Ten Communication Failures That Will Sabotage Your Project


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Ten Communication Failures That Will Sabotage Your Project

March 29, 2011

Wendy Woo, PMP



Communication is critical to project success but is often lacking in the workplace.  Pay more attention and seek improvements immediately before this lack of communication devolves into critical failure in your project.  Here in reverse chronological order are ten areas within a project life cycle where you can identify and pursue remedies. 

10. The same old same old.   

Project managers do not have an appetite to go through the lessons-learned sessions before the project’s completion.  By harvesting such a wealth of knowledge, you will be able to factor potential issues into your risk register for the next project at an early stage.  There are many potential payoffs.  For instance, those who invest the time to revisit and discuss root causes with their project members can obviate the need for future ‘firefighting’ on the same old issues which will surface again in your next project.    By consolidating the details and documenting the problems and resolutions prior to project closure, you will have identified the major issues which affect performance or cause major deployment delays. 

9. If you are not replaceable, you are not promotable. 

One of my mentors once made a logical argument about the possibility of getting a promotion being slim when there was no one who could pick up where he or she left off.  Let’s set aside job security for the moment.   How does this relate to effective communication?  If your team members clearly understand the goals, the project stakeholders involved, their roles and responsibilities, schedules and deadlines, project risks, and the foreseeable outcome, you have done a good job communicating with your project team.   The question is why anyone would want to jeopardize job security by leaving behind a trail of documentation and a clearly defined methodology on project completion so someone else can ‘steal their lunch’?  Effective communication promotes project success and eventually leads to career growth more often than simply guarding your turf.  Besides, having the ability to replicate your path to success does not guarantee successors can also duplicate your skills, effort, and attitude.

8.  Déjà vu all over again.              

An unanticipated change can adversely affect cost and schedule; staying in touch with the decision makers can help you avoid resetting the dominoes after they have fallen.  Requirement changes are inevitable. You can save a considerable amount of effort to make things right after disaster strikes if you are in active communication initially with the minds who are involved in making the changes during the project.  This might seem to be a boring and time consuming process, but by reexamining requirements regularly with stakeholders, you assure the integrity of the project scope. 

7.  Forewarned is forearmed! 

Taking a proactive role to understand the problems and quality issues directly from the business owners and end users and addressing the issues immediately can avoid yellow flags from upper management.  Engaging in regular updates with program and project sponsors, stakeholders, and project team members regarding project status, changes, problems, and risks prior to scheduled meetings will increase the effectiveness of those meetings and reduce their duration.  Saving ten minutes at the end of each meeting might give you an hour of time during the day to attend to tasks you seldom have time to do.

6.  You can handle the truth. 

Making assumptions without communication and verification is very dangerous because requirement changes can be costly when timelines are lengthened.  Verification and validation of assumptions and requirements take tremendous effort and require effective communication skills.  Listen to the stakeholders, understand their pain and problems, compile the details and verify your understanding of the problems before locking down the requirements.  You cannot understand the objectives and mission critical elements without connecting the dots and asking questions.  You do not know if you are delivering the right solution without walking through the details and the intended outcome with the end users.

5.  Everything old is new again. 

Nowadays technology provides many ways to contact someone instantly; still there is no greater assurance of actual communication than there was before. Many people insist on going back to mountains of paper after they spend time instant messaging on non-critical subjects.  Interrupt instant messaging and emails, pick up the phone or better yet walk over to have a face to face conversation with your contacts to confirm that they read and understand the subjects you brought up in the emails. In this case, you will receive instant acknowledgement and an opportunity to resolve any conflicts.  Face to face conversations have other benefits such as building relationships and friendships while you can also detect sincerity through facial expressions or body language.

4.  Don’t be A Wiley Coyote. 

Your project may not be an ‘Acme’ universal solution to your major stakeholders.  If one of your very important sponsors or influential decision makers goes in an opposite direction at this first meeting, it will be very awkward for the other attendees to discover that your objectives are not universally accepted at inception.  Do not assume everyone in your communication plan is on your side.  They might be rowing in different directions or have their own personal agenda.  Pay a visit to each individual who will be at the kickoff meeting and open a dialogue prior to that event.  Listening and asking questions can unveil potential risks and misunderstandings with these individuals prior to the actual meeting.  You will uncover surprises before they bring them to the table.  Turning your potential doubters into allies or at least identifying them at the beginning will make your life easier.

3. Catch me if you can. 

People who are afraid of making business commitments through emails or other electronic documentation are often difficult to catch for a one on one interaction.  These people may be willing to provide insights to help you solve problems, but you need to pursue in-person conversations because of their fear of criticism or retribution for something they wrote in their  email or instant message.  This aversion to creating an electronic footprint of their thoughts is often based on a strong need for self-protection and can be an obstacle to project success.

2.  Do I know you? 

Organization charts do not reflect all the roles and responsibilities or hidden hierarchies of decision makers or behind-the-scene powers.  Often the titles of individuals do not reveal their actual roles and responsibilities in the organization.  Identify the key stakeholders and gatekeepers from day one to better gain control of their influence by having direct conversations with these key operatives.  You will develop useful and powerful business relationships when they ultimately become willing to share valuable information with you. 

1. Will I still have a job?   

Yesterday’s problems might not be relevant to today’s project.  With ongoing changes in the business world, the shift in priorities and emphasis could alter the survival outlook of previously identified projects.  Or worse, there may be no more funding for your project even though it was included in the budget planning of the prior year. The budget and approval for your project should not be assumed to be immutable during the project life cycle. Get periodic confirmation from your program or project sponsors or verify with the finance department, if possible, to confirm the ongoing budgetary availability.   There is nothing you can do when the dollars have already gone somewhere else. 

By maintaining face to face contacts and conversations, you gain knowledge of the pain and problems in your organization and build a strong network of relationships.  This is a major step forward on the road to project success.  Those who consistently listen and constantly communicate will make a difference in the workplace.  There are no better justifications to start making connections and improving communications on your project.

Additional insights available on communication and networking:

·      Robert Maksimchuk – http://www.projectpragmatics.com/Home/resources-for-you-1

·     Donna A. Reed – http://www.agilistapm.com/resource/



Wendy Woo is a results oriented leader with fourteen plus years of demonstrated success in the implementation and management of mission critical revenue enhancement solutions in which she has performed seminal roles including strategic program manager, senior project manager, business systems analyst, and systems engineer.  She holds M.S. and B.S. degrees in Computer Science from the University of Southern California.  She is also a Project Management Institute certified Project Management Professional (PMP) who is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese.  Wendy is a leader who monitors the big picture, while assuring technical requirements are in sync with business objectives.  Her strong communication skills and passion to bring out the best in colleagues have had significant impact on the end product and in the workplace.