Managing communication through Network mapping

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Developed by Tobias Lyck Bjært Sørensen

Communication and networks are two essential parts of projects that often is being neglected in project planning and project managing. Managing people issues in projects using a Network Diagram is a good way of keeping track of who is the right people to manage in a project. Since a project always concerns different stakeholders and different people who needs to interact with each other it is always important to keep track of who is linked to whom. This can be done by using a Network Diagram indicating whom are connected to whom and what power that relationship indicate as well as what power the individual hold towards the project. In project and portfolio management it can be used to communicate more effectively to the project group as well as the stakeholders enabling the project manager to avoid the prospect of bad communication ruing the project or portfolio. When combining that with that use of the right way of communicating as well as the right communication strategy the likelihood of a successful implementation of a project is way higher than if the communication and the network is not at part of the project plan.


Introduction to Network mapping

A Network Diagram is a way of indicating the connection between people and organizations, other groups or things that might be indicated in a network. The network consist of the basic of nodes and edges. Nodes are representing the people, organizations or groups and edges are indicating the connection between the people, organizations or groups (nodes).

An indicator is the size of the nodes and edges. The size of the nodes could for instance represent the age of a person, the number of employee in a company or the turnover of a company. The size of the edge between two nodes can be used to indicate the connection between the two nodes. Examples of that could be emails between two nodes, deals between to companies or the amount of projects the nodes have worked together.

When the network is drafted roles can be found in the network, each of them having a special indication of the importance and abilities of that node. [1] [2]

Central connector

Figure 1: Central Connector

The central connector is the node that most other nodes is connected to, the person or organization that communicates with the most of the others within the project. Node one on figure 1. It would could be the project leader but often it is not the case as recognized by Rob Cross and Laurence Prusak "In most cases, the central connectors are not the formally designated go-to people in the unit." [3]

Since the central connector is not always the formally go-to person it can be seen that the person most people talk to in the project might not be the project manager at all.

Boundary spanner

Figure 2: Boundary spanner

A boundary spanner is a person who are connecting two different groups these groups can be direct departments within a company or the crane operators on a building site. The person or organization having such contact and being the only one with that direct contact is of vital importance for the project because without that person there is no direct contact and therefore often no trust bounds between the project and the individual group, department or company. A boundary spanner can be seen on figure 2 as node 10 and 11.

Information broker

Figure 3: Information broker

An information broker is the one who connects a large number of individuals or organizations and often between the main group and sub groups. The difference from the central connector is that the information broker is not only defined by the number of contacts but also the importance of the contacts. An information broker can be seen on figure 3 as node 5.

Peripheral specialist

Figure 4: Peripheral specialist

A peripheral specialist is an outsider. The person or company that do not have as many contacts as everyone else but who is often a specialist and is therefore important because of the know-how. The link between that organization or person and the main group is very important because without that the organization or group might not have access to the know-how provided by the peripheral specialist. A peripheral specialist can be seen as node 21 on figure 4.


The way of communicating is an important aspect of how the project will be conceived by the once who are supposed to listen. It is not regardless how the project manager communicates to the clients who set the assignment, out to the other internal or external stakeholders or to the project group in other words various stakeholders. The classification of stakeholders and more on stakeholder management can be found on the Wiki page Stakeholder Management[4]. The importance of communication is also reinforced in the book Power i projekter & portefølje p. 269 where it is stated that when asked what the management could do better in change projects the main improvements should be better communication as answered by 67% of the group asked [5]. It is first very important to consider the channel that is chosen for the communication, see section below.

Communication plan

It is important to make at communication plan since this will reduce the resistance in the project and at the same time create knowledge to the project. A good communication plan contains the steps presented below.

Who is the target audience

The target audience is often part of the stakeholders especially the important stakeholder as have been found in a stakeholder analysis [4] but the most important stakeholders and the effect of what they can do comes by making a Risk Identification [6].

What is the message

It is very important that the message is thought through before it ends up at the receiver. In one sentence it shall be clear what the message is to the receiver and what kind of experience the message should bring. The motivation is a important part, is it a burning platform or a golden wish that should be the motivation for the project is up to the project manager to figurer out.

