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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Communications Part 3 – Channels of Communication

Project, program and portfolio management
Leaders often discount the need for structured communication!

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw

Channels of Communication is an interesting formula that I included in my curriculum as part of Project Management Professional (PMP)® preparation classes. I discontinued using it when the PMBOK® 6th Edition was released because it was no longer included, and there was so much additional content that something had to go!

For those of you unfamiliar with the formula, it is very simple. (N x (N-1))/2 with N being the number of people involved. A simple example is this: You have 15 stakeholders including your team of 5 and the project manager. How many channels of communication are there? The solution is (15 x (15-1)/2 or (15 x 14)/2 or 210/2 or 105.

A pictorial representation of why this math works is below:

This graphically illustrates the math of Channels of Communication!

What is the point of the formula? I found that it is a very useful training tool. The formula itself is very simple, but determining the value of “N” often forces a deeper discussion a variety of topics. For example, do you include the Project Manager in the calculation? Do you add the project team to the stakeholders, or are they counted there already? If I changed the question to say: “You have 15 stakeholders, your team of 5 and the project manager, how many channels of communication do you have?”, you would have a completely different answer! The distinction between the project team, the project management team and other stakeholders is very important to understand.

In an actual project, the formula was very useful in helping senior leaders with a minimal understanding of projects gain insight into the need for adequate staffing to manage project communications. Of course this is important because the communications are directly tied to stakeholder management. I have successfully made the case for additional staffing by doing the calculation in front of a senior decision maker and showing them exactly how many different “channels” I needed to manage to successfully deliver the project.

Like the “Triple Constraints”, its value is not directly tied to any hard project management skills. The value is as an extraordinarily helpful teaching aide in both the classroom and the workplace.

Next, we will discuss the interesting topic of “artifacts”.


I have always felt that truth should prevail, and as a professional I do what I can to be fair and honest when reporting on things. In fact, the Code of Ethics demand it! During the week I wrote this there were two reports that were picked up by the media and then amplified by social media where people rushed to judgement with no facts or corroboration! The first was that President Trump’s former lawyer stated that he was “told to lie.” It was immediately assumed to be true and there were prompt calls for impeachment! Social media went crazy and immediately demanded investigations! Except it was false. Less than 48 hours later a short clip emerged of a teenage boy smiling (smirking by some observations) at a Native American protester. Once again the media did only a cursory investigation and soon social media was filled with the most outrageous statements, with some people going so far as to call for someone to hurt the children involved in the event! Except that was also a false narrative. There is absolute truth, not relative truth. If you report, take the time to get it right. If you must post on social media, at least have the integrity to say you are sorry when you rush lemming like to parrot your favorite media outlet. It’s pathetic.


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