Communication

Communication: The Secret to Project Success

Project management should be rebranded as communications management.

Think about it.  Project management is all about how to talk to one another, what information we convey, and what degree of clarity and alignment we can produce.

Good communication smooths the path forward and creates project success…

…while gaps in communication create misunderstandings, delays, resentment, missed deadlines, failed projects, and missed opportunities.

That’s why good project managers spend as much (or more!) time thinking about communications as they do about project specs and timelines.

Communication Gaps That Can Derail Your Project

Successful communication requires shared understanding. This is true whether it’s an emotional conversation with a significant other, a brief interaction with a stranger, or a work conversation with one of your team members. 

If you don’t have a shared base of context, knowledge, and understanding, then you’ll need to lay that foundation before successful communication can occur.

Of course, it’s not always easy to know when such a foundation is missing — especially when we’re focused on our own responsibilities and priorities.

In an organizational setting, the biggest gaps occur when we assume knowledge, clarity, or goal alignment from our teams, colleagues, and clients.

  • We may not have clear assignments, or due dates, yet we expect our teams to get the work done “on time.” When the project seems stuck, we get stressed.
  • Or we get wound up because someone doesn’t deliver what they promised — even though the request was ambiguous or the expectations unclear. 
  • Clients wonder why they can’t seem to get their vendor to respond or why it’s taking forever to get their work completed — but their team lacks clarity on what needs to get done, by whom, and when.
  • Or we’re blindsided by a major change in the project goals, scope, or specifications.  That surprise leads to time-wasting panic, turmoil, and chaos — all of which could have been avoided had someone thought to give the affected parties time to absorb the information, ask questions, and make plans for responding effectively.

All these scenarios (and many more) happen far too often in organizations and on project teams.  And they often result in project delays, budget overruns, and even project failure. Not to mention a lot of frustration.

The nice thing is that better communication within the project team is relatively easy to do — and can solve all those problems in one fell swoop.

7 Ways to Improve Project Outcomes

As the project manager, your job is to provide the context and information that people will need to deliver on their responsibilities. 

Here are 7 ways to tweak your communications, so your team functions better and your projects are more successful:

  1. Ask lots of questions. The best way to understand someone else’s perspective is to ask them about it.
  2. Get 100% clear on deadlines and deliverables, so you can eliminate missed deadlines and “off the mark” assignments. Check in frequently to be sure you and your team members are all on the same page.
  3. If you see warning signs that your project is losing momentum — investigate! Often you’ll find that the bottleneck is a lack of clarity — around who is responsible for what, what the real timelines and priorities are, or about who to go to for vital project information.
  4. When you see a major change headed your way, flag it for your team as soon as possible. Be sure to spend time thinking about everyone who might be affected, so the right information gets to the right people right away.
  5. Provide context. Your team can’t make good decisions if they don’t know the full context in which they’re operating.  Be sure your team is up to date on project goals and strategic initiatives, so they have the frameworks they need to make decisions that move the project in a beneficial direction.
  6. Pay attention to your own language — and how your team and stakeholders respond to it.  You may find yourself slipping into PM jargon like “success factors” and “benefits realization” — but for non-PMs, this language can feel opaque and off-putting. Make a practice of using straightforward language that clearly conveys your point. 
  7. Think about how your decisions and actions will affect others.  And when you identify someone that might be affected — by a changed deadline, a new project requirement, a shift in direction, or a new decision — be SURE that that information is communicated to whoever needs it. 

Without solid communication, the job of the project manager is 10 times harder — verging on impossible.  With it, things get surprisingly easy.  

So as you move through your day, practice keeping others’ perspectives in the back of your head.  Ask yourself:  Who needs to know what I’ve just done or decided?  

And then go tell them. 🙂

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