Do we really need all of them?

by Jeremy Neuharth in


I was recently working to kick off a project and a discussion ensued regarding who should be on the project team.  Like many projects, there were names coming out of the woodwork getting tossed into the pile: developers, managers, back-up team members, subject matter experts, executives, and more.  As we went through this exercise, I was reminded of a brief but important section I talk about during some of my project management training classes: the Communication Channels Multiplier. 

The formula itself is really very simple.  Replace "N" with the number of people on the team and solve to find out how many communication channels you need to manage. 

N(N-1)/2

Lets take a few minutes and run some numbers through the formula and see what happens. 

  • People on the Team: 4
  • Communication Channels: 6 = 12/2 = 4(3)/2 = 4(4-1)/2
  • People on the Team: 7
  • Communication Channels: 21 = 42/2 = 7(6)/2 = 7(7-1)/2
  • People on the Team: 12
  • Communication Channels: 66 = 132/2 = 12(11)/2 = 12(12-1)/2
  • People on the Team: 25
  • Communication Channels: 300 = 600/2 = 25(24)/2 = 25(25-1)/2
  • People on the Team: 50
  • Communication Channels: 1,225 = 2,450/2 = 50(49)/2 = 50(50-1)/2

Look at the number of communication channels you need to manage grow!  With the exponential growth it is important for the project manager to understand the communication needs of the group.   The larger the group, the more structure needs to be in place in order to have successful communications. Below are some guidelines for the average project manager.

  • Twelve and below: Fairly informal structures and one-on-one communications are still effective. Most experienced project managers find these teams pretty easy to manage.
  • Thirteen to twenty-five: At minimum I would expect to start seeing area leads introduced.  The project manager needs to ensure some more formal structure and defined roles are in place.
  • Twenty-six to fifty: Should be switching from a project manager to more of a program manager.  Need to stay out of the weeds and make sure the different projects are interacting well together.
  • Fifty-one or more: A lot more effort needs to be focused on the vision and goals of the project.  Make sure that your project managers know what they are focused on and how they fit into the picture.  You cannot be in the weeds or you will be blown away.

Do you need to tackle all of it; can you break it down into phases or multiple projects?  Shorter projects often lead to quicker returns and happier stakeholders.  Whatever you do, make sure that you are paying
attention to the number of communication channels as communication is the single most important responsibility of any project manager.

Want to fine out more? Jeff Hodgkinson has written up a in-depth article about communication channel's over at the asapm website