Scope Management Tools (Statement of Work, Project Charter, Phase Gates, and Change Review Boards) were described in Part One of this series; for more information, see here. Risk Management and Scenario Planning Tools (RADIO, Storyboarding, Governance, Lessons Learned) were described in Part Two of this series; for more information, see here.
I believe some of the most important roles as a project manager are to 1) see the bigger picture and all the moving parts within a project and 2) explain how the parts of a project fit together, all while 3) communicating different messages with different themes or emphases to audiences of different influence and interest in the project with different backgrounds. This requires great communication skills and tools.
We know that communication consists of three parts: the sender, the message, and the receiver of the message. As a project manager, you will not always have the benefit of 1) communicating your messages about the project directly and/or in-person to receivers, 2) studying receiver reactions to the message and 3) ensuring receivers understand, clarifying your message if necessary. For example, the project updates that you send to your manager get forwarded to project sponsors and senior stakeholders. Or your presentation slides may be used as reference materials in future meetings without you being present. These project messages, therefore, should be standalone from the project manager, and the intent should be clear.
Visual or pictorial messages, when used correctly, can be standalone and can be used as tools to convey a vast amount of project information. Similar in intent as infographics, these communication tools tell a story about the progress and status of the project. We have all heard or used the idiom “A picture is worth 1000 words”, and the same is true for visual project communication tools. These tools are absolutely essential in today’s global economy, where most projects involve many people, both internal and external to your organization, and not everyone is located in the same time zone or speaks the same language fluently.
Before getting started on creating project communication tools, think about the different groups of project stakeholders that will be receiving and interpreting the messages that are conveyed. Not every stakeholder group or individual has the same level of interest nor the same level of influence in your project. Modify your communication plan according to these differences in stakeholder needs or requirements, i.e. which project information needs to be conveyed and at which levels of detail, which communication tools should be selected, and how often the tools will be used.
Another very important aspect of Communication Planning is Change Management – preparing your stakeholders to receive the message and ensure that it “resonates” once the message is delivered. Change Management, as it pertains to Project Management, will be covered in a future blog topic.
Once your communication plan and change management strategy is solidified, you can begin to think about the type, intent, design/format, usage, and follow-up for the project communication tools that closely fit or complement your project.
Project Communication Tools
Descriptions of several project communication tools that I have used personally with clients can be found below.
SCRUM Boards – SCRUM is an Agile methodology used in project management. Although most frequently used in software development, I have used SCRUM boards to convey status of programs involving multiple projects or work streams with overlapping dependencies. A SCRUM board is a fancy team “to-do” list for project stakeholders, usually divided into individual project work streams or individual projects as part of a greater program. I use different, color-coded Post-It TM notes to identify tasks assigned to specific individuals or teams. The list of tasks on the SCRUM board include which tasks are being worked on that day or that week, which tasks have been completed since the last SCRUM board discussion (usually brief, fast-paced discussion held either daily or bi-weekly), which tasks are considered Works in Progress (WIP), and which tasks are experiencing road blocks, either due to lack of funds, resources, delays, process inefficiencies, etc. Roadblocks on the SCRUM board are usually identified with an additional symbol, such as a red arrow or red star.
Clients and stakeholders like SCRUM boards for their transparency. Project managers like SCRUM boards because they are an easy tool for visualizing 1) which resources are being overutilized or underutilized, 2) which occurring roadblocks (issues) or pending roadblocks (risks) need to be eliminated by the project manager, and 3) which moving parts and interdependencies need to be monitored by the project manager.
Scrum Board image examples
Scorecards – Project scorecards are frequently used to compare status of the critical path on the current project plan versus the baseline project plan. As a project manager, you frequently receive project updates from stakeholders and then update the critical path timeline on your project plan. According to the Microsoft Project User Group, “Critical Path consists of a series of tasks that must be completed on schedule for a project to finish on schedule. It is the series of tasks (or even a single task) that dictates the calculated finish date. Each task on the critical path is a critical task.”
The following data points about the critical path can be recorded in a Scorecard table and shared with senior level stakeholders. The background in each cell can be highlighted as red (not good), yellow (at risk), or green (good) depending on the agreed upon definition for each:
- Total number of critical path milestones
- Number of critical path milestones that are on track
- Number of critical path milestones that are at risk for being delayed
- Number of critical path milestones that are currently delayed (1 week)
- Number of critical path milestones that are currently delayed (4 weeks or greater)
Dashboards – Project dashboards present lots of information in an organized and succinct way, especially information that is quantitative (e.g. numbers, percentages, calendar dates, progress bars, status indicators). Project managers carry dashboards around with them into meetings because they quickly convey the “pulse” of the project, and project managers keep stakeholders informed with the latest data by updating and using dashboards. Dashboards help project managers hone in on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Return on Investment (ROI) attributes that project sponsors value. KPIs and ROI attributes are used to define and measure what project “success” looks like and should align with the organization’s vision and mission.
Dashboard videos on YouTube
Roadmaps – Project roadmaps are also referred to as High Level or Level 1 views within a project plan. Roadmaps are great visual aids for all project stakeholders because roadmaps show the sequence, interconnectivity, and timing of key milestones and summary tasks along the critical path, and/or a roll-up of sub-projects or work streams in a larger program. Every stakeholder can see how their individual “piece” fits into the broader “puzzle” of the project. Roadmap timelines can be divided into months, yearly quarters, or even years depending on the size of the project.
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