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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Communications Part 5 – Simple Communication Model

Project, program, [portfolio management
Communication within a project can become very complicated!

“Between two brains, there will always be misunderstandings and lies caused by parasitic smells, drafts and poor-quality reception.” Bernard Werber, Empire of the Ants

“So the whole war is because we can't talk to each other.” Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game

One of the most acute problems a project can experience is miscommunication. The development team doesn’t understand what the customer wants. The Project Manager is unclear what the Portfolio Management Office wants. The key stakeholders are unclear as to the exact status of the project. And on and on.

One of the purposes of the Communication Management Plan is to develop a shared understanding of what will be communicated, the context of the communication and what it means to the project specifically and the organization more broadly.

And yet, all of this is done through people. People with different backgrounds, perspectives and objectives. People who will probably misunderstand each other.

The Project Management Institute (PMI)® explains why this happens using what they refer to as the “sample basic sender/receiver communication model”. This is a simple model because it focuses on the actual message being delivered accurately, not if the message was understood. It is a very helpful tool in helping you think about communication a little differently.

The basic model explains that the sender “encodes” the message, the message is transmitted and then it is “decoded” by the receiver.

Think about that model in your day to day communications. You have something you want to share with someone. If you are speaking with them, you decide which words to use and you say them. If you are sending an email or typing a letter, you think about the words to use and you type them. Because a verbal conversation can be casual and written communications are archived, you will probably take more time to ensure optimal wording when you immortalize your words in writing.

Of course, the transmission itself can get garbled! You may be talking in a crowded cafeteria and the person you are interacting with is distracted by people walking by. Or perhaps you are on the phone and the person you are talking to is “multi-tasking” and working email! Maybe they are distracted by how loud or fast you are talking. Even if your method of transmission is “written”, it will land in someone’s inbox where it is competing for attention with everything else that is in there!

Those distractions are known as “noise”.

Finally, the receiver must decode what you have communicated. Are the words they are hearing from you conveying the ideas that you intended when you formed those words? When they read your electronic message, are they getting the impression that you intended? Do they understand the actual words you wrote, or the context of those words?

And that is the simple model! No wonder we misunderstand each other so much!

Next, I’ll discuss the “Sample Interactive Communications Model”.


I love these technical topics. Something as simple and well covered as “communication models” becomes a much richer subject when you really stop and think about what the models are telling you. I could literally spend an entire post on the encoding portion and still leave content uncovered. Personally, that is why I write these posts. Without the pressure to produce content every week, I would miss the chance to revisit and rethink interesting things like this.


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