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Better Project Management Communication by Fostering Understanding

FEATURED PAPER

By Dr. William A. Brantley, PMP
University of Maryland
College Park, MD, USA

and

Mary Z. Ashlock, PhD
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY, USA


How often have you heard that 90% of the project manager’s work is communication? Most project managers would agree with that statistic. However, is communication in project management different from communication in general? What role does communication play in project management?

The authors of this article are in the midst of large research project to determine the role communication has in successfully managing projects. The first step is to define project management communication. Thus, the authors examined the business management and communication research literature to investigate how communication is defined in project management.

After reviewing 272 peer-reviewed articles collected from the last forty years, the authors discovered that project management communication has many definitions. The definitions can be categorized into one of two general communication models. In the next section, the two models will be described and how one model arises from the other.

The Two Models of Project Management Communication

The first model is often known as the “Shannon-Weaver model” (1949) because of the two researchers who formulated the theory in the late 1940s. The Shannon-Weaver model is also known as the transmission model because it does just that – it allows individuals to transmit information. Kraus (2006) describes the key components of the transmission model in this way:

“[C}ommunication requires a sender and a receiver. Verbal communication is one of the primary means humans use to communicate with each other. Like all forms of communication, speech isn’t really communication unless there is a message, the message is transmitted, it is received, it is transmitted in a code, or language, understood by the receiver or a means of translating the message is available, and that the message is understood by the receiver. Enhancements might include acknowledgement by the receiver of receipt of the message and that the receiver attached the same meaning and importance to the message that the transmitter intended, feedback. Unfortunately, in spoken communication as in radio and other types of communications, often static interferes with the end result.” (p. PM.09.01)

The second model comes from Buhler’s speech theories which he formulated in the 1930s. Luhmann (1995) built on Buhler’s theories to develop the emergent model of communication which is composed of three components: information, utterance, and understanding. Information is a “selection from a repertoire of possibilities” (Koskinen, 2013, p. 353). Utterances “refer to the form of and reason for a communication” (p. 353). Understanding is defined as the difference between information and utterances. The key here is the role of understanding: “While most communication theories (Shannon & Weaver, 1949; Chandler, 1994) refer only to the first two elements—information and utterance—of Luhmann’s concept, the third element (i.e. understanding) plays a central role. Instead of approaching a communication from the intended meaning of the communication, Luhmann reverses the perspective: a communication is ultimately determined through understanding” (Seidl & Becker, 2005).

As the authors discovered in their research, the emergent model allows communicators to think about the other layers of communication. For example, what kind of relational communication is the communicator using? Is the communicator paying attention to not just the content of the meaning but the overall emotions and history involved with this project or individuals? In general, project management communication research appears to be moving away from the transmission model to the emergent model.

More…

To read entire paper, click here

 


 

About the Authors

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Dr. Bill Brantley

University of Maryland
College Park, MD, USA

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Dr. Bill Brantley has an MBA in project management, became a certified PMP in 2003, and has taught project management courses for over a decade. He teaches project management communication for UMD’s Project Management Center for Excellence. During the day, he is a training administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office where he manages IT projects, training projects, and is an active contributor to the Federal government’s agile project management community. Dr. Brantley can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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Mary Z. Ashlock, PhD

University of Louisville
Louisville, KY, USA

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Mary Z. Ashlock
, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Louisville. For over 27 years she has worked in higher education and business. During Dr. Ashlock’s time at the University of Louisville she has done research and published in areas of health communication, speech anxiety, and corporate communication. Dr. Ashlock’s work has resulted in numerous regional and national conference presentations, book projects, and journal articles. She regularly teaches undergraduate and graduate students in business and organizational communication courses.