The Intangibles and Importance of Project Communication

In a recent post, I mentioned only 32% of projects could be considered successful (from the perspective of the 2009 Standish CHAOS report).  Looking further, it shows that of the other 68% more than a third of the projects are cancelled or are never delivered.  When examining success or failure of a project, it is important to consider two things.  First, nearly everything a project manager does is aimed at keeping a project successful and, where possible, optimizing its outcome.  Second, in their PMBOK publication, the Project Management Institute states that 90% of what a project manager does is communication –

  • communicating with internal management and resources,
  • communicating with the project team, and
  • communicating with the project client’s stakeholders, teams and management.

When a project moves into the red zone, the ability of the project manager (PM) to reverse or mitigate failure will be a function of how well the PM has established credibility and trust with internal and client teams.  This factor may even influence the ability of the service organization to positively influence a diminishing project circumstance.  Certainly, PM competence is important and tenure with the company and the client may help, but the integrity the PM has demonstrated during the project through honest action and communication might be the dominant factor.  This is when communication becomes really important and when it really comes into play.

How and when the PM alerts internal Services management to the endangered project will be crucial –

  • Is that communication timely and does it contain the right content in terms of problem identification and possible actionable items?
  • Does the actionable items list include thoughts and recommendations to alert the client and how?
  • Does it include escalating issues higher into the client organization?
  • Are there specific reasons to communicate with Product Engineering, Product Management, Sales or Support teams?
  • Should they be included in any escalation?
  • Does the PM come across as accountable?

Clear communication at this critical juncture will be as important as the timing.  The response and follow-up to the PM and the willingness of the respondents to engage in salvaging the project may depend on relationships established through prior communication.

Establishing good communication processes, templates and review is the only way to prepare for a failing or failed project.  Indeed, these things might have prevented failure in the first place.  If your service practice does not actively manage the broad spectrum of essential project communication, by the time you realize your weakness with this capability, it could be too late.  You might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your practice maintain a project communication template library?
  • Does your service management regularly review all project communication for all projects?
  • Does your practice actively evaluate processes involving stakeholder and project communication, as well as communication processes involving other internal teams including any project handoff materials?
  • Does your practice publish a communications process map that is available to Service teams and PMs?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may wish to assess the communication planning capabilities of your Project Delivery organization. This proactive step will afford you not only a better understanding of communication best practices you may wish to develop, but also a view to the broader spectrum of processes and capabilities required to consistently deliver successful projects.


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