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A GAME OF TELEPHONE – PROJECT COMMUNICATIONS

PMI estimates that communication is 90% of a project manager’s job. Perhaps that’s why you can count on a large number of questions from the Project Communications Management knowledge area on the PMP and CAPM exams. Including a formula. (Woohoo – we at PPM like formulas on the exams – we like to think of them as “easy rights” because if you know the formula you will hopefully get the question right!).

The PMBOK Guide discusses the “communication channels” formula and based on feedback, there’s a pretty good chance it may show up on your exam. So learn it, know it, love it:

n(n-1)/2
where n represents the number of stakeholders on your project (including you)

For example, Tricia has 21 stakeholders for her branding redesign project, not including herself. Using the communication channels formula Tricia knows that means there are 231 different paths for her communication to travel. (22*21)/2

Keep in mind that efficiency and prioritization of project activities are critical skills for project managers. By having an awareness of the number of communication channels, Tricia can identify the most effective way to work with (and not against) the fact there are so many communication channels. This could include determining any guidelines for emails (i.e. when “reply all” is acceptable), identifying individuals with key communication responsibilities, and publishing the project communication schedule.

Just a word of warning for the exam: READ THESE QUESTIONS CAREFULLY! (Ok, that was more than “a” word of warning – more like “words” of warning!).

Now I know you are going to read every question carefully, however, it’s even more important with the questions that appear “easy”. There are very few easy questions on the exam. Two common gotchas:

You are managing a project with three team members, a sponsor, and a compliance manager. This means you have 15 communication channels. How many channels would you have if you added two more business analysts?

The correct answer is 28. Did you get it right? If not, did you say 21?
The clue here is in the second sentence. In order to have 15 communication channels, you have six stakeholders: you, three team members, sponsor, and compliance manager. Adding two more, you would need to use n=8.

Here’s another one:

When you took over the project, there were 16 identified stakeholders. If you add three more project team members, how many additional communication paths would be created?

The correct answer is 51. How did you do on this one? If you got it wrong, did you say 3? Read the question again. It’s asking how many “additional” channels were created. To determine that you would first calculate the original number of channels: 16(15)/2 = 120. Then you would need to calculate the number with the new team members: 19(18)/2=171. Therefore the difference between 171 and 120 would indicate the number of additional channels: 51.

So the good news about the communication channels formula? If you read the question carefully, there is no reason you shouldn’t get it correct. And for those of you who are great at math, often begin confused with a walking-talking calculator, I would still recommend using the actual calculator for these – it’s amazing how simple math suddenly becomes difficult on this exam! (especially when you are under stress!)

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