Nov 16, 2010

Four Deadly Sins of Project Communication

1. Lying
In real world, things DO go bad for one reason or the other. Estimates go wrong, unforeseen risks come up, unknown problems delay activities, and resources leave during course of project execution. Of course in the end project manager not only has to manage all the things but also communicate project status to stakeholders. When everything is hunky-dory project status reporting is an easiest thing to do but when tides have turned, this same task becomes most difficult of all. Some of us in these tough times resort to lying, or to put it mildly, twist truth to make it digestible for clients. While this may work once/twice, only truth based project management yields better results in long run. Twisting truth not only further complicates matters; it adds another thing to worry about in project manager’s head. Therefore, no matter how much it makes sense in certain circumstances, lying or twisting facts is the biggest sin in project communications (both internal and external).

2. Underestimating listener’s intelligence
Whether listener is client or a team member, end user or functional manger, doubting their understanding capability or intelligence is really un-wise. They may not understand technical things, they may not understand us – project manager’s – jargon, they may only know about part of a project and miss whole picture, but their presence and views are important for project’s success. Trusting them, speaking in their language of understanding and explaining things to them when they forget or don’t understand is the only recommended practice.

3. Making people confused
Creating confusion by communication is a worst harm project manager can do to a project. Creating ‘Stakeholder Register’ and planning ‘Stakeholder Management Strategy’ is indeed very important but also important is the way you communicate information. A good project manager would prepare facts and information well before any communication (verbal, in-person or written). She may put down in notes or just number them in her mind and then she would communicate them one-by-one. Talking and writing clearly, without making an unnecessary links or giving examples, is a key to successful communication. When asked questions, think about it for a second and then answer objectively.

Finally, never rule out what you said earlier. Even if circumstances has changed and you want to backtrack to what you said before, mention what you said earlier and explain why have you changed your views now.

4. Using inappropriate form of communication
There are number of communication channels: email, meeting, phone/skype call, chat, in-person meetings etc. A good project manager use appropriate form of communication for information dissemination. Each kind of communication is appropriate for different kind of information, for example emails are great for conveying information while phone calls/in person meeting are great for discussing particular issues.

"I'm sure you did a great job" could be read sarcastically in an e-mail, but the same words can be delivered sincerely in person with the right tone of voice.
Furthermore, some people are listeners, while others are readers. Listeners won't focus on written memos but are great in conversation. Readers write great memos and are also glad to read them, but conversation sometimes fails to fully engage them. If you talk to a reader or write to a listener, your message might not get through. Don't be afraid to ask people how they prefer to receive information; most people know the answer. If they don't, a little attention on your part will reveal what works best. (And for some people, it's a combination of the two.)


ProgLdr said...

Greetings - Bravo
Effective communication is key and the appropriate form and its accompanying etiquette are requisites.

Ethics are an imperative - on time, on budget, quality, quantity are essential to effective project leadership.

I also feel abuse of relationships either with the client or the company, an undue image of self is very detrimental to the entire effort.

Lisa McDermott said...


Effective and appropriate communication is crucial to the success of any project, Honesty, integrity, mutual respect and clear information and messages should not be underestimated.