Man drawing channels of communication

Communication Channels PMP®: Managing Project Communications

According to the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK® Guide, about 90% of a project manager’s time is spent communicating. Effective communication is critical to a project’s success since better communication leads to more efficient project management. For a PMP®, effective communication channels are absolute necessity.

One hurdle to good communication is communication complexity. PMP® exam candidates need to analyze communication requirements to plan, manage, and monitor project communications. Calculating the number of potential communication channels is part of this type of analysis.

Learn about managing project communications and calculating communication channels for the PMP® exam in this guide by your experts at Project Management Academy.

PMP Formula Cheat Sheet

PMP® Exam Formula Cheat Sheet

Learn how to successfully use project management formulas after reading this cheat sheet.

Communication Channels PMP® Explanation

Communication channels help PMP® credential holders conceptualize how information is shared between project team members and other stakeholders. As a PMP® exam candidate, you can calculate the number of communication channels to identify potential communication issues and implement ways to keep project communications under control.

Knowing the number of potential communication channels can help project managers make informed decisions regarding what kind of information needs to be shared, the best format, delivery method, timing, and more.

Elements of effective communication

The process of communicating something between individuals involves several elements:

  • Context: the time, space, reason, or organizational structure involved
  • Message: the information, idea, opinion, or whatever else being shared
  • Sender: the person who sends the message with some intent in mind
  • Receiver: the person who receives the message and interprets it
  • Medium: some method of communicating the message
  • Feedback: some form of response or follow-up initiated as a reaction to the message

For example, at the start of a project (context), a project manager (sender) may call (medium) a customer (receiver) to confirm the specifications of a requested deliverable (message), and the customer may respond with the requested information (feedback).

Why communication matters in project management

When we communicate with others, we are trying to share information, ideas, and common ground with them. Projects revolve around and depend upon efficient communication from the moment an idea is shared through the entire life span of the project. Here are some ways communication is used during a project:

  • To convey ideas and opinions
  • To request or share information
  • To establish terms and get on the same page
  • To provide timely updates, confirmations, and approvals
  • To resolve disagreements

Unfortunately, you can never assume a message will be received and interpreted as intended. Many factors can create issues and cause communication to break down. These factors are often referred to as “noise” and can involve elements such as personal bias, the medium used to send the message, or errors in the message itself.

One gauge of your project’s communication complexity is the number of potential communication channels. The more channels there are, the more opportunity there is for “noise” to cause miscommunication.

Miscommunication and communication channels PMP®

Miscommunication is a common problem in project management that can affect project elements such as cost, schedule, and quality. Communication is complicated by the number of people participating. As more people get involved, miscommunication becomes a more likely problem.

The number of potential communication channels grows exponentially with the number of people involved in a project since we can safely assume each person can communicate with any other person. For example, if only two people are involved in a project, there is just one potential communication channel:

Two People Form a Communication Channel

However, if four people are involved in a project, the number of potential communication channels jumps up to six:

Six Communication Channels

Rather than mapping out all the possible communication channels for larger projects, PMP exam candidates can use a simple formula to calculate the number.

Communication Channels Formula PMP

The formula to calculate the number of potential communication channels for the PMP® exam is:

Communication Channels PMP

In this formula, n represents the number of stakeholders. A stakeholder can include any individual, group, or organization who is part of or affected by any part of the project. Although the term “stakeholder” sometimes excludes people who are part of the project team, you should include project team members in your communication channels calculation for the PMP® exam.

Knowing the number of stakeholders allows you to use this formula to calculate how complex your project communications could be. For example, in a project with five stakeholders, there are ten possible communication channels. In a project with twenty stakeholders, there are 190 possible communication channels.

Potential Communication Channels

This formula accounts for the possibility any individual stakeholder could hypothetically communicate with any other stakeholder. As you can see from the line graph above, this can cause the number of potential communication channels to increase rapidly as the number of stakeholders rises. With so many possible communication channels, the likelihood of miscommunication occurring somewhere also grows.

Studying for the PMP Exam?

