The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman.
The contents of the book under review are the copyright property of the author.
Published here July 2014

Introduction | Book Structure
What We Liked | Downside | Summary

What We Liked

It is refreshing to come across a book on how to communicate from a project perspective, rather than what all the various system elements of project communications management consists of. The book presents an end-to-end framework for program and project managers to develop an effective strategy for bringing about stakeholder engagement and even behavior change. The sequence of the chapters listed in the previous section reflects the progressive nature of this communications framework. This framework, and hence the book's recommendations, adjust according to the phase in the project's life span to be most effective at all times.

The book also includes a number of templates, hints and tips to support corresponding tactics. In so doing, author Ann Pilkington hopes to raise the profile of communication within the project management setting and, at the same time, make the effort much more likely to help bring about project success. She notes that project communication doesn't fit neatly into any of the traditional communication disciplines. Instead, it draws on all of them, e.g. marketing, advertising, media and public relations, which is why the task is so much more rewarding for the communicator, whether that is the project manager or one of his/her delegates.[8]

Ann suggests that the ideal scenario is for the "project communicator" to be involved in the project from the outset.[9] But if not, time must still be taken to ensure that there is a common understanding of the role, including its boundaries and so on. Nevertheless, effective communication in presenting to the project's public is a powerful tool bringing recognition and esteem to the communicator. Therefore, there is a serious risk that the communicator may appear to usurp the authority of the project manager, especially if there is a significant difference in personality traits between the two.

As an interesting example, Ann introduces the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).[10] She notes that: "Understanding personality types can be helpful in designing effective communication". She explains that: "A typical difference in communication style can be a preference for detail compared to a preference for theory and concepts."[11]

From our experience, such a difference is not unusual in the makeup of a project team. Anyway, Ann illustrates this with the following amusing Vignette:[12]

"Project manager: 'Which stakeholders received our latest communication?'

Communication lead: 'Everyone'

The project manager, exasperated, wonders why her communication lead is being so evasive. The communication lead, annoyed by the form of the question, wonders why the project manager feels that she needs to check on him all the time.

The communication lead later finds out about their opposing MBTI profiles. Next time the project manager asks the question he responds by saying: 'Everyone on our stakeholder list received it, that's 200 in total covering managers down to grade B in the finance and procurement communities.'

'Thank you, that's great' says the project manager.

'You're welcome' says the communication lead."

The book is full of good advice in the form of bulleted lists and tables. For example:

  • Do take an audience/stakeholder-centred approach;
  • Do provide accurate and timely information;[13]
  • Do not massage the ego of the project manager;
  • Do not try to make a bad decision look like a good one;[14]

And so on

In another section, Ann provides good basic advice on Effective Presentations as a part of the project communicator's tool kit. Here she says for example:[15]

  • Speakers must introduce themselves;
  • Never use a font size of less than 18 point;
  • If the presenter has to accompany a slide with 'I know you can't read this but ...' then that is a slide that should not be used; and
  • At the end of the presentation, sum up the key points and let members of the audience know what the project wants them to do with the knowledge that they now have.

What a concept! How many presentations have you been to recently that breeches at least three of those four alone, all in the one presentation?

But the book is not constricted to such minutiae as just described. For example, Chapter 5 concludes with a long table that provides a guide to some of the most popular communication channels and gives tips for their use.[16] The table contains content — describing in each case: advantages/disadvantage; one way or two way; good for; and tips for use — ranges through Email, Intranet, team meetings, weekly 'stand up' sessions, video conferencing and more.

Book Structure  Book Structure

8. Ibid, see Table 1.1 on p5
9. Ibid, p1
10. You can read more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from a project perspective here: ***
11. Ibid, p110
12. Ibid, p111
13. Ibid, p3
14. Ibid, p4
15. Ibid, p132
16. Ibid, pp 124-131
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