Barry Doherty, senior project engineer at Aquamarine Power, on why it can be costly for engineering firms to just assume that a sound communications strategy within a project team will just ‘happen’
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Author: Barry Doherty, BE Eur Ing CEng MIEI, senior project engineer at Aquamarine Power

Good communication is absolutely key to the successful delivery of any project. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of communication within an organisation, and in particular within a project team, but all too often the issue is not given enough focus or attention. It is something that is assumed will just ‘happen’ during a project.

In any project it is essential that the project team know what is expected of them; what they have to do, when they have to do it, and what budget and time constraints and quality specification they are working towards.

A project team is generally quite a diverse group of people. Diversity within a project team can be cultural, geographical, organisational, functional, age-related and so on. Project teams are usually thrust together to deliver a bespoke and unique benefit to an organisation. Effective communication within such diverse groups is a challenge at the best of times. It is essential that all members of the team have regular and complete access to all information about the project; objectives, deliverables, plan, constraints, changes, risks and progress.

PRINCE2 project management


The PRINCE2 project management methodology, suggests that a system of ‘management products’ is set up at the beginning of a project. These products include: a Project Brief, Plan, Communication Management Strategy, Risk Management Strategy, Risk Register, Lessons Log and so on. It is worthwhile spending time at the outset of a project to develop a comprehensive Communication Management Strategy, encompassing the project team and also all of the project’s other stakeholders, to ensure the smooth flow of information throughout the project lifecycle. This will help to avoid misunderstandings and delays that frequently affect projects.

Maintaining open, regular and meaningful channels of communication will ensure that everyone is clear about what has to be done and who is going to do it. There are many different means of communication – including face-to-face meetings, email, intranet, internet, Skype, phone and conference calls. These can be categorised into two groups: ‘push’ communications and ‘pull’ communications.

Push communications require an individual to push the information onto the recipient as the name would suggest, while pull communications require the recipient to actively retrieve the information from a central source.  Websites and centralised repositories are examples of pull communications, while email and meetings are examples of push communications.

Preference for either push or pull communications is typically a personal choice. Some people deal with information best when it is presented to them while some prefer to retrieve it at their own convenience. One of the most important things about being a good communicator is awareness and noting different stakeholders’ preferred methods of communication and trying to adapt to these will help to ensure the project runs smoothly.

There are many simple and practical measures that can be adopted to facilitate good communication during a project. For example, establishing cross-functional teams or ensuring there is a co-location of project resources on the same floor space. With resources working in close proximity to each other, communication barriers are removed and there is also a greater team rapport.

Another practical measure that could be adopted is to establish a group email for the project team to ensure efficient and inclusive email communication. A group email ensures that all of the project team members are kept informed and up to date and also helps to avoid the situation where an individual could inadvertently be left out of an email distribution list.

It is the Project Manager’s job to keep all of the project stakeholders well informed. The Project Board needs regular updates on the status of the project, so that progress can be measured and any changes or risks to the project can be assessed. The Project Manager also needs to have regular communication with the project team in order to manage the project effectively.

It is very important for the Project Manager to be present, visible and engaged with the project team – during the good times and the challenging times. This visibility and commitment, and the message that this communicates to the project team, will help to galvanisethe team and have a positive impact on the project overall.

Leadership and communication


Barry Doherty, BE Eur Ing CEng MIEI, senior project engineer at Acquamarine Power

Effective communication is not just about ‘talking to the troops’ and telling them what is expected of them – it is much more subtle than that. It is about understanding the complete message. What language to use, how to convey the message with respect to tone, feeling and body language.

Body language is an important communication tool. Very often the words spoken conflict totally with the body language adopted to deliver them, resulting in a confused message and potentially a misunderstanding of the real issues.

Successful communication is about being there for everyone, being in touch with the real challenges of the project, understanding the real issues within the project team as well as understanding the issues of the sponsors whom the team delivers the project for.

The development and implementation of an effective Communication Management Strategy at the beginning of a project will yield many benefits. It will foster cooperation and collaboration among the project stakeholders, boost morale within the project team and will help to ensure the successful delivery of the project overall.   www.aquamarinepower.com

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Author: Barry Doherty, BE Eur Ing CEng MIEI, senior project engineer at Aquamarine Power Good communication is absolutely key to the successful delivery of any project. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of communication within an organisation, and in particular within a project team, but all too often...