Communication Channels PMP® Exam Application

Your project depends on the vital project management tool of effective communication. That is why Project Communication Management is one of the ten key knowledge areas in the PMBOK® Guide. Understanding the project management processes related to communication, including calculating communication channels, is crucial to scoring well on the PMP® exam.

Main processes in Project Communication Management

As part of the PMBOK® Guide knowledge area of Project Communication Management, PMP® credential holders can use their knowledge of communication channels to identify ways to plan, manage, and monitor communications. In other words, calculating the number of potential communication channels in a project helps project managers as they carry out the following three processes:

  • Plan Communications Management: In this process, project managers must strategize the best ways to approach communication between stakeholders. Knowing how many communication channels potentially need to be managed can help you discover and understand the ideal strategies for planning communications management.
  • Manage Communications: In this process, project managers must execute and control communication with and between stakeholders as strategized in the Plan Communications Management process. It’s essential to be aware of all the potential communication channels so you can identify areas that require your attention and management.
  • Monitor Communication: In this process, project managers must identify and monitor communication channels to keep an eye on the flow of information and detect any information requirements. This process can include blocking or limiting certain communication channels to prevent or correct any potential miscommunication.

Smaller projects may have fewer stakeholders who need to communicate together. In these cases, calculating communication channels may not be essential to performing the processes within the Project Communication Management knowledge area. Some smaller projects even decide not to use communication channels as an indicator of project complexity at all.

However, larger projects typically benefit from calculating the number of potential communication channels. This number helps indicate how complex your needs are for Project Communication Management. By extension, this knowledge can help you allocate your resources, choose the right tools and mediums, and assign project roles accordingly to streamline communications.

In addition, even small projects can sometimes be prone to communication errors. If your project deals with confusing, misleading, or confidential information, or if your project involves many stakeholders or teams, calculating communication channels can be helpful.

Types of Communication Channels Formula PMP® Questions

The purpose of calculating communication channels is to represent the complexity of your project’s communication requirements numerically. You may receive a few PMP® exam questions about communication channels asking you to use the formula to calculate the number of potential communication channels.

It’s extremely unlikely the PMP® exam will ask you to calculate “backward” to identify the number n of stakeholders when given the number of communication channels. However, you may get PMP® exam questions designed to confuse you in isolating the number n in the communication channels formula.

For example, let’s say one of your questions describes a project with four project team members, including the project manager. In addition, your project involves two people on the client’s side. Here, n = 6 because there are six total stakeholders: four project team members and two client team members.

In another example, imagine you are leading a team of five members. As part of your project, you are also working with three vendors. Here, n = 9 because you have to count yourself, your five team members, and your three vendors: 1 + 5 + 3 = 9.

Examples of PMP Communication Channel Questions

Are you ready to test your knowledge? Try these example PMP exam questions to apply your understanding of communication channels. Don’t forget to check your answers to these questions at the bottom of the page.

You are a Team Facilitator responsible for 9 other people but 3 more are added. How many additional communication channels are there?3330378
A project team has 10 members including a quality specialist. The project manager hires two domain consultants to the team. What is the change in the number of communication channels as a result of this expansion in the team?Increases by 20Increases by 21Increases by 22Increases by 44

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  1. A. Formula to use: n(n-1) / 2. There are 10 people altogether (you plus 9 others): Initially 10(9) / 2 = 45. Add 3 more people: 13(12) / = 78. Channels added: 78 – 45 = 33
  2. B. Number of communication channels in the original team = 109/2 = 45 Number of communication channels in the expanded team = 12(11) / 2 = 66, thus it increased by 21.

Communication Channels PMP Summary

Calculating the number of potential communication channels in a project helps project managers perform Project Communication Management, including planning, managing, and monitoring communications. Your PMP exam may have a few questions on this topic.

Using the communication channels PMP exam formula results in a number that demonstrates the importance of efficient communication for your project. This number also helps you conceptualize how complex your project’s communication needs are and identify information requirements, areas to block communication, and more.

Do you have any other questions about communication channels and other essential project management concepts for the PMP exam? Our Project Management Academy PMP Certification Training courses offer all the resources you need to pass the PMP exam on your first try.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO