

You have a good start now, but how do you maintain and build upon it?

You can set a few things in motion as soon as you take the reins in your hand and build upon during the course of the project:

Building Rapport and Customer Confidence
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- Define, agree and signoff on the Scope

- Ensure the customer is in total alignment with what you intend to deliver at the agreed timeline

- Have a delivery schedule in place with some acceptable buffer

- Invite constant feedback

- Keep engagement levels high with constant communication

- Be forthcoming in sharing the accurate info when things turn for worse

- Do not hide behind the contract or indulge in blame game

- Take full ownership of the project, its success and failure with equal gusto

- Steer your course and prevent the customer from deviating from his original goal and mission

- Have in-built buffer in your project plan to accommodate any change in their business priorities and strategy – "Show them you are in charge and in full control"

-Deliver as promised within budget, on-time with optimum quality

I know it is not an exhaustive list but one that is derived from years of hard work and experience. And if you successfully manage to follow half of it, you will have realized what many project managers still dream to achieve.

And yes, as I said - the list goes on, but the above points have always helped me and many of my colleagues in good stead under trying circumstances. No project comes without its own share of hiccups. Things will and always go awry once in a while and that's why it's fun to be a high performing Project Manager!