Whenever I’m faced with a shiny new project, I greet it like a new toy — exciting and full of opportunity. I always hope that this is going to be the perfect project, where everything goes smoothly, the customer is happy and my development team enjoys the work.

But of course, no project is perfect. There are changes, challenges and unforeseen obstacles. Still, as a project manager, I’m in a position to make it as good as it can be. There are a lot of things I need to pay attention to while managing a project, including:

  • Staying focused and disciplined;
  • Time management;
  • Developing a strategic plan;
  • Communicating with my team and customer.

While all of these are important, communication is the glue that holds it all together. Following are steps that I take to assure good communication throughout a project.

Step 1: Set goals and understand customer motives

My goal as a project manager is to make the project successful. And success means meeting the customer’s business goals. So before gathering my team, making project plans and creating any important documentation, I work to understand the business’s goals for the project. In particular, I strive to understand what about this project helps to make my customer more profitable or competitive in the market. By understanding the deeper reasons behind the project, my team can be more valuable, offering suggestions from our own experience that relate to the project’s success. This also leads to greater team morale, as they know their input is valued.

Step 2:  Develop the business relationship

Beyond the project, my team and I need to understand our customer’s company. We work to prove that we can be a full partner, not just a subcontractor. Thus, we need to know our customer’s organization, including corporate style and values, the people involved in our project, and their hierarchy. Who is responsible for what pieces of the project? How do the people on the customer side interact with each other? Who do we report to on different parts of the project? By identifying these things, my team and I make ourselves part of the structure, not just an appendage.

Step 3: Keep communication flowing

95% of all the information I receive must flow through me, not stop in my inbox. Every time I get an email from a customer, I ask myself, “Is there any reason why I should not share this with my team?” Most of the time, I should. Everyone on my team must have a clear vision of all communication channels, as well as project plans, problems and risks. Miscommunication, or no communication, is the cause of most problems on a project.

Step 4: Document communication 

The three documents I find most valuable for managing communication are:

  1. A stakeholders list which shows all the client’s stakeholders on a project, as well as their responsibilities and positions in the hierarchy. This is our go-to document whenever we need to find the right person to involve in a specific conversation or to resolve a roadblock.
  2. The communication plan which provides rules for engaging with the client. This may change from client to client, and it is vital that my team and I stick to the plan on each project, or communication may be lost.
  3. The team structure and succession plan that documents our team members and hierarchy, showing roles and responsibilities including who covers for a team lead when one of us is unavailable. This is useful to our client as well as us.

While effective communication is critical, it is not enough by itself to provide excellent project management. I will cover some of those topics in future posts.