Monitoring Project Communications

control communicationsIf you compare PMBOK 5th edition and 6th edition Project Communications management processes, you would notice that the erstwhile ‘Control Communications’ process has been renamed as ‘Monitor Communications’ in PMBOK 6th version.

Why would you think this happened?

Among other things (like bringing best practices of real world to PMBOK), PMI wants to make sure that the process names and practices are streamlined.

Considering the fact that a project manager spends over 90% of her efforts on communication, the reality is that Communication is not something that she can control.

Communication can be planned, monitored, managed, and to some extent even taught – but cannot be controlled. Hence the change of process name.

Let us first see what type of data is generated on the project –

  • Project baseline figures – status reports on cost, schedule, scope and so on
  • Quality related – metrics, measurements, test results
  • Project progress related EVM numbers – Earned Value, Planned Value, Actual Cost, SPI, CPI, Schedule Variance, Cost Variance and so on from EVM method
  • Forecasts – such as Estimate At Completion (EAC) and Estimate To Complete (ETC) numbers
  • Actual data versus baseline data, and variances
  • and so on..

All this data needs to be processed in the project context and converted into useful information. This information helps create intelligent reports that tell us the status of project, trends, forecasts and so on.

In this process though the focus of project manager would be to make sure that informational needs of all stakeholders are taken care of.

All this information has to be monitored and controlled throughout the life of the project. Monitor Communications process makes sure that every stakeholder gets the information she is supposed to get, at the time she is expecting it and using the method she is supposed to get it by (as defined in the communication plan and stakeholder management plan).

This project management activity may discover shortcomings in communications management plan. As the project progresses, we may also discover changed communications needs of stakeholders and hence trigger stakeholder management processes. This is what it is – a continuous churning of communication activities to serve the stakeholders communication needs.

What do I need to monitor project communication?

Project plan

The following information can be gathered from project management plan, which is helpful to control communications –

  • reasons for distribution of information
  • how frequently should the information be distributed
  • details about people who are responsible for communicating information
  • people who have to receive information, what kind of information, and at what frequency

Essential pieces of project information

  • status of deliverables for a specific release
  • issues on the project
  • costs status and forecasts
  • lessons learned on the project
  • personnel performance feedback reports
  • progress on schedule
  • information related to new baselines

..and just about how is this done?

What better way to monitor the communication that simply observing what is going on in the project? Being attentive to the communication being shared, being aware of how stakeholders are feeling about the project progress, how team members are saying (and not saying) about working on the project, about whether their needs are met, whether they think they have the freedom to do their work without interference..

Sometimes all that you need to do is have a one-to-one meeting.

Then there are few specific tools, such as..

Project management information system (PMIS)

This tool manages informational needs of the organization, by providing tools to capture, store and distribute information to stakeholders. They help create reports from analyzed information and even send out at regular intervals. As we have seen earlier, reports could be textual, graphical, tabular or even in the form of presentation.

Consult the experts

Communication experts can take a look at the data and figure what is wrong, or what may go wrong. The PM herself may not be an expert or not seasoned enough, so she will depend on internal or external communication experts to guide.

Expert judgment is an invaluable tool in any controlling process. Project manager can observe stakeholder interactions to pick up proactively any brewing issues related to communication. She can also tap into team’s collective intelligence to resolve some of the issues. This can be provided by anyone inside the team, outside the team, or outside the organization.

As we have seen earlier as well, meetings are quite useful tool (often abused) to brainstorm, discuss and identify issues related to communication and resolve them. Meetings with vendors, suppliers, stakeholders, customers, upper management and even with other project managers can help manager unearth some of the communication issues so she can control them.

And some good old analysis

..of communication management plan against how communication is taking place on the project.

..of stakeholder engagement assessment matrix to see whether their communication needs have been met.

..of the changes introduced in the communication needs and whether they have been successful.

And what does this all produce?

Project work performance related information

As we have seen earlier, work performance data that comes in as process input gets analyzed in the context of process and its dependencies on other processes, and becomes work performance information.

This is the organized and summarized, project status and progress information such as Earned Value Management calculations (such as EV, PV, AC, CV, SV, SPI, CPI) and forecast numbers (TCPI, ETC, EAC) you did in Control Costs process.

Click here to understand how earned value methods are used to generate project performance information.

Click here to understand how variances and forecasts are calculated.

Change requests

By now you would have gathered that every control process generates change requests. You may notice deviations or a need to adjust project management plan or other project documents during control communication activities. These are the preventive or corrective actions identified when comparing project performance with baselines and looking for variances. These will end up changing project management plan (project baselines) or configuration documents. All change requests should go through Perform Integrated Change Control process.

Updates to project plan and documents

Any of the baselines, subsidiary plans mean changes to project management plan. Several project documents may be updated such as change log, issue log, risk register, stakeholder register, and more. There is no fixed list. What gets changed depends on what is discovered!

Lessons learned will help other project managers, and should be logged. You may update reporting formats if you found a better way to report the data (improvisation happens all the time). Whenever there are preventive or corrective actions planned, you can update their reasons as well.

With this now we’ve reached the end of Project Communications Management processes. The next one is a biggie – Managing Risk on the project! Don’t risk not studying them. 🙂

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