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Communication Skills for Project and Programme Managers [Book Review]

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Communication Skills for Project and Programme Managers is the third and final book I read in the Focus on Skills series from TSO, a companion volume to Franklin and Tuttle’s other books on team management and leadership skills.

It follows the same premise as those: very easy to read, spelling out the concepts with their practical application and linking back to PRINCE2 and MSP. It’s relevant to both project and program managers, as well as people in a PMO role looking to create internal standards.

This book feels like it has more ‘real world experience’ boxes in, so perhaps the people the authors interviewed had a lot more to say about communication and its importance to projects.

The first main section of the book looks at the definition and context of project and program communication, what it is, and how to adapt what you communicate to fit the preferences of the person receiving the message.

This is explained using mainly binary preferences:

  • Big picture/detail focused
  • Options/procedures
  • Negatives/positives
  • Sameness/difference
  • Internal conclusions/external validation

It is useful to look at people this way but it is also limiting. It’s like magazines that tell you what to wear for different body shapes. ‘Big hips? Wear this!’ ‘This is great if you’re short!’ ‘Fab for broad shoulders!’ What if you are short, pear-shaped and with broad shoulders? The advice women’s magazines give rarely works for a whole woman, just body parts. And no one is just a pile of body parts, just like no one really fits into one of the 10 communication preferences above.

I am big picture most of the time, I like positive options and always start from the perspective of the solution. I don’t have a preference for sameness (doing what we’ve done before) or difference (stepping into the unknown) and I like time to reflect and time to bounce ideas around with other people.

It’s going to be hard to deliver a message that presses all my buttons.

Franklin and Tuttle do look at this, and they give an example (p23) of an announcement written to meet as many different communication preferences as possible. It’s all right, but trying to be all things to all people is never easy.

Using stories to illustrate benefits

As with the other books, the authors use a case study to illustrate the types and benefits of communication needed as a fictional project kicks off, goes through the lifecycle and ends – successfully. I found this portion of the book less interesting as it shoehorns communication into the lifecycle and sometimes doesn’t read like communication is a natural event. It’s all very clinical and planned.

The appendix, however, is great. It’s not a story – maybe that’s why it works better – and it covers practical tips for effective communication. The bit on emails is really good.

“Surveys indicate that when an email is received, 11% of the recipients read it thoroughly, 57% skim-read it, 10% plan to read it (but do not get round to it), and 22% actively decide not to read it.” (p44)

They obviously didn’t include too many control-freak project managers in those studies. Unless it’s a sales email, I read everything.

There are also hints on creating a project newsletter, podcast and blog (but not wiki though), giving formal presentations, Q&A sessions, posters and running focus groups and workshops.

The main text comes in at 58 pages excluding the glossary and index, so it’s not a long book but it packs a lot in.

Of the three books in the series this was my least favorite – maybe because I read it last. I also think that I’m pretty good at communicating so while I did get reminders on some good practice there wasn’t a lot of stuff that was new to me.

In the same general topic area, Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers by Anthony Mersino was much more in depth. So, try Franklin and Tuttle if you feel you need to brush on the basics or want a guide to what communication to do at what point in the lifecycle and how – then move on to other texts which will show you how to hone your skills.

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