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When Is Formality Called For?
Formal communication is often reserved for interactions between project stakeholders and participants at different levels within an organization. Formal communication also sets the bar higher in terms of expectations for decisions and input.
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Requesting resources or buy-in from a project stakeholder often requires a formal meeting with a set time, place, and agenda. Meeting etiquette often dictates that minutes be kept, so participants can review their discussion and share the process with other team members. Effective project managers often use one of two methods to get the most information from formal meetings.
- The first method involves inviting a “scribe” to the meeting. As an impartial non-participant, the scribe keeps notes of major decisions and insights achieved during a meeting.
- The second method involves recording the meeting on video or audio tape and transcribing detailed minutes for later distribution.
The type of project and the gravity of the meeting often determines which of the two methods makes sense.
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Newsletters and Reports
Reaching out to leaders and stakeholders with less daily project interaction requires another approach. Regular newsletters or weblogs can update stakeholders on the major decisions and progress announcements from a project team. Newsletters appeal to stakeholders who want to remain informed about overall project process without diving too deep into detail. On the other hand, reports offer more detailed accounts of project status, usually with the goal of getting a project sponsor or stakeholder to make a specific decision. Even simple reports, like payroll updates and resource catalogs, require project leaders to think about maintaining their support for an initiative.
The professionalism of a printed or emailed report can color stakeholders' reaction to the message inside. Larger organizations often use an in-house graphics department to handle reports and newsletters. However, the lead times required to professionally layout and print this material often requires advance preparation that may preclude some late-breaking information. Many popular desktop publishing applications now include newsletter and report templates that can guide novice users through the process of generating highly polished documents. A strong communications plan will specify the lead time necessary for printed materials.
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Major projects or long-term initiatives in larger organizations may require a large gathering to facilitate both formal and informal communication among participants from every level. Successful conferences often blend formal meetings with report presentations and breakout sessions for casual conversations. The opportunity cost to stage a conference can be prohibitively expensive. However, for certain projects, a conference may be the most efficient way to bring many kinds of project participants to consensus.
Tips for Improving Formal Project Communications
Building a strong communication plan into a project can improve professional relationships, increase efficiency, and avoid conflict.