Effectively communicating project status, understanding stakeholder views and needs, preventing scope creep, keeping the team focused, and ensuring the project has the resources and skill sets required are just a few of the topics project managers must communicate well. This paper discusses a new view of communication channel complexity by addressing communication mediums.

In the discussion, message content is aligned with the medium used to ensure efficient and effective communications. The conclusion is that, project managers who identify and influence appropriate use of communication mediums greatly enhance communications, supporting successful projects.

Why Communication Mediums Are Important
Communication channels are pathways with two elements: the message transmitted (or content), and the medium used to communicate the message. With respect to teams, communication pathways increase exponentially as members are added. In communication systems, communication pathways increase exponentially as mediums are added. Ensuring appropriate communication mediums are used to fit the message content results in communications efficiency and effectiveness. However, inappropriate communication mediums can result in communication breakdowns, mistakes, loss of trust and integrity, and inefficiencies, resulting in project issues.

For example, employees could call in sick using a number of communication mediums. They could appropriately speak to the manager directly, leave a voicemail, or send a text message. Then again, employees could inappropriately mail a letter, post the illness on Facebook, or send a message telepathically from home. There are many ways to send a message. However, deciding which communication medium would be most appropriate to send a message should not be a judgment call. Project managers can help define appropriate communication mediums to fit the content and support better run projects.

Communication Medium Strengths and Weaknesses
It is crucial the project team understands that communication mediums have both strengths and weaknesses. For example, a CEO may want to communicate a significant reduction in benefits. Although this communication medium could be an email to the workforce, would this be the best communication medium for this particular message? The use of email for an important message may convey a lack concern and empathy for the workforce. Unfortunately, project team members may select inappropriate communication mediums for a message from a perspective of fear, misconception, expediency, or thoughtlessness.

Using inappropriate mediums can result in issue avoidance, damaged relationships, miscommunication, and long-term issues that can damage trust and integrity. It is imperative project managers identify all possible communication mediums and influence their use through policies (informal or formal) to control and instill quality communications.

Communication Channel Complexity Considerations from Mediums
Communication channel complexity increases as mediums are considered within a system. That is to say, communication mediums do not observe a one-to-one relationship. An example would be the tendency to text or email someone prior to calling or to alert a team member verbally of a meeting to attend while also using a calendar such as Outlook or Lotus Notes. Another example of communication channel complexity would be minutes delivered soon after a meeting to ensure everyone in attendance agrees on what occurred and what actions to take.

These examples suggest “one-to-many” relationships within the wide variety of communication mediums used within organizations. Additionally, the timing of medium messaging must also be considered. For example, delivering meeting minutes a week after the meeting would be much less effective than within an hour. The timing of messaging must also be considered when defining the use of mediums.

A comprehensive communications plan can help a project manager ensure success. However, more than just addressing communication among team members, a truly effective communication plan must also address communication mediums. Although the “who, what, when, where and why” of communications team communications must be considered in an effective plan, the “how” of mediums demands equal attention. As a result, effective project managers must identify and influence communication mediums to support efficient and effective project communications. Project managers who identify and influence appropriate use of communication mediums greatly enhance communications, supporting successful projects.

Glen Phillips, Temperature Controls Project Manager


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