The channel of communication

The channel of communication could be as examples email, sms, face to face or other ways of getting the the message across. By using email it might seem very efficient but it will often get to the point where nobody is really taken notice to what is really said in the mail. The more effective way is face to face but that can be very time consuming and therefore it is not relevant to do it in order to deliver every message. The trade off by the two means of communicating is further discussed by Hayes [7]. If there is an interest in changing the opinion of an stakeholder there is a need for communicating through a personal dialogue and involve the stakeholder so that it becomes clear why the stakeholder should change their opinion.

The effect of the message

The goal should be clear from the start in order to explain: what is it that the stakeholder should provide to the project or what the project should bring the stakeholder?

  • New knowledge?
  • Changed opinion?
  • Changed conduct?

It is clear that it demands way more effort to change the opinion and the conduct of a stakeholder than is takes to just provide the stakeholder with new information about the project or the risk at hand in the project.


Timing is everything, and it demands a plan in order to time the communication. There should be a communication plan for the project or at least in the project plan be marked out when and how the communication should take place in order for the project to be on track. It is of cause very hard to know in projects when to communicate what but at least it should be clear what is expected to be communicated and after what events it is necessary to communicate.


It is very important to appoint somebody who are responsible for communicating at the right time and to the right people. This way there is no uncertainty of whom to ask if there is any questions, and there will not come the normal question of who is supposed to communicate, it will be the responsible person. The responsible person should also be in charge of the communication plan, updating it whenever there is a change in the project plan and being responsible for communicating unforeseen events.

Communication strategies

It is important to use the right communication strategy in order to get the right message across and to keep in mind that each strategy has its own benefits and disadvantages.

Spray and pray

One communication strategy is the one called "Spray and pray". The strategy involves letting as much information out as possible to as many people as possible trusting that they might be able to sort through what is relevant and what is not. It gives the receiver the impression of being well informed but they might drown in information and not be able to get the important information out. The strategy is partially criticized in Power i projekter & portefølje p. 275 [5] since - as it is pointed out - There is a high risk that communication to everyone do not hits anyone.

Tell and sell

Another communication strategy is the one called "tell and sell". This strategy involves being prepared to selling an argument. The problem is though that there is a need for a lot of time to prepare the argument and "wrap it up nicely".

Underscore and explore

Underscore and explore is another communication strategy that attempts to make it interesting and make the receiver come to the communication responsible for more information getting them hook by interest. On the other hand it can be time consuming and if the receiver is not interested at all it is a waste.

Identify and reply

Identify and reply is the communication strategy that tries to identify what issues the receiver might have with the project. Then getting them to understand the necessity or the need of the project or the problem they might have. It will often demand some information about what the receiver dislikes and likes about the project and that might be hard to get.

Withhold and uphold

The communication strategy "Withhold and uphold" is simply to keep the information until it is absolutely necessary before telling. It can be difficult to keep the information for that long and it is rarely appreciated by the receiver.

Mistakes in communication

Communication is an art and even though it takes place all the time and some would argue more at this day then in the past there is still some critical mistakes that happens when communicating in a project. Some of those mistakes are here summed up by the given examples in [5]. There is a good example saying that 41% says that to little, late or bad communication is the main reason for the negative feelings towards the project [5] p. 272.


The sound of silence in a project can be one of the reasons for the wrong communication. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting an answer and no answer is given. We often want to have the answer right away and can not really wait until tomorrow. The same is relevant in projects where the stakeholder often ask "what does it mean for me". Building a highway next to some houses is an example where the questions might rise about the noise, the time, the value of the house and so on. A stakeholder who are kept in the dark is probably more likely to be unwilling to cooperate.

Big Bang, followed up by silence

Imagine that the project is started and you told that the department will be moved from Copenhagen to Aarhus, then nothing. That must be one of the must unpleasant situations to be in. There is missing a notice about the consequences as well as the time and duration. In some cases there might even come a time where the stakeholder starts to think about whether or not the project have started or if it have been cancelled.

Abstract and extraneous language

If there is no communication specific for the stakeholder then they might miss the point. One example could be if the responsible for the project communication communicates in the same way to the layer as well as the mason. The mason will probably not think that the subject is relevant for him/her. Therefore the mason might be left thinking if it is something they should carer about or if it is none of his/her business.

