Project members in a conference room

Number of Communication Channels (+ PMP Formula & Calculator)


The PMI methodology, set out in the Project Management Body of Knowledge, introduces the number of potential communication channels as a part of the communication requirements analysis. This type of analysis is a tool and technique of the “Plan Communications Management” process (ch. 10.1.2 in the PMBOK, 6th edition).

The goal of this analysis is to identify the information requirements of stakeholders of a project which includes the type and format of information to be shared.

What Is the Number of Potential Communication Channels in a Project?

The number of potential communication channels is an indicator of complexity. It takes into account that there is a considerable number of potential communication paths between and among team members and stakeholders (source) that grows exponentially with the number of people involved in a project. This is based on the (not unreasonable) assumption that each person could communicate with any other person within the project.

The concept of communications paths among team members and stakeholders is illustrated in this graphic:

Illustration: Potential Communication Channels in a team of 4
This graphic illustrates the communication paths (6 in total) for a team of 4 persons.
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What Is the Number of Potential Communication Channels Used For?

In practice, such number can be used as an indicator of the complexity of project communication tasks within a project. This might not be too relevant in smaller projects and some projects even decide not to use this indicator at all.

In large projects and so-called megaprojects, on the other hand, it can be an indicator of the extent and intensity of the project communication management required. This may include, for instance, allocation of dedicated resources to project communication roles proportional to the number of potential communication channels. Such considerations may be particularly relevant for projects prone to confusing or even false information exchange as well as for teams working on confidential matters.

It may also have an implication on decisions regarding the type of communication and the technology used.

How Is the Number of Potential Communication Channels Calculated?

While the 5th edition of the PMBOK defines a formula (which used to be asked in PMP exams as well), its 6th edition only mentions the number of potential communication channels, without setting out a formula. Therefore, the following subsection refers to the PMBOK 5th edition (ch, 10.1.2.1, p. 291-292).

The formula requires only one input parameter:

n = the number of stakeholders (or team members)

Formula to Calculate the Number of Communication Channels

The number of potential communication channels is calculated with the following formula:

Number of potential communication channels = n x (n-1)/2

In other words, the number of people involved is multiplied with itself after subtraction of 1 and subsequently divided by 2.

Example

Using the above formula, the number of communication channels evolve as shown in the following table:

Number of Persons (stakeholders or team members) Number of Potential Communication Channels
1 0
2 1
3 3
4 6
5 10
6 15
7 21
8 28
9 36
10 45
50 1225
100 4950
200 19900
500 124750
1000 499500

While there would not be any communication channel in a (hypothetical) project consisting of 1 single person, a team of 2 people has exactly one channel (i.e. two persons talking to each other). For a team of 3, it would be 3 channels as each member could talk to any of the other 2 teammates. The number increases significantly in larger teams – a project consisting of 10 people has already 45 channels, a project of 100 leads to 4950 possible communication paths.

Presented as a diagram, it shows an acceleration of the curves increase:

Increase of the number of communication channels (according to PMP methodology) depending on number of team members and stakeholders
The curve of the increase in the number of communication channels (y-axis) depending on the number of people involved (x-axis).

Calculator for the Number of Communication Channels

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Whether you need to quickly calculate the number of potential communication paths for your project, or whether you want to prepare for your PMP exam – our calculator will tell you the number of potential communication channels for any number of people: