How To Improve Communication On Your Projects
Poor 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, including remote working, and four areas to work on.
4 Reasons for Poor Project 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 project communication plan
The PMI also notes that high-performance organizations that finished 80% of projects are twice as likely to have communication plans in place than low-performing counterparts.
A project communication plan is a blueprint for communication processes during your project. The plan should help provide the right information to the right person at the right time in a format that works for them.
A plan becomes even more important when working with remote team members across multiple time zones.
Without a communication plan, your team will struggle to understand the objectives of the project and their role in achieving these goals.
They won’t know where to find documents, how to check the status of work, or who to ask for help with a task.
3. Lack of stakeholder engagement
If you don’t have a communication plan, you’ll also run into problems with stakeholder engagement and vendor management.
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.
4. No project management software
Too many tools combined with unclear assignments and remote team members can quickly lead to miscommunication.
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.
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.
If your team is working remotely, use the plan to set clear expectations around how often you need to meet and what channels should be used for particular purposes.
2. Engage stakeholders
Following from the previous point, take some time to align your communication plan with project stakeholders.
The process for identifying stakeholders starts as soon as the project charter is approved.
During this phase, you’ll create a stakeholder register, including communication preferences, and categorize stakeholders according to power, interest, influence, impact, and expectations.
Once the project is underway, you’ll monitor and adjust stakeholder communications to increase support and minimize any resistance to the project.
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% and increased 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? Do you use video for remote video calls?
It’s also important to identify your own communication style – passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive – and the communication preferences of your team so you can adjust your approach as needed.
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 approved project documents.
- Find, do, and update their tasks.
- Track the overall progress of the project.
- Log risks and issues.
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 been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.