Communication and analytics: The two sides of project management
Project management can sometimes be narrowly thought of as just dictating and delegating, ensuring that work is done in a timely and effective fashion, and little else. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are a number of roles and responsibilities wrapped up in the project manager title, and each may require a project manager to tap into different skill sets to solve problems.
The hard skills of project management (budgeting, scheduling) are necessarily complemented by soft skills such as leadership, teambuilding and communication. That last item is particularly important. Communication is central to the success of any project, and often the project manager will be the one looked to set the example. Here we’ll examine how the balance of soft and hard skills, specifically how proficiency in communication and analytics—two areas central to any project management degree program—can help project managers achieve success.
High project failure rates show need for project managers with diverse skill sets
Project managers have become an invaluable resource to companies of all sizes and industries. That demand seems set to grow, as businesses continue to experience project failures. Wellingtone, a project management group in the U.K., found that project success rates remain a challenge. According to its 2016 industry survey:
- 32 percent of responding organizations never or only sometimes complete projects on time.
- 31 percent never or only sometimes provide full project benefits.
- 31 percent never or only sometimes complete the project within budget.
- 46 percent never or only sometimes have a track record of success when it comes to project completion.
Another area to look to examine the value of project managers is IT. The space is central to the everyday life of businesses and regular people given the popularity and widespread use and dependence on software and mobile apps. However, Gartner, a leading research firm, has long tracked IT projects and noted failure rates are “appalling.”
Despite this, such IT-focused projects remain vital to many businesses’ plans. InformationWeek in 2014 found the business attitude toward IT projects was largely favorable: 55 percent of surveyed respondents said IT projects always or sometimes deliver value to the business overall.
It’s evident project management across all industries could use some fine-tuning. One way to counter project complexity that devolves into chaos is by marrying soft and hard skills learned in an online project management program to ensure a holistic approach that breeds successful environments.
Communication a central pillar to effective project management
There may be no more important soft skill than communication. The more of it, the better; that’s true in nearly every scenario of the real world, but especially in project management. The unfortunate fact is that sufficient project communication—while an ideal strived after—is often missing. A 2016 study from the Project Management Institute found nearly one-third of respondents cited inadequate/poor communication as a reason contributing to project failure.
In fact, communication was classified as a core competency of project management in an empirical study published in the International Journal of Health and Economic Development, which stated: “Much of the success of a program is the ability to effectively move information between resources in the project. Negotiating effectively, managing conflict wisely, and mediating constructively are undoubtedly essential core competencies of the program manager.”
So how can project managers masters enhance their communication efforts? A couple tactics to take may include:
- Ensuring communication is a two-way street: Project managers are leaders, and they need to be able to listen as well as they are able to communicate their own thoughts, expectations and directions. This not only builds trust between key resources in a project, but reduces the risk of something going uncommunicated, and subsequently unaddressed or unresolved.
- Employing the ‘hard skills’ of communication: As noted in the IJHED study, while communication itself is considered a soft skill, there are hard strategies within it that can be used to a project manager’s advantage. These may include consistent dissemination of information through progress reports, scheduled morning meetings, or regular update emails.
Analytics represents a new front for project managers to conquer
Thanks to the proliferation of data, project managers have at their hands more knowledge than ever to inform their decisions. A key difference between mere analysis and analytics is the former can only speak to what has happened, when perhaps a project failure is too late to salvage; the latter, on the other hand, grants project managers a comprehensive, real-time view into their project as it pertains to current progress, historical performance and future trends.
Using a data-driven approach is important to modern project managers. Strategic decision-making relies on informed thinking, and generating insights from analytical efforts is a crucial piece to that. Here are some ways project managers can leverage analytics:
- Scrutinizing data to forecast future conditions or data points, constructing predictive models to go along with that.
- Cost-benefit comparisons (breakeven, ROI) and resource budgeting that may be able to identify a crunch or cost overrun before they occur.
- Using different statistical models or methodologies, based on the characteristics of the project, to reach new conclusions or insights.
Each step of a project may require something different from a manager. Sometimes it will call for application of a hard skill, or the influence of a soft skill. When considering what they can do to better equip themselves with a sufficient arsenal of skills, project managers should look to communication and analytics as beacons of effective strategy and execution.
Brandeis University’s Master’s of Science in Project and Program Management is an attractive degree for those looking to learn more about such competencies. The online project management program maintains a diverse approach to education that gives equal weight to soft and hard skills.