Formal, Informal, Written, Verbal, and Everything Else

There are several categories of information. They can be as formal as a signed scope of work or as informal as a hallway conversation. They can be written in an e-mail or occur on the phone. All types of communications are necessary. The decision becomes what type of method to use.

For instance, if a contractor is about to breach their delivery of services contract on your project, a formal written notice of a breach warning may be necessary. If a team member is running behind on a task, an informal pep talk may be in order. Use the following as a guideline.

Formal Versus Informal

Formal communication is required if it represents material value to the project. If it is a discussion or agreement on scope, cost, or resources, a formal communication is necessary. If it is of nonmaterial value, then informal communication is acceptable. Asking for a quick update on a task during the middle of the week can be an informal communication. Asking for the official status during a status meeting can be a formal communication.

Written Versus Verbal

For project managers that have had projects go wrong, there always seems to be that one communication or decision that you wish you had documented. Deciding what should be written and what can stay verbal is a touchy road. You do not want to over document so that your written documentation loses effectiveness. However, you do not want to underdocument either. The same keys that applied to formal versus informal apply to written versus verbal. If it effects time, cost, or scope, then it should be written. If it is just a quick update or a status conversation, then it can stay verbal.

It may not always be easy to decide between the exactness of formal writing and the ambiguity of an informal verbal. Knowing the differences and making decisions up front should assist in navigating the communication paths.

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