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Subjective Communication in Project Management

written by: Bart Gerardi • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 8/18/2010

The art of subjective communication in project management requires you, the project manager, to understand the goals of each stakeholder group, communicate with them in the manner that they wish to be communicated with, and determine how much (or how little) information to give to each group.

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    Role of the Communicator

    Subjective Communication in Project Management In many types of projects, the single most important role for the project manager to play is that of communicator. This is why many project management methodologies have an identification phase of the project setup.

    Identify who needs to be listed on communications about the project, and make sure everyone who needs to get the information gets it. Many project managers achieve this simply by creating a massive distribution list, sometimes of more than 100 people, and sending everything they have to that list. Objectively, this is correct. However, it fails to grasp the importance of subjective communication in project management.

    In order to properly communicate with all the stakeholders of your project, first you need to figure out in which group they belong. From there, you need to figure out what they need to know, how you should communicate with them, and how often you should send them information. The first kind of communication takes no judgment; you simply send everything to everyone, at the same time, in the same way. However, it’s judgment that separates an effective project manager from the rest. The ability to tailor your communications, to make your communications more subjective, is what makes a project run smoothly.

    Image Credit: morgueFile.com/cohdra

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    Audience Identification and Subjective Communication

    Let’s take a look at four different kinds of audiences. Note that not all projects will have all four groups represented by different people. It’s possible that if your team is small enough, that one person plays several roles. It’s also possible that you will have more than four groups, depending on the nature of your project. However, virtually all projects have the four groups below. Communicating with each of them subjectively will be vital to your success.

    The first group is the client. This can be one person, or hundreds. However, they all have something in common – they will be a user or end recipient of whatever it is you are producing. They are highly interested in a very small subset of topics, namely what is getting delivered, and when will it be delivered. The client is attempting to maximize usefulness of whatever it is you are producing.

    The second group is the sponsor. Usually this is the client’s manager, director, division head, etc., whoever is actually paying the bill for the project. Unlike the client, the sponsor is attempting to maximize return on investment in the project. How much can they get, and how much can they save. Often, they will cut features that the client desires, simply to push that ROI equation more to their liking.

    The third group is the project team. Depending on your industry this can mean programmers, designers, testers, industrial engineers, manufacturing teams, facilities, etc. But they all share something; they all have a set of tasks before them that they must complete. They also want to increase ROI, they want to deliver as much as they can in as little time/cost as possible, so they can get on to the next job.

    The fourth and final group is your boss, often called a program management office, or perhaps just your manager. This group wants to deliver value to the sponsor in such a way that they will pay their bill, and will be willing to work with you and the team again.

    As you can see, each of the four audiences wants a different thing, and some of them even work against each other. The project manager we discussed in the first paragraph, the one who sends everything to everyone, is only going to hurt themselves. This is how endless delays and endless meetings occur, as conflicts need to be worked out and discussed.

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    The Importance of Subjective Communication

    The art of subjective communication in project management requires you, the project manager, to understand the goals of each of your stakeholder groups, communicate with them in the manner that they wish to be communicated with, and determine how much (or how little) information to give to each group. An unhappy client may be acceptable, if the sponsor is thrilled. A disappointed sponsor can be okay, if your PMO approves. Your staff just wants to know what’s going on, so they can properly allocate their own time and resources.

    A good project manager knows how to use sound judgment in determining how to work with each group. Without a firm grasp of subjective communication, you can expect the project will be late, under-deliver, and cause a lack of faith in your abilities.