How To Improve Communication On Your Projects
Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Author (1906-2001)
Every day, we communicate in person, on the phone, by email, text or online. The human brain actually evolved to favor our social nature, meaning that we are hard-wired to communicate with others.
Despite our natural predisposition to social interaction, communication is a common cause of project failure.
Research conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) found that ineffective communication was the main contributor to project failure one-third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.
More worrying is the finding that 56% of budgets allocated to projects are at risk due to poor communication.
Communication can make or break your project, helping or hindering team collaboration.
Understanding the roots of poor communication and the impact of this risk is critical to developing a communication plan that works.
Keep reading to learn how to improve communication on your projects. We’ll take a look at some reasons why communication fails and four areas to work on.
3 Reasons for Poor Communication
1. We take it for granted
Communication often fails because we take it for granted. Project managers assume that communication takes place as project teams attend in-person and virtual meetings, use emails and IM, update documents and so on.
In reality, fragmented communication happens in several different places. Lacking real visibility and direction, team members scramble to understand the big picture.
2. No communication plan
The PMI also notes that high-performance organizations who finished 80% of projects are twice as likely to have communication plans in place than low-performing counterparts.
Without a communication plan, project contributors will not understand the objectives of the project and their role in achieving these goals.
Additionally, various contributors and stakeholders will have different expectations, which can lead to conflicts and delays.
3. Stakeholder engagement
It is estimated that 1 in 3 projects fail due to poor stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders are critical to project success; failure to communicate regularly with stakeholders can undermine internal support for your project.
2 Consequences of Poor Project Communication
Poor communication can have a domino effect that results in project failure. There are several consequences of ineffective communication; here are two issues to consider.
1. Requirements management
47% of failed projects are linked to requirements management. Within these failed projects, 75% reported that poor communication led to misplanned requirements.
This makes sense as many of tools for gathering requirements such as focus groups, meetings, and interviews rely on clear communication from both the project manager and various contributors.
If everyone has a different understanding of the requirements, you’ll quickly have to manage:
- Scope creep
- Resource shortages
- Solutions that do not meet the original objectives
- Damaged relationships with stakeholders.
Collaboration is impossible without communication between the team!
From clear task instructions to asking questions, brainstorm sessions, and problem-solving, communication is needed to keep the team on track.
Collaboration is heavily reliant on active listening as team members must be willing to compromise and be open to new ideas whilst also presenting respectful challenges as needed.
Poor communication can quickly isolate team members, who become disconnected from the purpose of the project, their roles, and the value of their contributions.
Work is executed in silos and conflicts quickly arise as individuals lose track of completed and upcoming tasks.
It should be pretty clear that poor communication can undermine your project in several areas. If you want to take some steps to address poor project communication, read on.
4 Ways to Improve Communication On Your Projects
1. Have a plan
As noted above, communication plans increase project success. A communication plan will make it easier to say the right thing in the right way to the right people using the best tools.
Your plan should include what needs to be communicated, how often, channels (email, meetings, etc) and individual responsibilities.
For example, the plan could state that a progress report will be shared via email with all stakeholders on Mondays. This report will be emailed automatically from the project site, so it’s essential team members have updated their tasks before they leave on Friday.
You should also look at improving current tools, for example, reports shared as PowerPoint decks.
2. Engage Stakeholders
Following from the previous point, take some time to align your communication plan with project stakeholders.
How often do stakeholders need to receive updates? Do some stakeholders prefer email or phone calls? Do stakeholders like detail or high-level information? Do some stakeholders want to read information ahead of meetings so they can prepare?
3. Encourage Team Communication
A 2012 study published in the Harvard Business Review discovered that communication is the key indicator of a team’s success.
Researchers found that face-to-face conversations and social interactions increased engagement, employee satisfaction, and productivity. Email and texting were the least valuable forms of communication.
In one instance, scheduling the team’s coffee breaks at the same time increased employee satisfaction by 10% with an associated growth in revenue.
Take a look at how your team currently engages with each other. Is email the primary communication tool? Do you have break-out areas to encourage quick conversations? Are meetings enjoyable and energizing?
Strive for a team culture that facilitates positive, open communication.
4. Use project management software
Implementing a ‘single source of truth’ such as a SharePoint project site for the team and stakeholders will help communication.
A project site makes it easy for the team to:
- Understand the goals of the project.
- Access and use agreed project documents
- Find, do, and update their tasks.
- Track the overall progress of the project.
Real-time dashboards also provide stakeholders with high-level data for enhanced project visibility.
It takes time to change how people work. At BrightWork, we use the REP approach to making successful changes:
- Research an area to improve. Pick 1-2 ideas to start using.
- Execute these new approaches for a few weeks, keeping notes of what works.
- Reflect on your experiences with a post-mortem.
Keep repeating the cycle!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2016 and has updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.