Communication Tips for HRIT Projects

It is a well-known observation in project management that 90% of the project manager’s work is communication. As projects have grown in complexity and value, organizations can no longer tolerate having only 30% of projects be fully successful (as reported in the Standish Group’s 2015 CHAOS report []).

In the past three years, I have examined the concept of project management communication in both business management research and communication research. There are many definitions for project management communication but, these definitions can be placed into one of two general models. The first model is the “transmission model” which you may know as the “sender-message-receiver” model. I create a message and then transmit this message through a channel (written, verbal, email, etc.) to you. Depending on the amount of noise in the channel, the message may not be completely transmitted to you. The major assumption in the transmission model is that if you receive the full message, you will fully comprehend the message.

In contrast, the second model of project management communication argues that understanding emerges because of the relationships and interactions between the project team and stakeholders. This is the emergent model of project management communication. The emergent model incorporates the transmission model but adds the dimension of “understanding” to the sending and receiving of information. Under the emergent model, project managers test that his or her message was understood and not only received.

Understanding is especially important in HRIT projects because of the diversity of stakeholders and customers of the project results. HRIT projects have their set of concepts and jargon that can impede understanding between the project team and stakeholders. In my experience, there can often be the illusion of understanding at the beginning of the project but, this illusion is quickly discovered midway through the project. At that point, correcting the miscommunication can be expensive.

So, how do HRIT project managers and project team ensure understanding among stakeholders? In my work, I have used human-centered design (HCD) techniques to create and reinforce understanding. Although some HCD techniques can take days or even weeks, there are several quick methods that can be instantly used to create and test understanding. My first technique, “Rose, Bud, Thorn,” only requires a stack of sticky notes and a few pens. During a meeting with stakeholders and the project team, I will ask the group to write down (one thought per a sticky note) the current benefits of the project – the “Rose.” Then, the projected benefits of the project result – the “Bud.” Finally, the participants will write down the current and future challenges to achieving project success – “Thorns.” I have the participants post their roses to three separate areas on the walls and then the group examines the sticky notes for common themes and concerns.

Creating and testing for understanding in project management communication can only take a few minutes but will aid greatly in ensuring that the project manager is communicating effectively for project management success.

Bill Brantley
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Bill Brantley teaches at the University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Louisville. He also works as a Federal employee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of his employers. You can reach him at

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