Project Managers: Tips for Effective Written Communication06 April 2016

Project Management

If you’re in the field of project management, you already know that communication (especially written) is a significant part of your job. What you say, when you say it, how you say it, who you say it to — all are different aspects of written communication that must be taken into consideration when interacting with stakeholders. Based on my project management experiences, I have found the following approaches useful when communicating to other stakeholders through writing:

1. Get to the Point (Especially in Emails)
Though details are extremely important in an email, the stakeholders you are working with will likely only take 5-10 seconds to read your email, and usually only read the first couple of sentences before moving onto the next message. Let’s face it: they get lots of emails. Benefit from this by doing the following:

  • Indicating any action that needs to be taken near the beginning of your email
  • Clearly stating who needs to get the action done (and by when)
  • Explaining the details of what needs to be done and why near the middle/end of your email

This approach may seem counterintuitive at first, but your readers are busy people and likely aren’t going to read to the bottom of your message to finally find out what they need to do. However, if your reader is able to quickly determine if they need to take any action, they’ll be much more likely to pay attention to the “why”. As a project manager, it’s your job to let your stakeholders know any critical information within the first few seconds of any written communication.

2. Don’t Use “They”, “It”, “Them”, or “He/She” in Written Communication
When writing emails, you may find yourself using shortcuts to describe the team you’re working with or task you’re working on. Instead of typing out “Mark”, “Sally”, “the Communication Team”, or “the IFS Project Status Report”, you find yourself using “he”, “she”, “they”, or “them”. Though you know who you’re referring to, it is extremely unlikely that external stakeholders unfamiliar with your project will. By taking a few extra steps to explicitly state who/what you are referring to, you will be able to:

  • Reduce reader confusion as to who you are referring to
  • Allow all parties to clearly identify who/what you are referring to
  • Increase the likelihood of a task being completed by the appropriate stakeholder

To help clarify my point, which message would you prefer to receive?

  • “He’ll get it updated after reporting her results to them.”
  • “Mark will get the IFS Project Status Report updated after reporting Sally’s results to the Communication Team.”

3. Don’t Assume Your Assumptions Are Correct
One of the ways I’ve seen projects become unnecessarily complicated and difficult involves stakeholders (and project managers) making bad assumptions by never writing down and confirming what their assumptions are for the project.  For example, if you’re working on a project that involves groups in different time zones, it’s extremely important to clarify (especially in writing) what time zone the meeting is going to be taking place in; otherwise, you may only have half your team calling in for a status meeting.  When working on a project, make sure that you:

  • Document assumptions with as much detail as possible
  • Review and confirm those assumptions with all the relevant stakeholders

Additionally, when starting a project, make sure that your expectations of the project are the same as the people you’re reporting to.  Your thoughts on how the project should progress may be significantly different than those of more senior stakeholders.  Taking 15-20 minutes to document and review those assumptions may save your project (and team members) a significant amount of time and rework.

Writing effectively is a critical skill for project managers. They must be able to respond quickly and effectively through email on a daily basis. Though some issues may be complex and require a significant amount of time to resolve, your stakeholders will definitely appreciate your ability to keep your initial synopsis of what the issue is, and how they can help, extremely focused and as “to the point” as possible.  All of the above suggestions will help you, as a project manager, make your written communication more effective.

To learn more about being an effective project manager, take a look at our other posts on the subject.

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