Web-Based Project Management Solutions Revolutionize Enterprise Project Management: Managing Communications
Written by Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM
Project communications management is one of the areas where web-based project management solutions prove most useful. Communications management involves the processes that ensure timely and accurate collection, storage, generation, and distribution of project information. The Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) is tasked with standardizing the document templates that are used to facilitate a project’s formal communications, and the office also needs to enforce the workflow for sending, reviewing, and approving these templates. During these processes, the EPMO should follow the four Cs of effective communication: Clear, Concise, Correct, and Complete.
It’s estimated that 70 to 90 percent of a project management team’s time is spent communicating. Of this time, approximately 45 percent is spent listening and 30 percent is spent talking. Further, the project management team spends almost 50 percent of their time in meetings. Web-based project management solutions can greatly increase the team’s ability to communicate efficiently as well as foster the transparency, accountability, and traceability of communications.
Project communications should be aligned with the contract agreements between the different parties involved with a project. The contracts usually specify which document templates should be used and when. The contracts also identify the communication channels and points of contact for each party.
Since there can be dozens of different types of project communications, this article will only address the most common, including Requests for Information (RFI), Meeting Minutes, Transmittals, Correspondence, and Progress Reports. That said, it should be noted that the other project management knowledge areas generate many additional types of project communications specific to those areas.
Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM)
The Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM), also known as the RACI chart, is used to clearly define the project team members’ responsibilities, lines of authority, as well as the flow of approvals and information among team members. To this end, the RACI chart specifies all of the project management tasks and identifies the individuals who are responsible for completing the tasks, approving the tasks, consulting on the tasks, and to be informed about the tasks.
Responsible: Those who do the work to complete the task. There is at least one person who has a participation-type of responsibility, although others can be delegated to assist with the work as required.
Accountable (also Approver or final approving authority): The person who ultimately approves whether the task or deliverable has been successfully completed or not. This individual also delegates the work to the responsible team members. There must be only one accountable specified for each task or deliverable.
Consulted (sometimes Consultant or counsel): Those whose opinions are sought—typically subject matter experts—and with whom there is two-way communication.
Informed (also Informee): Those who are kept up-to-date on a task or deliverable’s progress—often only upon completion—and with whom there is one-way communication.
The Responsibility Assignment Matrix document template created using PMWeb’s custom form builder provides a list of all project communications and the project team members who will be involved with each communication.
For each communication, a reference number is provided for the workflow, which details the steps for submitting, reviewing, sharing, and approving the communication. PMWeb’s visual workflow can be used to map the workflow steps, including all branches and conditions needed to enforce the authority and approval levels assigned to the project team members.
Project Filing System
To organize communications, the EPMO needs to standardize a project’s filing system. There’s no fixed standard for a filing system; instead, the EPMO selects the system best suited for the type of projects the organization is responsible for. For organizations that manage engineering and construction projects, the Construction Specification Institute (CSI) recommends a filing system that consists of 20 prime filing sections:
1.0 Project Contracts
2.0 Cost Information
3.0 Personnel Information
4.0 Chronological Information
7.0 Communication Reports
8.0 Meeting Reports
9.0 Field Observation Reports
10.0 Test and Inspection Reports
11.0 Project Specific Information
12.0 Shop Drawings, Product Data, Samples
13.0 Contract Document Interpretations
14.0 Construction Closeout
15.0 Project Specific Information
16.0 Feedback Forms
20.0 Post-Construction Site Visits
Each of these prime filing sections contain folders and subfolders to further organize the relevant project documents. For example, documents going into 1.0 Project Contracts can be stored in the following folders and subfolders:
1.1 Copy Owner-A/E Agreement
1.2 Copy of A/E-Consultant Agreement
1.3 Copy of Extra Services Agreements
1.4 Copy of Owner/Contractor Agreement
1.4.1 Notice of Award
1.4.2 Notice to Proceed
1.5 Procurement Information
1.5.1 Bid Form
1.5.2 Bid Tabulation Form
1.5.6 Subcontractor List
1.6.1 Bid Bond
1.6.2 Performance Bond
1.6.3 Advance Payment Bond
1.7 Certificates of Insurance
Using PMWeb, these folders and subfolders can be mapped into the document management repository. Authorized users are assigned to each folder, so it’s clear who has access to the folder. Additionally, PMWeb offers a “subscription service” that notifies specific users whenever a new document is uploaded to a specific folder.
As the project progresses, documents of any format and size can be uploaded to those folders. These documents are then available to be attached to the different project records—contracts, change orders, schedules, RFIs, meeting minutes, etc.
Request for Information (RFI)
The Request for Information (RFI) is a great bi-directional communication document that can be initiated by the project owner or a contractor, asking for interpretation of an item in the contract. The need for interpretation can happen when scope of work is not sufficiently described or reasonably inferable from the contract documents. The RFI can also be used to obtain clarification about changed or unforeseen conditions.
Using PMWeb’s RFI document template allows a huge amount of relevant data to be captured, such as who is issuing the RFI, which project it’s for, the RFI reference ID, when it was issued, which WBS level it relates to, which specification section it relates to, etc. What’s more, the RFI can include the needed query along with a proposed solution if possible. When the response is made, the “Answer” section will be completed.
Tabular and graphic reports as well as dashboards can be created to communicate the RFI’s status and performance details. These analytical tools can also help identify potential problems. For example, if there is an excessive number of RFIs being issued, this might indicate the project documents are poorly developed or the contractor is using RFIs in preparation for change order claims. The tools can also help determine if there are delays in responding to RFIs, which can result in delay claims by the contractor.
Every project involves numerous meetings to discuss and act upon matters of common interest to those involved with the project. Meetings are a valuable way for project stakeholders and team members to effectively communicate project information, exchange ideas, render decisions, resolve issues, coordinate work, prevent problems, etc.
Some common meeting topics related to construction and engineering projects include Design Review, Value Engineering, Safety, Site Mobilization, Progress Review, Pre-Tender Clarifications, Bid Award, Kickoff Meeting, Stage Gate Review, Closeout Meeting, Handover Meeting, Claims Negotiation and Settlement, etc. The frequency of meetings can vary, as some are held weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly and others only as needed.
PMWeb’s Meeting Minutes document template captures a meeting’s basic details, such as subject, location, date, time, etc. It also lists the names of those invited to attend and those who actually made the meeting.
More importantly, the Meeting Minutes template captures the details related to the specific business issues discussed during the meeting: who is responsible for addressing an issue, what is the timeframe for resolving the issue, the current status of the issue, the actual date the issue was closed, and the project schedule activity that might be delayed if the issue is not closed on time, etc. Additional details, such as the issues’ category and type, can be also added to the template to improve classification and organization.
The value of web-based project management solutions goes beyond simply capturing meeting minutes, as it allows for in-depth analysis of the meeting data using business intelligence and visualization tools. In PMWeb, for example, all meeting minutes are automatically aggregated in a tabular report, so the information gleaned from the meetings can be easily organized and presented. Moreover, the information’s details can be grouped, ordered, and filtered in any desired format, and the information can be further consolidated in a dashboard to assess the performance of meeting management.