Vicki James, PMP, CBAP, PMI-PBA, CSM

formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC

Tag Archives: Communication

Project Management Communication Posts: Best of the Best

I often think back to three specific posts when talking to project managers about the role of communication in successful projects. In fact, I have taken concepts of each of these to create my Unlock Your Project’s Potential with Great Communication presentation. This presentation was a great success and I look forward to additional presentations.

Now available – 1-Day workshop based on this collection of articles

Communication Secrets for Project Success

Here are my “best of the best” from PPS for project communication.


  1. Do you have the Key to Success for Your Projects?
  2. A Case for Communicating Project Challenges
  3. What Makes for Good Communication?
  4. (Oops – let’s make that 4) It Starts with You: Explore Team Communication Breakdown

Enjoy and share!

IIBA and PMI Chapters, I will speak at your chapter for only the cost of travel plus a $25 honorarium. This offer is available first come, first serve at two presentations per month. Only one presentation per chapter please. The honorarium helps  me to qualify as a professional member of the National Speakers Association.

It Starts With You! Exploring Team Communication Breakdown

There is a phenomenon at the poker table that helps to understand one aspect of breakdown in team communications. Often the action (or play) will get held up because someone does not check, bet, or raise. They simply sit there. Everyone at the table assumes this person is thinking about their options. Only this person is wondering who is holding up the action. The general rule is, if you don’t know who is holding up the action – it is you.

Here are some thoughts to consider next time your team is experiences problems due to poor communication.

Great team communication starts with you!

Sender – Focus first on what you know or are doing that might impact anybody else

  • Have you communicated this?
  • Have you communicated the potential impact on other because of the action or change?
  • Have you communicated in a way that will be received?
  • Have you confirmed that everyone received and understood the information?

Receiver – In getting information from others

  • Do you pay careful attention in meetings?
  • Do you refer to meeting notes?
  • Do you ask for clarification?
  • Are you up to date with your email?
  • Are your emails organized so that you can get back to past information?
  • Have you done a search on your email to get earlier information sent?
  • Are you paying attention to what is available on the team collaboration site?
  • Have you stated a preference to the team or team members on how to alert you of new information?

Team member – Working toward a team goal

  • Are your actions in line with the stated current team goals?
    • If not, have you validated that your activity is a valid priority and adjusted the overall work plan with the team?
  • Is anybody waiting on something from you?
  • Is there something you are doing that will help or impact another team member?
  • Have you stated your concerns or thoughts of the current activities towards to team goals to with the team and/or team leader?
  • Have you asked others to give information they have that might have to help you better understand the difference in opinion?
  • Do you given respect to team or team leaders decisions and priorities

Share this post with your team members to encourage introspection for better team communications.

Related Posts:

Vicki is typing…

Image depicting virtual chat

Image by: nokhoog_buchachon /

I have been working with a team where most of our communications are virtual. It is rare that we get together in person with other gigs, commuter issues, and lack of space at the central office prohibiting full team face to face except on rare occasions. Most recently, we have been relying on Google Talk for group chats to conduct our morning Scrum. My observation is this; we are much more polite to each other in the IM setting.

I have been amazed at how rude meeting participants are in every office environment I have worked in. Speaking over the top of each other is the norm rather than the exception. I do not have this in me. I am nearly incapable of talking over the top of someone. Instead I will give “a look” when I have been trying to talk or simply raise my hand to indicate I need a turn. I have had success with a round-robin format for meetings I facilitate. However, often I am a meeting participant rather than facilitator and other times I want to encourage open discussion. I realize I should invest in a “talking stick.” I resist having to go to such lengths to ask for common courtesy.

This does not seem to be an issue in group IM chats. I noticed early on that people seemed to type their say one message at a time. I observed team members while in the office one day and watched someone start to type, realize someone has already started, stop, and wait to see what that person has to say. In rare cases is there a flurry of messages over the top of each other. Why is this? Are we that much more in tune visually that “Vicki is typing…” is stronger than me verbally “but, but…” while jumping up and down in my seat? Is it because it takes more effort to type a response that we are waiting to see if necessary before taking the energy? I hope some of my neuroscience friends have some answers to these questions.

In the meantime, chat anybody? You can find me through Google Talk at

What Makes for Good Communication?

