One of my favorite equations from the mighty PMBOK (probably because it’s one of the only equations I understood at first glance) is:

[n(n-1)]/2

…where “n” equals the number of stakeholders involved in your project. This equation is used to determine the number of possible channels which exist between that group of stakeholders.

For instance, imagine you have eight people working together to deliver a solution to a for-profit college. Using the equation, we get:

[8(8-1)]/2=28

…so in this scenario, there are 28 communication channels. In other words, there are 28 possible ways for the key messaging in your project to be either understood or misunderstood (a la proverbial “Telephone” game). If you’re more visually minded, here’s a graphic that illustrates:

 

image credit: Plan Communications Management Tools You Should Know for the PMP Certification Exam – For Dummies

This becomes extremely alarming when you are involved in a client-facing project. What if you don’t pay attention in a meeting, and then reach out to the client with false information? At best, this results in confusion. At worst, you could potentially be breaching the contract terms for your project.

I’ve seldom seen a project of only eight people or less. For example, one of my current project assignments has 30 stakeholders, which equates to 435 communication channels! And I know many of you are involved in projects with even more people involved, with complex SOWs and contract language to boot.

As project managers, perhaps our biggest value-add is the fact that we set up a Communications Plan to regulate the flow of communication throughout a project’s life cycle. Scheduled internal and external status calls, weekly executive reports, informal 1:1 meetings, agreed-upon standards for client communication, and other tools and techniques allow us to be plugged in to everything going on within a project’s universe.

In the absence of a Communication Plan, chaos reigns supreme. And the communication channels equation mathematically illustrates that potential for chaos in a beautiful way.

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Justin Scoville

Justin Scoville

Contributing Author

Justin Scoville's unique adventures in project management have spanned international volunteer opportunities in Mexico and Israel, complex government grant programs, and more recently education technology implementations in the private sector. Proudly bearing the battle scars of initiatives both small and large, Justin enjoys exploring the frontiers of project management, particularly its intersection with process improvement methodologies, strategic planning, and product management.

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