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A Communication Diagram for Project Managers

written by: Rose Smith • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 1/8/2013

An effective communication diagram begins and ends with the project manager. The goal is to inform each individual involved and communicate how each person was contacted by the project manager.

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    Who Messed Up?

    Circle of Communication In one of Andy Griffith's funniest classic TV episodes, Barney the deputy joins the choir but can't sing. One of the scenes shows the choir sneaking in a practice in an unannounced location without the tone-deaf deputy, only to have him show up. The first thing he wants to know is--who messed up and forgot to phone him about the new location? Even though this was a case of purposely failing to communicate, in a project that goes sour because of a lack of communication, the first thing every higher up will want the answer to is--who messed up?

    A manager worth being in charge knows--in the end--any link of a broken communication chain comes to rest on her shoulders. That's why it's crucial a savvy supervisor create a diagram that begins and ends with her.

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    Solid Gold Communication

    Golden Communication 

    According to the Project Management Knowledge website, communication is essentially the effective and complete exchange from one person or people on a project team to another person or people. Effective communication on a project starts immediately--and it starts from the top. The manager is responsible for relaying the purpose of the venture to her team.

    An operation that gets off on the wrong foot typically starts with poor communication. If you've worked where the supervisors love keeping team members in the dark until everything hits the fan, you know what a debilitating environment that breeds. The circle of any communication starts with a desire for the project manager to keep everyone on the team informed. It's the critical first step in the successful management of any enterprise.

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    The Nuts and Bolts

    Nuts and Bolts This critical diagram includes:

    Project manager name and contact information - Email, fax, work phone, home phone or mobile phone. Individual team members should have at least three ways to reach the manager in case of emergency.

    Each team member's contact information - Team members should be able to be reached two to three ways in case of emergency.

    Project purpose - A simple mission or objective statement describing the project.

    Coordination instructions - Previously called a Phone Tree, it can be called a Contact Tree meaning a basic list of who contacts whom. This list should have the project manager at the top. Even if another team member contacts the manager to alert her of a problem, the manager needs to be informed first and in turn, formally begin the Contact Tree.

    Notes on who contacted whom and how - This is vital and each team member needs to document how he contacted the person on his branch and what the outcome was, e.g., left a message or made contact. Each member of the Contact Tree needs to relay this information to the next person, so all of the documented contact information can be relayed to the supervisor, thus completing the circle.

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    A Little Redundancy is a Good Thing

    Business Success 

    The Chairman and former CEO of Intel once remarked that only the paranoid survive and complacency breeds failure. Redundancy in the circle of a communication diagram may at times seem like overkill, but it is essential. It serves the purpose of assuring the supervisor that each team member has been contacted and remains up-to-date.

    When the manager discovers a team member left a message and did not directly contact another member, she should have back-up instructions to either contact that team member herself, or instruct the person responsible for contacting that individual to keep trying until contact is made, depending upon the urgency of the communication. At the end of the circle, the manager should know exactly who was successfully contacted, and who was not, and what's being done about it.

    To eliminate the, "who messed up?" question being uttered on your watch, download this free sample of Circle of Communication and implement it the next time you're in charge.

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    Can the Circle be Unecessary?

    How often the contact tree will be utilized is strictly the call of the supervisor. Managers should consider the K Factor when making that decision. Chief Operating Officer of the Air Traffic Organization, Hank Krakowski's fate was decided about the time this article was originally penned. After the sixth embarrassing and potentially dangerous incident of air traffic control error or negligence was revealed in 2011, he was forced to resign. While we can't be in on what incidents Krakowski deemed worth reporting to him were, I can't help thinking if he had to do it again--he would have widened his circle. Bottom line, the K Factor says it's the call of the person whose neck is on the line should the worse happen. Hope for the best, but always plan for the worst.

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