In my project management workshops, I ask this question, "What are the top causes of project failure?" Nine times out of ten, I hear the answer—poor communication. Hence, let's look at how to improve your project communication.
There are many ways in which project managers communicate — coaching, summarizing action items, influencing a stakeholder, educating team members, listening, facilitating decisions, creating a contract with a third party, escalating an issue, and meeting with a project sponsor, to name a few.
What happens when poor communication exists? Stakeholders get the wrong information. Others get the right information but at the wrong time. Consequently, individuals misunderstand and make bad assumptions.
"Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people." –Jim Rohn
Here's the bottom line -- poor communication drives projects into an abysmal valley. Your reputation is marred. The cost of your project spirals out of control. Heck, your team may even abandon ship.
The Purpose Driven Project Manager
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7 Attributes of Great Project Communicators
If you want to improve your communication, consider these powerful attributes of great communicators:
- Intentional. One of the best ways to improve project communication is through the development of a communication plan. Who do you need to communicate to? What should be communicated? When will the communication occur? How will you communicate (e.g., face-to-face, email, presentation, meetings)? Why is it important? Click here for a communication plan template.
- Clear. The best project managers are clear. Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders. What can you do to ensure clarity in your messages? Most noteworthy, lead by communicating in simple and clear terms.
- Relentless. Some project managers start out with a blast, communicating wonderfully. Somewhere along the way, they lose their steam. The project manager gets busy and fails to distribute minutes or fails to tell the developers about decisions to change the requirements. In contrast, the best project managers have a healthy habit of reviewing and updating their communication plan regularly and relentlessly executing the plan.
- Unforgettable. Your stakeholders are bombarded daily by information — advertising, emails, tweets, messaging, podcasts, and videos. What can you do to stand out? How can you communicate in a creative manner that catches your stakeholder's interest and keeps them coming back for more? For example, I once saw a quality assurance manager and her testing team dress up like bugs and invited team members to throw water balloons at them to celebrate a milestone in the number of bugs (i.e., software defects) that they found.
- Wise. One of the best things that a project manager can do is review the lessons learned from similar projects. What were the communication issues? What decisions were made? How were they made? What were the results of the decisions? There's no need to make the same mistakes of prior project managers.
- Honest. One of the most important attributes of a leader is honesty. People want to know that they are dealing with someone who is trustworthy and has their best interest in mind. Don't shade the truth or hide information intentionally. Furthermore, look for ways to be as transparent as possible.
- Harmonious. Finally, most of our communication comes through our body language such as facial expressions and gestures. Speech and tone of voice are also key. Want to enrich your communication? Make sure your words, body language, and speech are in alignment.
Find a Mentor
None of us are perfect communicators. We are blind to our bad habits. For years, I had a habit of looking up and away from the person to whom I was speaking. Why? I was thinking about how to solve the problem we were discussing. I was unaware of how this behavior was annoying others.
We don't know what we don't know. So, how can we discover our communication issues?
Ask a trusted mentor or friend to provide feedback on the communication strengths and weaknesses. What do you need to work on? Your writing skills. Your public speaking skills. Listening.
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"Intelligent leadership, creative communication and depth of technical skill all describe Harry Hall." –John Bartuska, Director of HR–ONUG Communications