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Why Projects Fail: Poor Communication

Feb 4, 2016 11:45:55 PM / by Travis H

LabyrinthThis is part of an ongoing series about overcoming common reasons behind project failure.

You're probably already aware of the fact that poor communication is a notorious project killer and you are probably not surprised that a Project Management Institute report labeled poor communication as one of the primary factors in project failure.

“Ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.” - PMI

The question remains, though: With this level of awareness, why does it continue to ruin projects day after day?

Failures due to poor communication can have clear warning signs as in the famous 1999 Korean Airlines crash outside of London, but poor communication can also sneak into a project and lead it to failure without anyone noticing until it is too late.

Change the channel

To avoid project communication pitfalls, it's important to understand the various types of communication that take place and the ways these channels can be effective or damaging.

Effective communication does not just take place face-to-face in meetings, nor is it restricted to emails, calls, and messages. In fact, some of the best ways to communicate is to avoid the email thread and phone tag altogether. By allowing your team to access centralized, up-to-date information at any time, you avoid the ad hoc status update requests and, heck, maybe you'll even be able to complete status meetings in under an hour.

If you really want to streamline communication and increase transparency, put project information in a single location that can be accessed from anywhere at anytime. Give your team a single source of truth where understanding the status of a project is as easy as looking at a dashboard rather than having to sift through an inbox.

Additionally, make sure the system ensures that people are reminded of upcoming activities and commitments. If you can provide your team with a live project page that they can pop open first thing in the morning and assess what they need to accomplish for the day, they can actually use the time that they would have spent figuring their tasks out.

The simple stuff matters

Simple actions, such as organized agendas, meeting minutes, and action items are incredibly valuable. Keeping people reminded of the small details and having smaller building blocks to check off not only makes the project seem to move along more quickly, but also more smoothly.

It can be tempting to let simple actions slip because they can feel like extra work, but in reality, keeping good notes and checking off completed tasks takes very little time. Meanwhile the reward is a digest of your team's success as well as a clear picture of where each piece of the project actually stands.

Talking to the top

Without adequate support from executive management, project managers risk losing resources and risk losing the attention from other executives necessary for project success.

In fact, according to PMI, "1 in 3 unsuccessful projects fails to meet goals due to poorly engaged sponsors."

At the same time, without effective communication from a project manager, executive sponsors can be left feeling like they are holding all of the accountability for a project but without adequate knowledge of how it is progressing. Getting support from executive sponsors, while important, is often done ineffectively and can even be perceived as rude if performed without care.

Engage often -- Keeping a project sponsor up-to-date is one of the tasks of project management that is simple to do, but rarely done effectively. Naturally, if a sponsor asks you to inform them on a less frequent basis, do so, but it is always best to air on the side of higher frequency to avoid a sponsor feeling left out of the project. Frequent engagement will also help your cause should you need to request additional resources or rally support from your sponsor's peers.

Executive summaries -- It is important to involve a project sponsor often, but to also keep in mind that you do not want to overwhelm them with the nitty gritty details.

Understand accountability -- Recognizing that you and your sponsor have put up your reputations for the sake of the project may seem obvious, but not often do we acknowledge both parties for their accountability in any marked way. If a project begins going south for whatever reason, it is vital that the project manager and sponsor have established mutual respect.

It's necessary that this respect extends far enough that the sponsor does not feel they can just exit and leave the failure to the project manager and the project manager does not underestimate the ramifications that a failed project can have on a sponsor's reputation. This doesn't mean trapping one another, but it does mean that every sponsor relationship that a project has must be taken seriously and not just in terms of how many resources a sponsor can provide.

Final Thoughts

Don't let poor communication be the reason your project failed. Instead, pay careful attention to the channels you use to communicate, to the small details and notifications, and to the communication that you have with your sponsor. Good communication is not just a cornerstone of good project management; it also brings about other benefits in terms of your continued relationships with your project team and your sponsor.

Found this article useful? Download the full Why Projects eBook here.

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Topics: Project Management

Travis H

Written by Travis H

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