I have touted the need for better communication on a recent project. However, I realized that I have failed to specify what good communication means to me. Below is a list of important quality attributes for communication. Please comment to include your thoughts or add to the list.


Share information that will, or is at risk to, impact planned activities or the status quo as soon as possible. This provides the greatest chance of being able to respond appropriately to the situation with careful thought on planning.  Even if only a risk, the earlier the information is provided, the sooner mitigation planning can occur.  Not sure if there is an impact?  Share anyway. It is better to share too much information than to risk not sharing critical information.


Information is not useful unless it the truth. There may be reasons you are required to withhold partial information such as a confidentiality agreement or promise.  Let others know what you cannot share with the reason and they will respect that.  There are dangers in not being truthful.   Misinformation can lead to actions that negatively impact the actual situation. A loss of trust will impact the relationship indefinitely.


There is a good chance that others have information or experience that will impact the analysis of the current situation. You will not have a full picture of the impacts, implications, or opportunities if you are not open and offer the opportunity to share my knowledge with you.  Further, you will send the message that you do not value opinion or experience of those around you.


My biggest project mistake was related to this attribute.  I write very good status reports.  They are succinct; cover the top accomplishments, risks, and issues, and candid.  I rarely hide or sugarcoat anything.  They are always emailed with a “please let me know if you have comments or concerns“, to offer a two-way street.  What I did not do was confirm that the project sponsor had read and understood the status report. I found this out the hard way when in a rare one-on-one conversation I discovered that she was not aware of the current status and issues the project was facing.  She received the status reports but they did not make it to the top of her reading pile. If a message is provided, but not received, there was no communication.  I corrected this by scheduling 30 minutes each month to cover the status report with her one-on-one for future reporting.

The recipe for good communication is to share information as soon as you receive it to all that are potentially affected, be candid in the information you share, give an opportunity for feedback and discussion, and confirm that the message was received and understood.

“Building” a Team

One of the hardest jobs for a Project Manager is team building.  What exactly does a “built team” look like? How do you build a team? And where exactly are the blueprints?

Team building is not a science with hard specifications, but rather an art that takes skill and experience to find what works.  To complicate things even more, what worked well for one team may not have a positive impact on a different team.   As project managers, we need a large collection of tools to mold and shape the team into a cohesive whole. When the team is a cohesive whole they support each other with the goal to do whatever it takes to make the project a success.   This article will describe several exercises that I have used and liked with context on the types of situations you may want to try this.

Team Bingo

  • When: Early in the project, preferably the Project Kickoff Meeting.
  • Participants:  Team members and key stakeholders
  • Preparation:  Get “fun facts” about each player on the team.  Some things  related to the work they do that others may not realize, and some fun personal facts such as hobbies or skills.  Create a bingo card with a “fun fact” in each square.  Don’t have enough fun facts?  That’s okay. Create some FREE spaces as needed or use generic items such as “born outside of the US” or “speaks another language fluently”.
  • Exercise:  Use this at the start of a kickoff meeting.  Each team member gets a bingo card.  The object is to find the person who matches the “fun fact” and write their name on the bingo card.  They must actually talk to this person about the square before writing the name.  The object is to get a bingo (as defined by facilitator).
  • Notes:  Make sure the room you are in has enough room for people to walk around.  Provide a good amount of time on the agenda for this item to give team members a chance to visit and learn about each other.
  • Expected Outcome:  Team members get to meet and learn things that each brings to the team that might not otherwise be realized.  Some items may come into handy throughout the project such as “Jane was editor of her college newsletter”.

Communication Style Round Robin

  • When: Early in a project but after the team members have had some exposure to working together. This will help them decide what tidbits of information will be of the most value.  Conduct this session one to two months into the project.
  • Participants: Core team members
  • Preparation: Decide what you want team members to reveal through the process.
  • Exercise:  Provide a set list of questions that each team member has to answer about themselves about their communication and work styles. Once the person has answered the questions, other team members may comment on their own observations.  Make sure to capture notes and send the results out at the conclusion. Questions I have used include:
    • What is your preferred work style?
    • How do you prefer to communicate?
    • What is one thing your team members should know about you?
    • How will we know when you are stressed? What can your team members do to help?
  • Notes: Generally when a team member provides comments in another’s turn, it is truly positive aspect of that person that they have not even realized or known was appreciated (e.g., “Dave likes to think of what’s coming up next, he is very proactive.”) Other comments include advice on the best way to get another team members attention (e.g., “If you have something you want Art to look at, take it to him and put it on his chair and not rely on email.”)
  • Expected Outcome: Team members have information that will help them understand each other better and work more productively together.  The outcome is that team members are able to meet in the middle where their work styles will work well together.

Daily Scrum Meetings

  • I use daily Scrum meetings on most of the projects I work on whether an Agile project or not.  It gives team members an opportunity to hear where each other is on project tasks and potential, or real, barriers to support each other in moving forward. This is a great way to avoid “heads down work” impeding communications and therefore decreasing overall project momentum. More on Scrum meetings can be found at

Informal Retrospective

  • When: Frequently throughout a project beginning one or two months into the project.  The goal is to get early feedback on how well things are working and what can be done to make it better before the project is over.
  • Participants: Core team members
  • Preparation:  Lots of 3” by 4” sticky notes and markers for posting on a wall.  Predefined legend for rating overall project team satisfaction.
    • 1 – Get me out of here
    • 2 – I have reason for concern and see potential for improvement
    • 3 – I am fairly satisfied
    • 4 – I am glad I’m part of the team and satisfied with how our team works together
    • 5 – This team is awesome!
  • Exercise
    • Team members write project team satisfaction rating on sticky and post to the wall anonymously
    • Determine the averages of the project team satisfaction rating and posts with description for participants.  Track with each retrospective so you and the team members can find trends.
    • Team members write one word to describe how they feel about recent progress and posts to the wall anonymously
    • Read each one word description, asks the reason for the word, and document on white board or flip chart
    • The words and result list can be used to facilitate a brainstorm on process improvement.
  • Notes:  This meeting is for the team members only.  The results do not get posted or shared with stakeholders except when they will be impacted by a changed process with.  The process improvement discussion can easily be adapted to meet your preferences for capturing and tracking improvement ideas.
  • Expected outcome:  A quick and easy way to get a pulse on the satisfaction level of team members and explore ideas to improve.  The one word exercise can produce some interesting results for discussions that can be much more insightful then asking “how do you feel?”   The words provided may be abstract, but the conversation gets you to the important conversations.
These are just a few examples.  Please respond with some of your own team building experiences.  If you now use or try any of the above ideas please post any tips or results you have experienced.  I look forward to the sharing!
Additional Resources

Do you have the Key to Success for Your Projects?

I just finished writing a response to a Request for Proposal and found an interesting theme in my response. The Stakeholder Analysis is the most important tool in the Project Manager’s toolkit. With a great Stakeholder Analysis you will have information that is key to planning for project communications, organizational change management, training, rollout plans and notifications, risk management, you name it.  This will be an equally valuable key in planning Business Analysis activities and communications.

While I refer to this as a Project Management tool, the fact is it is a complete project tool.  It is not something that can be completed by the Project Manager in a vacuum, nor is it something that should be written once and then filed away.  As you work the project you will get additional information in many different ways that will make project plans and activities go more smoothly.

I am an avid poker player.  Most poker books discuss the strategy of writing notes on other players as soon as the poker session is over (or even better during).  The point of this strategy is to have better recall on how other players act in certain circumstances so that you can learn what their play says about the strength of their had hand and what plays you can use to increase your odds of making money.

Another useful analogy is the star sales person who takes careful notes on all customers, actual or prospective.  With this information they can proactively provide meaningful leads to customers on items they desire or would benefit from.  They can also avoid wasting time on cold calls that do not have a high likelihood of resulting in a sale. Finally, it will provide information to support inventory decisions, avoiding costly mistakes of purchasing items that are not likely to sell.

What information is the Stakeholder Analysis providing that will increase our chances of success?

  • Who are stakeholders?
  • What is their stake in the project (what do they care about)?
  • What type of influence and impact can they have on the project?
  • What do they expect from the project and/or the project team?
  • What risks to they present to the project?
  • What risks to they perceive for the project?
  • What is the best way to keep them apprised of project status and information given their stake, interests, and communication preferences?
  • What other groups or individuals do they know that have a stake or interest in the project?