It is forgotten that there should be two to a complete a dialogue

When it is always one way communication then there is a problem. There is nothing being discussed by one party always being the one giving orders but not opening up for any answers or dialogue. This instance can easily be contributing to important information not being delivered back to sender.

Action speaks louder than words

This is a classic mistake where one thing is said but the opposite is shown. If for instants a company should lower their budget but the sales team gets a team building trip to say Aspen, Colorado in USA then the people on floor might be a bit sceptical about the idea. It is a classical way of thinking that the leader should lead and therefore be the first to take on the cut down on the expenses. Otherwise there is probably not much support to gain from the workforce.

The wrong messenger

It is often more important who delivers the message instead of what the message really is. In many cases it is not ideal that it is the new coming head of department that delivers the message instead of the CEO that everyone trust and respect.

The examples given is just some of the main mistakes that happens when communicating but many other can occur.

Network Mapping as an communication tool

Network Mapping can be an effective tool for getting information out in the right way. This is because it enables the user to map the network and then identifying the different groups communicate through the right people. First there is a need identify the right people and thereby "drawing" the network diagram, then when all the nodes (people) have been identified the next step is to know there opinion. It can easily be done by asking the right questions through a survey and interviews, this could be done by the communicating responsible. The presented roles can then be identified in the network. By using the central connector to communicate there is a big chance of getting to many people through one person. The boundary spanner is an important figure to get positive on behave of the project because the boundary spanner is the only connection to a group or an individual. If the boundary spanner is against the project then there is a need for much more attention to the group than otherwise. Using the information broker the project manager might get out to many specific groups or individuals at the same time. The peripheral specialist will always be hard to reach but can be important because of the special knowledge. The steps is then as follows:

Map the network

Start by mapping the network by using surveys and interviews to gain the knowledge of the internal relations.

Identify the different roles

Find out whom is the central connector that most people trust and talks to, whom are the boundary spanners that talks to small groups, whom are the information broker that are having many important connections and whom are the peripheral specialist that can hold vital knowledge but be hard to reach. Remember that groups can easily form group thinking and thereby be very locked in there interpretation of the consequences of the project.

Make a communication plan

In order to make a communication plan one should:

  • Find out who the target audience is and how to reach them through the network diagram.
  • Be very sure about what the message is that should be delivered and make sure that it is a clear message.
  • Find the right channels for communication this includes figuring out if it should be by email, sms or verbal communication. This also includes finding the right people that should get and understand the message such at the boundary spanner.
  • Be sure to know what effect is wanted from the message and what consequences that effect might have.
  • Time the message; do not make the mistake of making people wait in the dark for the more information or come out with a big bang and then silence; be sure to tell when they can expect more information and be sure to follow up on that.
  • Appoint someone as the communication responsible, ideally the central connector in the Network diagram whom already have the right connections. If that person is not ideal one should still remember that the opinion of that person will be more strong and come out to more people that yours.
  • Chose the right communication strategy, should it be told to everyone at the same time or is it sold as an idea? Every communication strategies have something good and something bad about it.

The importance of communication is known to most project managers but it is often underestimated and that can be very destructive for the project.


  1. Aligica, 2006, Institutional and Stakeholder Mapping: Frameworks for Policy Analysis and Institutional Change
  2. Battliana & Casciaro, 2013, The Network Secrets of Great Change Agents
  3. Cross, R., & Prusak, L. (2002). [ The People Who Make Organizations Go–or Stop The article describes the different roles in a network and how to spot the different actors.]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Stakeholder Management, The Wiki page is concentrated about the importance of the stakeholders and the classification of the stakeholder. It then goes on to defining the influence and visualizing it though the stakeholder matrix.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Attrup, M. L., & Olsson, J. R. (2008). Power i projekter & portefølje (2nd ed.). DJØF Forlag. This is the perfect project management handbook that gives an introduction to the tools and processes important for the project and portfolio manager
  6. Risk Identification, This Wiki page gives a good overview of how to identify the risk and classify the risk at hand
  7. Hayes, J. (2014). The Theory and Practice of Change Management (4th ed.). Palgrave Macmillan Limited (Marts 2014). The book gives the reader a look into the wonders of change management and gives the project manager a introduction to the network and communications strategies
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