Communication for Effective Project Portfolio Management

Communication is your make or break for effective project portfolio management. Without real purposeful communication, your project portfolio cannot move forward. Your team is at a loss, your stakeholders are confused, and you are in an information void.

It sounds simple and straight-forward enough – communicate with your team and your stakeholders. But for some reason, in more companies than we’d like to admit, communication just isn’t happening the way it should be. This results in confusion, lack of interest, distrust, process break-downs, and ultimately project failure.

The “No news is good news” philosophy doesn’t apply to project portfolio management. The opposite is true, if people aren’t communicating with you and each other, it’s a huge warning sign that the project is faltering. No one wants to speak up when there are problems and often in a team environment, there is hope that someone else will see the problem, figure out a solution, and take care of it. However, you know that this is not what happens, instead problems are ignored and issues aren’t raised and ultimately when it comes time to determine why the project failed – no one can provide an answer.

It’s your responsibility as the project manager, Scrum Master, or PMO to ensure that your teams and organization are not working in this vicious cycle of poor and inadequate communication. Continue reading to learn some key ways you can practice and implement supportive communication to deliver effective project portfolio management.


Develop a Communication Plan

It might sound like overkill at first glance, but think of how many active projects you have, how many projects you have in the planning stage, the number of people involved in these various projects, the variety of stakeholders invested in these projects, and your own project management team.

This all adds up to a lot of people, a lot of details, and a lot of things to discuss, debate, and decide and this is why you need a communication plan.

Ideally, you should have a communication plan for each project in your project portfolio. This communication plan should include the following:

  • Mission statement. The reason why you’re working on the project.
  • Project goals. These goals are directly linked to the purpose or mission of your project. These goals are your benchmarks and indicators of success.
  • Key people. Know who the key people are. Who are the leaders? Who should be the go-to person? Who should be invited to meetings, included on emails, and asked of their opinions?
  • Identify project dependencies. Know what needs to be completed in the most optimum order and why this order is important. Have plans in place when there are blockers or new risk factors.
  • Schedule. Plan out the project and know how and when it will be completed. This is your blueprint to success and it’s important that you don’t overcommit during this phase.
  • Flexible. Make room for change and flexibility. Effective project portfolio management realizes that there will be slow-downs, interruptions, and blockers – be ready for these and know how you’ll manage these.

As you can understand a project communication plan is more than just a simple list of key contacts and roles. Think of this communication plan as your foundation for success – everything you need to know about the project scope, goals, people, schedule, dependencies, and risk factors is in this communication plan. With this as your foundation, you can communicate more easily with the right people at the right time.


Your Communication Skillset

Good communication doesn’t happen by chance, it takes skill and talent. You likely have worked with a few outstanding communicators who seem to know just what to say at the right time and whose presence is palpable without being a micromanager. You likely have also worked with the complete opposite, someone who isn’t available, is slow to respond to answer questions, who hovers and micromanages, and displays a distrustful personality.

Wherever you are on this scale of communicator styles, we want you to think hard and assess your communication abilities. Your ability as a project manager, Scrum Master, or PMO depends on your ability to communicate, so be honest about your communication skills.

  • Listen. Your team is coming to you with questions, concerns, and ideas – you need to really listen to what they’re saying. Don’t just let them talk, listen to what they are and aren’t saying so you can understand ways you can support and help them. Give each person the time to speak and give them the respect they deserve with your undivided attention. Hint: don’t interrupt.
  • Question. Now that you’re listening well, you can ask the questions that drill down to the heart of the matter. Ask questions that stimulate conversation and thought about the issue, idea, or blocker. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions that may highlight errors or inefficiencies, this is your responsibility.
  • Respect. Show everyone on your team the same level of respect. In fact show them the same level of respect that you want to be shown. Remember, your team is paying attention to how you treat each person within the team and will deliver the same level of treatment and respect to their colleagues. Be friendly and remember you’re working with people not robots.
  • Talk. There is nothing worse than being the last person to find out about a new project, feature, or change. Keep everyone in your team updated with the project progress, milestones, successes, slow-downs, and changes. You can do this with a daily stand-up, regular email communication, or in the iteration retrospective. However you choose to do it – just make sure you talk and you do it often.

Good communication isn’t rocket science but when it isn’t working, it can have disastrous impacts for your team, stakeholders, and entire project portfolio.

Communication is a must-have for effective project portfolio management, so make sure you’re spending as much time on effective communication as you are on your product backlog or burndown charts.

Remember the worst things you can hear in project portfolio management are: “I didn’t know”, “No one told me about that”, “I wasn’t invited to the meeting”, or “I didn’t hear back so I assumed everything was okay”.

Be different – be a good communicator who leads by example and sets a precedence for real communication with your team and stakeholders.

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