4 Simple Ways to Improve Project Communication


One of the common problems executives and team members face within an organization is poor project communication. According to a study conducted by PMI, “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.”

Ok, picture this! You are the end user of a system implementation project that kicks off with a lot of fanfare. Boom! Congratulatory emails are flying around and everybody is high-fiving each other on a job well done. You are excited and eagerly waiting for the project to finish.

But a few weeks after project kicks off… crickets! You don’t hear much. Occasionally you run into a project member in the cafeteria and you hear pieces of what’s happening. You assume everything is alright.

After some time, you get an email out of the blue that the project is delayed. Hmmm. Now you are wondering if you missed an email before this email. You wonder, what the heck happened? Sound familiar?

Here’s another scenario…

You are the project manager. You talk to key project members all the time. You keep them apprised what’s going on. From your eyes, they are plugged in. Weeks before the project is supposed to go live, a design issue surfaces during testing. Inevitably the project is delayed. You communicate the delay and all hell breaks loose.

Your cross-functional team is surprised by the news. You are surprised that they are surprised. After all you thought they are plugged in. You plugged them in – right?? Has this happened to you before?

Communication gaps exist not only within projects but even at an organizational level. A 2012 study by Salesforce says, 86% of the executives cite ineffective communication as a reason for workplace failures.

It is no surprise such communication gaps lead to undesirable consequences such as:

  • Incorrect assumptions within teams
  • Unnecessary friction
  • Increased churn
  • Rumor mongering
  • Lack of trust
  • Low morale

When executives are posed with these challenges, their immediate reaction is to deploy a tool. Ironically, there are more communication tools at our disposal now than ever before. Yet we are less communicative.

How do you eliminate these silos and operate as one team? How do you avoid such misunderstandings? What if you are in a start-up or part of a small project team that doesn’t have the luxury of a project management office?

Regardless of your organization size or which communication medium you use, here are a few simple ways to improve your relationship with stakeholders and get that credibility back. These techniques can be helpful for both new and experienced project managers.

1. Make it Predictable

First technique is to remove the guesswork out of the picture. People get frustrated when there is no predictable way to get information. Regardless of your team size, keep everyone notified regularly.

Send a weekly email or post a blog on your team site or have a weekly call. Set a cadence that works for you and your team to push the information to them. Key here is to push the information. Even if there is no update to share, teams appreciate when you proactively say I have nothing to share now.

2. Make it Transparent

Predictability gives a sense of security. It is also table stakes. It allows you to get your foot in the door, but still does not break the proverbial walls between teams.

Transparency does. It breeds trust.

We tend to communicate when things go well, because it’s easy to deliver good news. Let’s face it, not everything is going to go well per plan. And when it does not, we go radio silent.

Social psychologists call this the “Mum effect” – It is the hesitation we have when delivering bad news. Withholding bad news is one of the biggest contributors to project failures.

Fear of consequence could be a key factor in driving this behavior when one is communicating up. Reality is, when you are transparent with your fellow team members they will be more understanding of your challenges and there is a high chance you might even get the help you need.

One of the key traits of a project manager is to be objective. You have to be viewed as Switzerland. Providing a transparent view into your project helps you get there.

3. Make it Engaging

One sure way to lose your stakeholders is to bombard them with information. In every meeting, recite them the bug log and tell them how it’s getting fixed, you are guaranteed they will tune out.

Surprised? In the book “Made to Stick”, authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath prove that people remember stories (63%) more than statistics (5%).

Some project managers tend to narrate finer execution details, because there is comfort in hiding behind complexity. It is one way to tell others we have a good handle on the project. Reality is, your project stakeholders could care less. They are interested in what is in it for me?.

Compared to a decade ago, our attention span is shortening. In fact, our attention span is less than that of a gold fish now.

So, here are a few ways to make your communication effective:

  • Keep your message simple and clear. Our brain processes it better.
  • Keep it conversational. It helps build quick rapport and credibility.
  • Present only relevant topics your audience is interested in. It shows you care.
  • Provide context. We retain information when you present it in the right context.
  • Adjust the level of details according to your audience. For instance, if it is for senior executives, keep it at a high-level and highlight the key risks in meeting the project goals.

4. Make sure they are heard

As with everything else, keep fine tuning your communication by listening and incorporating their feedback. Are they getting the needed visibility? If not, what is missing? What is that they find useful? What is that they find not useful?

Include a survey after you have delivered it. Those who care will speak up. At first you may not like what you hear, but if you break it down to the core of their issues and address it, they can be your staunch supporter.

In the end, a successful project delivery entails many individuals coming together and singing off the same sheet of music. Communication by itself is not going to solve all organizational issues. However many companies struggle at a basic level due to poor communication and change management practices. Hopefully this post triggered some ideas on how to resolve those basic challenges.

Do you have a technique that worked well for you? I’d love to hear your perspective. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you found this post useful, I’d greatly appreciate if you shared within your network. Someone might benefit when you share.

(Originally appeared on LinkedIn)

Image: (c) Can Stock Photo

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