Blog – Send Three and Four Pence…

Send Three and Four Pence…

Proper and effective communications is often cited as fundamental to success. So how do we ensure we hit the target when it comes to efficient project communications? How can we avoid the message, send reinforcements we are going to advance, being received as, send three and four pence we are going to a dance!?

An effective project leader needs to be a good communicator and like leadership the way we deliver our message needs to work for the situation we find ourselves in. We also need to think carefully about our desired outcome, our audience, the methods of communication that are available to us and the timing of our messaging. I once found myself being asked to send a letter rather than an email!! My instinct was to push back, but that was a battle I couldn’t win. Best to accept that this person required information to be communicated in a particular way. I conformed and reaped the rewards with a relationship that delivered results. You need to adapt to your customers’ needs, a telephone call, an MS Teams / Zoom / Google Meet… call (camera off or on?) or do they prefer an email or a DM? They might even want you to come to their office and meet in person! Understanding the how of communications is an important step to effective dialogue.

What about the when? You are on the train merrily chugging down the track for your weekend away and the train slows to a halt unexpectedly. To start with you are fine, after all your risk analysis showed that only 89% of UK trains arrive on time (made up statistic!) so your mitigation measure is to arrive 30 mins before you really need to. All good. Naturally you want to know what has happened, something has changed so your plan needs updating. Five, 10, 15 minutes pass and no announcement, you start getting agitated. You need input, your plan needs updating. An early acknowledgement of the delay and commitment to update soon would have sufficed. The timing of customer communications needs careful consideration and experience can be a factor. It is, however, just as simple as asking. Talk to your customer, what do they need / want to know and when. What events need an immediate call? Most importantly don’t leave anyone you work with in the dark, if you haven’t been in contact with your customer for a couple of weeks then you ought to do that now.

I wouldn’t advocate style over substance but the way you package your customer communications will serve as an important indicator to your professional persona. The situation will largely dictate your style, a dynamic young AI start-up will arguably need a different style from a global ‘blue chip’ behemoth. Judge the situation, your audience, the output you desire and craft your message carefully using an appropriate style. And at the risk of being branded a pedant, or even worse having this blog returned to me with all the spelling and grammar errors highlighted, getting spelling and grammar correct and eradicating typing errors is important. The Amstrad PCW 9512 that I had in the late 80’s had a fabulous spelling and grammar checker, so there are no excuses!

Given the considerable reduction in face-to-face meetings there is one aspect of communication style that is now increasingly important and that is how we say things. Google tells me that 10% of conflict is due to a difference of opinion and 90% is due to delivery and tone of voice. Example (stern voice), ‘I need you to get the PID for the Network project sorted today, no excuses just get it done!’ or (calm soothing voice), ‘we need to have a chat about the Network project PID, it needs to be done today. I know you are busy so let’s talk about how we can prioritise your work to give you the best chance of finishing today.’

In summary, communicate with your customers never leave them in the dark, even saying that nothing has changed is valuable. In doing so you need to consider the situation you are in, the desired output, what you need to say, when to say it and how you will deliver the message. Remember the well-worn, but still relevant, George Bernard Shaw quote, ‘the single biggest issue with communications is the illusion that it has taken place’ So always check understanding, you need reinforcements not 3 and 4 pence!


Gary Pettitt, Chief Projects Officer

We use Google Analytics throughout this website. Click here to opt-out.