When I teach project management, I often ask, “What are the top contributors to challenged or failed projects?” Without exception, I hear—poor communication. Project managers understand the importance. How can we improve? Let’s look at five bad communication habits to avoid and what to do about each.
1. Communicating only once.
Busy Billy blasts an email containing the project charter to all his stakeholders. He quickly moves on to other project management tasks, relieved that he’s done his part in getting everyone on the same page. He never mentions it again.
This scenario reminds me of the husband who told his wife 30 years ago that he loved her. She hasn’t heard those words since. But he thinks he’s done his job. Spouses (and project stakeholders) need to hear things more than once.
How to improve: Plan your communication activities. For example, the project sponsor and project manager could review the project charter in the kick-off meeting. Bill could periodically review the charter with his project team to ensure that the team is aligned with the original intent of the project.
2. Giving stakeholders irrelevant information.
Some project managers email the project documents to all stakeholders including the project schedule, budget, process improvement plans, weekly status reports, project risks, and stakeholder analysis, to name a few. What do you think the stakeholders do? Yes, most ignore the massive amounts of email, sometimes missing critical information.
How to improve: Tailor your communication to the needs of your stakeholders. When analyzing your stakeholders—particularly your high-power / high-interest stakeholders, ask about their communication preferences. What information would they like to receive? How would they like to receive it?
3. Communicating to everyone the same way.
We all develop habits, some good and some bad. Some project managers fall into the habit of communicating in only one or two ways such as email and weekly project meetings.
How to improve: Use a wider variety of communication channels including but not limited to:
- Instant messaging
- Teleconferences / Videoconferences
- Internal blogs
Also, have more face-to-face communication when possible. This allows you to improve communication. How? Body language and facial expressions can greatly enhance the understanding between you and your audience.
4. Thinking that communication will just happen.
Jovial Julie thinks people should naturally pick up on things in her projects. She jokes, “Why should I have to be the one to carry the burden of communication? We have professionals on my teams. I’ve got other project management responsibilities to handle.” Really?
How to improve: Be intentional about your communication. Develop and execute your communication plan. Periodically, review and update the plan. Ask for feedback from your stakeholders on how you can improve your communication.
5. Not planning your project meetings.
How often have you attended a project meeting and left mumbling—what’s was that all about? Many meetings are a complete waste of time. Why? Little thought was put into planning the meeting.
How to improve: First, Develop and distribute your meeting agendas prior to your meetings. Ask the meeting participants if they have agenda items they would like to include. Attach materials that participants should read and bring to the meeting.
Second, invite subject matter experts who can communicate the needed information and help the team analyze things.
Third, determine how you will facilitate the discussion points. Are there items in which you wish to brainstorm? Should you present a prototype? Will you illustrate with an example?
Lastly, determine how decisions will be made. Will the project sponsor make the final decision? Does the project team have the authority to make the decision? Perhaps, you—the project manager—plans to get the team’s input and make the decision.