Communication, Part Three

Okay, we left off with the idea that communication planning is the process of determining the information and communication needs of project stakeholders. Information needs to be available to them in a timely fashion. Projects don’t have problems, people do – communication allows you to manage stakeholders and resolve their issues. Project performance information which is accurate and predictably timed (“this report goes out every Monday morning!”) is what allows the project to be managed.

The best communicators use the appropriate medium for their message. If a matter is urgent, a text, phone call or office visit may be better than email. If a matter is long and complicated, a short paper with follow up meeting might be best. If an official document, certified mail, return receipt requested, might be the best choice.

Here are some notes on topics I think are important:


  • The best emails are:
    • Precise – clear, unambiguous
    • Concise – no one is paid by the word
    • Direct – what do you want?
    • Easy to understand – simple is good
  • Noise and misunderstandings arise from:
    • Cultural differences
    • Technical vs. non-technical
    • “Tone and voice” of writing
    • Dashing off email replies too quickly

See what I did there? 🙂


Do you want to give awe inspiring presentations? How about a perfect interview? Look no further than Dr. James Whittaker’s presentations on stage presence and other topics.  Follow all the links on his site, watch his videos.  Here’s one of my favorites, the power of story.   Fair warning: Judicious use of bad language to make sure you’re awake.

Have Better Conversations

Crucial Conversations is a book that has been recommended for ages, and I’m doing it here. Behavior gets pathological when the pressure is too high. Stress shuts down cognitive process and starts a fight-or-flight response. This book goes through some tools to account for that. If you, or your listener, is amped to eleven, it can be very difficult to get your message across.

Put Stakeholders on a RACI Chart

RACI charts can important tools to segment the audience for communications. You can read more about them here. A RACI chart expresses roles for producing deliverables at any level of a work breakdown structure. I don’t use them a lot, but find them pretty handy when dealing with matrix organizations.

  • Responsible – Role responsible for performing the task. There may be multiple “Rs”
  • Accountable – Role with overall management responsibility for a task; accountable for “showing up with the deliverable”. Only one “A” per line
  • Consulted – People who provide input to help perform a task
  • Informed – People with a vested interest who should be kept informed

Status/Performance Reports

Reports help manage the project. The best status reports clearly direct the reader to action. Like email, they should be precise, concise, direct and easy to understand. It’s important to be consistent report to report. The reports should contain information, not just a collection of data.

Status reports are meant to answer questions and direct action. Where are we on schedule, budget, and deliverables? What was planned for and what changed? What corrective action do we need to take? Consider, if your features are getting completed, but your bug counts are skyrocketing, *maybe* you want to a) review your code quality validation procedures and b) pause to remediate those bugs. “Testing in quality” is almost always more expensive than producing better code in the first place. And are we “done” if we’ve produced all the features, but the product isn’t good enough to ship?


Meetings are expensive gatherings of resources, yet frequently are neither well organized nor well facilitated. I’ve also seen meetings go the other way, rigid and formulaic rituals devoid of any actual information. The first type of meeting is usually junior personnel, the second type of meeting usually executive level.

Before holding a meeting, ask some questions:

  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • Who would need to attend?
  • Do we really need this meeting? Can it be done some other way?

There are two great resources I’m going to direct you to. The first is a book, Death by Meeting. The second is an entertaining video by John Cleese, Meetings, Bloody Meetings.  Meetings, Bloody Meetings has been used as instruction for over forty years. It is an absolute classic for structuring meetings. The video can be can be summarized as:

  • Goal: Have a clearly defined goal
  • Agenda: Publish and follow an agenda
  • Participants: Include necessary people and only necessary people
  • Structure and Control:
    • Start/end on time
    • Make introductions when needed
    • Structure logically, discuss in order of importance not urgency
    • Keep moving forward, drive toward making decisions
    • Recap
    • Listen and communicate collaboratively
  • Document: Document discussions/decisions and action items/owners
  • Summary: Send out summary and meeting notes

So that’s some tips and tricks.  Go forth, and communicate better.