3 ways project managers can improve communication in software development
When you work at any type of consulting company, things move quickly. Clients want projects done as soon as possible — as they should. That’s especially true in the type of work we do — creating lovable apps and digital experiences — because the technology moves, as they say, at the speed of light.
With a fast-moving project, communication is critical among product development teams. That’s where I come in. I am a product manager — which at ArcTouch is a hybrid of traditional product management and project management roles. It’s a mix of both strategy and tactical responsibilities depending on the stage of the product lifecycle. In addition to owning the product strategy, project schedule, and team organization, ArcTouch product managers are responsible for working directly with our clients.
To be successful in this role you need to keep everyone aligned through communication. Sometimes, fostering and maintaining consistent communications among cross-functional team members and diverse stakeholders is just as difficult and important to a project as breaking through thorny technical challenges.
In this post, I’ll share three tips for how project managers can improve communication among team members.
1. Create a culture of trust, one team member at a time
“Trust and commitment do not just happen; they are forged and maintained through effective communication.” — International Journal of Business and Management, Communication, Commitment & Trust: Exploring the Triad
To support our app development process at ArcTouch, we have a whole ecosystem of thinkers and builders across multiple teams, including strategists, designers, product managers, developers, and QA testers.
One of the reasons that companies hire ArcTouch is the cumulative knowledge and experience from that range of specialists. Of course, the sum of that expertise is only valuable when communication on a project is flowing. And as a product manager, part of my responsibility is to help establish a culture of trust within each project team I manage.
That starts with building relationships with each team member. On projects, we use regular 1-on-1 meetings to get to know team members better, from their professional expertise to their interests outside work. These individual lines of communication open up secure channels for sharing important information — and enables empathy between one another. This can make it easier to address challenges that may arise during a project.
In one of my recent projects, one team member was having difficulty meeting expectations. However, in a 1-on-1, they were able to share some personal challenges they were going through. And with that understanding, we were able to provide support for that team member. Without that open door, things may have spiraled. After a few weeks, that team member’s performance improved, as did their communication among team members. It was obvious that, by feeling more comfortable and having more trust, the team member was able to work through the problems and thrive.
2. Be honest and transparent
“Working to keep negative information out during a difficult conversation is like trying to swim without getting wet.” — Douglas Stone, Difficult Conversations
Having tools to encourage open communication is great – but how and what you communicate is even more important. Product managers need to be open and honest in their communication — even when it comes to sometimes sensitive subjects.
That means regularly checking in with your team on a range of topics — from how their specific work is going to challenges and blockers. At ArcTouch, every member of our team embraces our internal values of ownership, commitment, collaboration, and inclusion. But to fulfill those values as part of a project team requires transparency.
Team members must feel free to openly discuss difficult topics, including budget issues, scope changes, team structure changes, and project delays. Without that transparency, a minor issue can eventually become a crisis — and compromise the performance of the entire team. With open and honest communication — whether in team meetings or in 1-on-1 conversations — minor issues can be addressed and everyone can continue moving forward.
3. Adapt to different communication styles
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” — Tony Robbins
Last but not least, a successful project manager must adapt to a variety of communication styles among diverse team members and project stakeholders. Even though the content of a message might be the same, how you communicate it with different people is crucial for your success. You need to tailor your message depending upon who you are communicating — and your desired outcome.
How do you do this? By listening.
By improving your listening skills, you better understand each person’s communication styles, motivations, and “hot buttons.” Knowing this allows you to adapt and more effectively adjust your communication, resulting in effective communication.
Some of this learning happens naturally, as you communicate with and get to know team members on a daily basis. But other times, you may need to communicate with people you don’t know very well. This is especially challenging and more important than ever in the ongoing environment of remote work.
For example, if you need to provide an update or ask for something from a client executive you don’t know very well, do some research. Read over any emails or communications they sent, and analyze their approach. Think about whether that person may need more context, or might prefer short and to the point. And consider the best way to drive the action or response that you need to keep the project moving forward.
This will give you the necessary inputs to communicate more effectively.
Remember: Managers lead by example
Encouraging effective communication is a crucial part of being a project manager. However, keep in mind that communication is not your job alone. Everyone on the team must participate in active and transparent communication in order to ensure a successful project.
And the best way to promote successful communication among your team is to lead by example. We can enhance project communication by initiating two-way communication with team members, by being clear and concise, by collaborating to solve sometimes thorny challenges, and by creating trust. As a product manager, you can lead by setting the tone for communication within the team — and by being an active listener.
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