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This series of emails describes the five most common project management mistakes. In the past three weeks we have looked at a lack of planning (#1), poor scope change management (#2) and not keeping your schedule up-to-date (#3).
PROJECT MANAGEMENT MISTAKE #4: Poor project communication will cause many projects to end unsuccessfully
Many years ago, a good project manager might have gotten away with being a poor communicator. The customers typically didn’t like it, but as long as the project manager could deliver the goods, the customer may have been inclined to let them do their own thing. In today’s world, however, projects need to be undertaken in partnership with the sponsor and customers, and this partnership absolutely requires solid communication. In fact, many of the problems that surface on a project are actually the results of poor communication. A project Communication Plan can help but still needs to be proactive. Poor communication can lead to the following trouble areas.
Differences in expectations
Project managers need to strive to ensure that all stakeholders have a common set of expectations. Perhaps it is just as simple as not informing some stakeholders that the project end date was changed from December 31 to March 31. People make decisions based on the information they have at the time, and if the project manager does not keep everyone under a common set of expectations, things can start to get out-of-sync fast.
People are surprised
If people are not kept informed as to what is going on, they will be surprised when changes occur. Proactive communication means that you keep people up-to-date. People get angry and frustrated when they find out bad news at the last minute, when there is no time left to have an impact on the situation.
No one knows what the state of the project is
On some projects, people are not really sure what the status is. The communication on these projects is short and terse and does not give the reader a real sense as to what is going on. This leads to confusion and missed expectations.
People are impacted by the project at the last-minute
This is a prime cause of problems. In this situation, the project manager does not communicate proactively with other people about things that will impact them. When the communication does occur, it is at the last minute and everything is rush-rush. This frustrates people and leads to inevitable conflicts.
Team members don’t know what is expected of them
Poor communication also occurs within a project team. Some project managers do a poor job of talking with their own team to explain what they are expected to do. This causes extra work and extra frustration on the part of the project manager and team members alike.
What’s the solution?
In most cases communication problems are not based on a lack of skills, but a lack of focus. Many project managers place communication on the bottom of their priority list. When they do communicate, it tends to be short and cryptic, as if they are trying to get by with the minimum effort possible.
The key to communicating is to focus on the reader - not yourself. Try to think about what the receiver of the communication needs and the information that will be most helpful to them.
Many projects have problems. Poor communication can cause many problems and aggravate others. On the other hand, proactive communication can help overcome many other mistakes. Don’t consider communication to be a necessary evil. Instead, use it to your advantage to help your project go smoothly with less frustration, less uncertainty and no surprises.