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From the Archives: Effective Communication a Challenge for Project Managers

How often we, as project managers have taken communication lightly when managing a project? Most project managers are generally good communicators but are they communicating effectively? In the recent PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession report, it has revealed that the most crucial success factor in project management is effective communications to all stakeholders. The research also finds that effective communication leads to more successful projects and hence allowing organizations to become high performers.

In the same report, it revealed that not all projects will succeed. On an average, two in five projects do not meet the project’s original goal or intent and one-half of those unsuccessful projects are related to ineffective communications. (See Figure 1)

foongapr21Figure 1. One out of five projects is unsuccessful due to ineffective communications.

Communication is one key element which has to be applied effectively throughout a project’s life cycle from the beginning till the end. Hence, why is it that Project Managers are not communicating effective?

The challenges a Project Manager has may include the following:


A modest project will tend to have a number of people who need to know its progress and about any issues which crops up during execution. Modern projects nowadays often have an added complication of stakeholders scattered all over the globe. Without a solid communication plan and strategy, it will be impossible to keep everyone up to date and informed.

In addition to that, different stakeholders may have different expectations and hence the method of communication may vary from one to another and hence a standard communication plan may not be effective.

Team members

A project team is generally quite a diverse group of people. Project teams are usually thrust together to deliver a customized and unique benefit to an organisation. In some projects, team members are put together and have never worked together before. The diversity within a project team which can be cultural, geographical, organisational, functional, age related, level of education and so on is indeed the biggest challenge for a project manager.

Ever Changing Situation

All projects are by nature fluid and ever changing. Hence a project manager has to consider the changes and challenges all the way until the end of the project and ensure that the team and stakeholders are fully up to date with issues and progress so that there will be no nasty surprises for them to discover later on.

Hence, to ensure that effective communication is applied throughout the whole project and to overcome the challenges, a Project Manager should incorporate a communication plan at the planning stage of the project. When making a communication plan, a project manager will have to ask the following questions:

  • What kind of communication is required? (Management Meetings, Team Meetings, Management Reporting, Project Records)
  • Who needs to be communicated with? (stakeholders)
  • How frequent is the communication required? (how often)
  • What needs to be communicated? (reports, meeting minutes, details or summary)

A form of standardised communication plan could be adopted. However to be effective and efficient, a communication plan has to be adaptable and suitable to all stakeholders. As described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®Guide) – Fifth Edition, ‘Effective communication means that the information is provided in the right format, at the right time, to the right audience, and with the right impact. Efficient communication means providing only the information that is needed’ Hence, the project manager has to tailor the communication plan accordingly for each project. The plan should be maintained and updated throughout the project life cycle if there are any changes.

There are numerous tools that a project manager can use to better tailor a communication approach. For example, for stakeholder analysis, a Power/Interest grid could be used where stakeholders are grouped based on their level of authority (‘power’) and their level of concern (‘interest’) regarding the project’s outcome (see Figure 2). Once the analysis is obtained, a project manager can now assess how key stakeholders are likely to react or respond in various situations, in order to plan how to influence them to enhance their support and mitigate potential negative impacts.

FoongApr9 IMG02Figure 2. Power/Interest Grid

Another tool project managers can use to improve communication in regards to problems on the project is by creating a fish bone diagram or Ishikawa Diagram (Figure 3). Each bone is labelled with a problem and then it is broken down further by looking at the causes for each problem. This tool is simple but effective at getting to the real issue quickly.

FoongApr9 IMG03
Figure 3. Fish Bone Diagram / Ishikawa Diagram

Using a RACI chart (Figure 4) can be very helpful too in promoting healthy communication in a team. RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. The chart ensures that at least one person is in charge of each category, as well as helps others to see their role in assisting the responsible person in getting the job done. This also helps prevent communication that does not need to take place and only interrupts the flow.

FoongApr9 IMG04Figure 4. RACI Chart (R-Responsible, A-Accountable, C-Consulted, I-Informed)

In conclusion, effective communication is indeed important for a successful project and in order to achieve effective communication in a project, communication planning is essential and using tools and putting processes in place to ensure daily effective communication during project execution will overcome the challenges and contribute to a more successful project.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®Guide) – Fifth Edition

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