Project Communications – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Part 1 of 3)

Many of you have heard the old adage of “Communicate: Communicate: Communicate” as a preamble by a Project Manager at a project kickoff meeting?  You sit there and try to see the significance of this statement and your role in the project.  But the project manager sounded so sincere and purposeful when he/she said it that everyone nodded their head up and down and with everyone having their own interpretation.  You had the feeling this project manager will ensure communications be a key component of the overall projects plan. 
Wrong!  The real interpretation is : I don’t know what to do to create an effective communication plan to ensure our projects stakeholders remain positive and supportive.  Also, I will probably not approve all of the appropriate communications resources, adequate time to perform planning, and help take away any obstacles that might pop up during the project.  Not because it’s a bad idea, but more like when pressure point’s come up, communications will not be on top of the list.
A significant number of new projects begin with this naive understanding of communications that also reflects the high percentage of project failures (or even less than successful) masked by other reasons.  I have been on project teams, as the Communications Lead, where the Project manager talked a good line: but when I submitted the communications plan, there was little support for funds, the timetable needed, access to key stakeholders or adequate communications resources. 
Have you been involved in any projects where ineffective communications created roadblocks? 
Two weeks before the projects baseline, I needed to finalize my planned stakeholder discovery and analysis but the Project Manager said “we didn’t want to distract our project team or customers so we should bypass this communications step”.  Ok: now we are flying blind and the project has not even started.  I shouldn’t be too hard on Project Managers but sometimes it’s amazing how little they appreciate the need for communications planning.  The positive side of the coin, many Communications Leads are getting good at communications crisis management.
Project Communications is an end-to-end process of understanding your project and stakeholder needs and then developing and disseminating effective events to satisfy those needs.  Notice I said events and not messages.  Many of the communications related problems could have easily been minimized if each of the stakeholder groups is correctly identified and their communications requirements established.
One misunderstanding is the scope of what a communications event should include.  The obvious is the “push” communications like newsletters, announcements, web sites, status reporting, meeting minutes: etc.  But what about projects where the users of the project need to understand and accept changes. 
An example could be an IT project where new features are added to existing software that impacts the end-users.  The communications plan needs to address the end-user needs and carry them through the evolution of 1) awareness, 2) anticipation, 3) active role and 4) acceptance.  This need would require unique communications activities designed and deployed in addition to all of the other aspects of the communications program.
What about projects with team members and stakeholders scattered over the company, country or world?  Project communications can play a big part in building effective virtual teams, creating a central point for information and creating a forum where real-time collaboration is possible.  With the technology we have today, there are many options that we didn’t have 2-3 years ago.
What communications tools or vehicles work best for your projects?
Also, in addition to the above examples, being able to establish a good communications feedback system tied to communications metrics further expands the scope of communications.  We have all been on projects where a period of time passes when a whole group of stakeholders have formed an opposition to the direction of the project: but no one had a clue regarding their feelings.
Please share any examples of how ineffective communications have caused setbacks in projects you have participated in.  Also, identify a simple solution that could have been implemented to prevent this problem from happening.
In addition to responding to this blog: you can also contact me directly at to discuss specific project communications related questions you might have, or visit my new website .


About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top