Recently I was driving my car and thinking about a current project and what I need to do to bring it to another (better) level. As I thought through different scenarios I had a break-through – project management is sooooo simple.

Really, I mean it. Let me explain… Basically, a project manager has four things he or she must do well and thoroughly. Let’s call them,

Four communication rules for project managers

Rule 1: Define and communicate work priorities to both your team and your client.
A prioritized scope of work is the basis for project planning activities, and in most cases it is the one main thing your team and client need to work effectively.

On the client side:  Your client needs to understand and define priorities in order to:

  • Be sure the team will address the most critical things first
  • Be able to make decisions on scope changes in case of any deadline or estimate changes

On the team side:  Your client needs to understand priorities to know:

  • What tasks to address first, second, third, etc.

Complicated project schedules are the next level of management and cannot be completed without clearly defining priorities.

Rule 2: Remove roadblocks and keep a backlog of tasks that need to be done.
It is the project manager’s job to keep the work flowing and the team busy. Ultimately a roadblock – even one created by the client – will end up as the PM’s problem. A PM must understand that it is her/his job to stay proactive and work closely with the client to be able to predict most problems and have a plan for working around them.

Rule 3: Review and update your communication plan on a regular basis.
You have already done the most complicated work when you created your communication plan. Following the plan helps to keep your communications flows effective. But also keep in mind that as the project evolves, your client’s trust in your team grows, and communications rules will change, that you will need to adjust the communication plan accordingly to reflect it.

Rule 4:  Report in advance on any roadblocks or on changes in estimates and deadlines.
There are two potential threats to this rule that can make a client unhappy or distrustful of the PM and the team. You have to address these quickly and directly.

  1. As soon as there is any indication of change in the scope, timeline or budget, the PM must take action. Often it is tempting to wait to see if the problem becomes real or bigger. But PMs are not paid to be optimists. The sooner you report any risk to the project, the more time you and your client have to react and develop a backup plan.
  2. Reporting on threats to the project is nobody’s favorite job. But you can’t fall into the trap of burying this news with other, day-to-day reports that people skim over and even miss. You have to deliver bad news – or even just possible bad news – so that you are 100% sure that they received it and are giving it their full attention. This may mean an email with a subject line asking for a response, or an individual phone call to address this topic specifically.

So there you go – the project manager’s four rules for good communication.

Of course there are more things that you can use to bring your project to a more predictable and manageable level, but just using these four rules of thumb for communication will go a long way toward keeping a complex project on track.