How To

NASA Project Manager Shares His Tips On Effective Communication

While we have the space agency’s project managers to thank for their role in getting those satellites into orbit, it appears that many of their peers aren’t making best use of the technology to communicate.

According to a report by the Project Management Institute, one in five projects fail due to poor communications.

Keeping stakeholders in the loop at all stages of a project’s lifecycle is crucial. But to have a fighting chance of success, you really need to tackle how you’ll communicate at the very start, during the planning phase.

In other words, you’ll need to create a project stakeholder communications plan. It may seem like an added task among many, but it will pay dividends, not least with helping to secure buy in at all stages (and avoid objections and delays down the line).

You’ll also be giving people a chance to pass back vital insights and information that you may have missed. For more information on creating a communications plan, as well as the other key stages of planning a project get the ebook Mission Controlled: the 5-Step Guide to Planning Projects

And for some great tips on communicating more effectively while managing a project, we can turn to former associate director of flight projects at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, Jerry Madden.

He distilled the knowledge he accumulated as one of Nasa’s project managers across a 37-year career into 128 rules. Although focused at Nasa’s very own project managers, there is valuable wisdom for project managers who work outside the space agency.

Below, we’ve picked out five rules that focus on communication:

Rule 24

Everyone does better if they can see the whole picture, so don’t hide any of it from anyone.

Rule 36

A puzzle is hard to discern from just one piece, so don’t be surprised if team members deprived of information reach the wrong conclusion.

Rule 38

The amount of reviews and reports are proportional to management’s understanding, i.e. the less management knows or understands the activities, the more it requires reviews and reports. It is necessary in this type of environment to make sure the data is presented so that the average person, slightly familiar with activities, can understand it. Keeping the data simple and clear never insults anyone’s intelligence.

Rule 53

Cooperative efforts require good communications and early warning systems. A project manager should try to keep his partners aware of what is going on and should be the one who tells them first of any rumour or actual changes in plan. The partners should be consulted before things are put in final form, even if they only have a small piece of the action. A project manager who blindsides his partners will be treated in kind and will be considered a person of no integrity.

Rule 57

Abbreviations are getting to be a pain…Use them sparingly in presentations unless your objective is to confuse.

As Jerry points out in those five points, good communication and stakeholder management is vital for project planning. That’s why we’ve created a guide that explores this, alongside the other key factors that are critical to ensuring the delivery of successful projects.

PM Today Contributor
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