Think of the Stakeholder Analysis has your very own Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. You will not be able to answer all of the questions upon first making an entry.  As you learn more about the stakeholder and the project, additional information will become available.  The Stakeholder Analysis should continue to grow throughout the project as you and the project team gain information.  Update the Stakeholder Analysis as you learn more about your stakeholders, and the strategies and tools that work best for meeting their needs as well as gaining their trust and cooperation.  At the same time, update any project plans that can be improved given what you now know. Plans were not meant to be set in stone but rather to be improved upon as additional information becomes available.

Here are a few strategies developing your Stakeholder Analysis:

  1. Meet with the Project Sponsor and any other key stakeholders early on in the project and ask them “who has a stake in this project, what is their interest, and what is their influence.”
  2. Begin documenting what you know about the stakeholders.  Remember, project team members are stakeholders too.
  3. Review the organizational chart for the company and use your experience to identify additional potential stakeholders (e.g.,  network administrator, help desk support, accounting staff)
  4. Once your initial list is completed, send out an email introducing yourself and the project with an indication that they have been identified as a stakeholder and give them an opportunity to state their interest and communication preferences related to the project as well as provide information on additional stakeholders who may have been missed.
  5. Ask project team members and other key stakeholders to review the Stakeholder Analysis with you to provide additional information.
  6. Continually update the Stakeholder Analysis as you gain information throughout the life of the project.  You may uncover a hidden key to the success of implementation while in the stabilization phase of product development. Record it, use it.
  7. Use the information in all planning activities.  Use the information again in reviewing plans or conducting lessons learned to determine if adjustments are needed.

Information is the key to success.  Use the Stakeholder Analysis to structure your information gathering, record the information you learn, and advise you on actions that will result in the greatest chances of project success.

I welcome any and all thoughts or experiences you have had in working with stakeholders.

Image: Stuart Miles /


Additional Resources

A Case for Communicating Project Challenges

Let’s face it – we are in the profession of project management because we love challenges.  Challenges are what makes our blood boil.  Otherwise, why would be sign up for a job whose nature is “unique” and “temporary”? I could go a step further and say that many of us like to be the hero. I’ll admit it, my favorite days are days that a potentially large fire was extinguished or avoided.  However, our profession is fraught with the potential for challenges outside our experience, understanding, responsibility, or ability.  As hard as it is to admit when this type of challenge as come our way, I will explain why it is essential that we are prepared to communicate and work with our project stakeholders, as well as our peers, to ensure a successful project outcome.


Even us project managers are human. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you.  You are not likely to be judged because an issue has come your way, but you will be judged if that issue has a long term or fatal consequence on the project. I believe in the adage that the best managers hire people smarter than themselves. We also need to keep in mind that those above us in the organization got there for a reason.  Don’t let pride get in the way of leveraging the great resources that you have around you when a challenge is presented.


Those around you likely have information that can assist you in working the issue.  Hearing what is happening may prompt getting these valuable tidbits that otherwise would not be available. Here you may learn the root cause of the problem so you can address the heart of the matter. Perhaps you will get valuable advice on how to work with a particular problem stakeholder. Whatever it is, information will provide you greater understanding to resolve the issue better and faster.


There are very few true unique experiences in the world. While something may be a new experience to you, chances are one of your peers or stakeholders have been in a similar position.  Being able to tap into the collective history of your stakeholders is a very valuable asset.  Unless they hear what you are experiencing, they will not know to share their similar experiences and what they learned as a result. You will be robbing yourself of a chance to learn from experiences of others.


The project goals are the goals of your stakeholders.  It is for the good of the order that stakeholders offer support in terms of empathy and assistance when the going gets tough.  However, empathy and assistance will not be available if you are not willing to communicate the need.  You are more likely to hear “what can I do to help” if that person knows it is needed and it would be appreciated.  Finding and taking support to resolve a challenge will make you a better project manager.


Avoiding, resolving and mitigating issues is hard and long work.  You need to be able to share information on issues in order to be recognized for these efforts. Otherwise you run the risk that stakeholders thinking you have been neglecting the project in entirety, when in reality tasks were deferred as an issue was being worked.  Don’t give away the opportunity to question the value you have brought to the project.  Besides, you deserve an “atta-boy” (or girl) for a job well done.

I will conclude with this final thought.

‘Do not waste my time with telling me how good you are. You were hired because I know you are good. Tell me the barriers the project has so that I know where my assistance is needed.’  Vivek Kundra, US CIO, Keynote PMI Global Congress October 10, 2010


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