This article was originally published on gantthead on June 13, 2001.

By Amber Nelson

One of the most important aspects of a project manager’s job is keeping all the players “in the loop.” For better or worse, we live in an age that provides us with the technological tools to share nearly everything with our clients, team members, vendors, consultants, and stakeholders. It can be incredibly tempting to forward a team member’s update e-mail to the whole team or fax a vendor’s bid to the client. But, frequently, that behavior, which feels so efficient, litters inboxes and eats up attention that should be focused on truly important information.

The most vital element in figuring out how much information is too much information is the initial decision about who needs what. Notice that I used the word “need” and not “who might be interested in the information,” or “who shared similar information with you on their project,” or “who you want to know you solved a problem they couldn’t.”

Who needs the information?
Yes, it may sound a little autocratic. And it may be a little uncomfortable at first to determine what someone else’s needs are. But relax: It’s not nearly as hardheaded as it sounds, and it gets easier as you go along.

Let’s start with your clients. Aside from regularly scheduled updates, your clients need to know when you’ve reached critical milestones. They need to know that you are staying on budget. And they should be alerted if any unforeseen circumstances require their input. That’s it.

Every time you send them a “for your information” e-mail, you are diminishing the attention they have for your truly important communications about budget or staffing. You are the project manager, and you should be able to handle the day-to-day decision-making. If you aren’t sending them information that they need, you shouldn’t be sending it.

If your clients really want to know how you arrived at the revised budget, they will ask and you can provide that data. If it’s important to a particular client that they are included in staffing decisions, certainly include them. But don’t assume they need all the information that crosses your desk.

As for your team members, they need any information that will help them do their jobs well. That may require a little more work on your part. Instead of drowning them with information, try dissecting lengthy documents and providing only the relevant parts to the appropriate team members. This will keep them abreast of any information they need without requiring that they dig through unnecessary pages.

Of course, these “need to know” guidelines will require you to keep track of the big picture in case someone has the time and interest to ask for additional background. Once you’re organized and have a long-range vision of your project, these “need to know” methods will become easier.

With a little forethought, some self-control, and a healthy dash of patience, you can provide all the players in your project with the information they need, when they need it. At the same time, you will avoid bombarding them with details they don’t really need and can’t really use. As with any new management tool, it might take a little getting used to, but, in the end, “need to know” is the way to go.

It’s your turn

How do you feel about “information overload,” and how do you approach it? Post a comment below or send us an e-mail.