Beat Communications Pitfalls

 By Voices Team

When it comes to communications, organizations talk a big game — but few get it right. And that’s downright dangerous. For every US$1 billion spent on a project, 56 percent, or US$75 million, is at risk due to ineffective communications, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications.
The data also reveal that of the two in five projects that fail to meet business intent, half do so because of poor communications. Still, everyone likes to believe they’re making their point — completely oblivious that their intended audience didn’t quite get the message. For example, the report found that while 60 percent of executive sponsors think they’re clearly communicating how projects align with strategy, just 43 percent of project managers agree. Some organizations are smart enough to see the gap — and take action to close it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control requires everyone on a project, from senior executives to functional managers, to participate in a formal project review or stage gate governance review at all 10 project stages.
On the flip side of that communications equation, there are the project managers who often get mired in project jargon. They just can’t resist breaking out the Gantt chart. The result is a fundamental disconnect between project managers and stakeholders. Here, too, some smart organizations are implementing processes to foster crystal-clear and transparent communications. NorthWestern Energy, for instance, faced a tough sell for a multi-year project to upgrade its infrastructure. The revamp will mean better services, but also potentially higher rates and prolonged construction. So the company formed a stakeholder group. Based on their input, the team then translated internal project and business speak into layman’s terms to create roadside signs that said: “This project will provide safe, reliable energy for today and tomorrow.” The message was upfront about delays caused by the construction, but did so in a way that reinforced the project’s ROI.
Another big takeaway from Pulse was that effective communications can’t be a one-off. The Pulse data show that only 54 percent of projects with infrequent communications containing sufficient detail meet original intent. That number jumps to 84 percent for projects with frequent clear communications. Standardizing communications practices at the project plan phase can help. IT services company Atos, for example, sets up a framework that details how often to communicate what information to which stakeholder.
Granted, standardization can be time-consuming and just seem like adding more layers of bureaucracy, but the benefits outweigh the effort. Pulse reports that high performers — organizations that complete 80 percent or more projects on time, budget and target — are nearly three times more likely than low performers (those that complete 60 percent or fewer projects by the same measures) to standardize practices. The former experience better project outcomes — and risk 14 times fewer dollars in the process.

The views expressed within the PMI Voices on Project Management blog are contributed from external sources and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of PMI.

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