Miscommunication Can Derail Even The Best Planned Project

Managing projects, both large and small, can be a challenge. Coordinating tasks, managing scope, monitoring resources, scheduling deliverables, and keeping everyone in the loop all require lots of juggling to be successful.

Having a communication strategy for your project is critical. You need to make sure there is open communication within your project team, and clear channels to communicate with your stakeholders, sponsors and leadership team. Here are some ideas to help make your communication run smoothly.

Project Team Communication

  • Ensure each team member clearly understands their role on the project. You’ll want to communicate this at the beginning of the project and reinforce it as you make progress.
  • Conduct weekly team meetings. Your agenda should include project status like who’s doing what, progress on deliverables, and what’s coming up next. You should also discuss any obstacles that are getting in the way of the team’s success.
  • Establish communication protocol. Decide how team members will communicate with each other (and you) on a daily basis. Determine who will be copied on what emails and where general project information will be shared.

Stakeholder Communication

  • Identify how often your stakeholders want to be updated on progress. Set a general schedule for communicating that keeps them in tune with your project, but doesn’t overload them with information.
  • Define the type and frequency of communication that works best for both your project team and the stakeholders. This could be as simple as an email once a month or may require a more formal meeting process.

Sponsor and Leadership Team Communication

  • Regular communication with your project sponsor and leadership team will not only help keep you on track, but also provide them with a comfort level that your project will align with strategic objectives.
  • Determine up front what they want to know, how involved they want to be in your project execution, what type of information they want and how often they want it. This will save you countless hours “jumping through hoops” because someone in leadership is not in the know.

So once you have your communication approach established, that should take care of it — right? In an ideal world, yes. But we’re dealing with human beings here. Someone might make an innocent comment to someone else resulting in a firestorm of “he said / she said” activity. Or perhaps a team member gets their nose out of joint and decides to stir the pot by going outside the communication protocol. Trust me. It will happen. Here’s an example.

Your best offense is to be prepared to take the bull by the horns and deal with this type of issue quickly so your entire project doesn’t get derailed.

The Situation

Your leadership approaches you questioning a problem they heard you were having with one of your project team members. It seems one of your team members mentioned a perceived issue between you and another team member to their direct supervisor. That direct supervisor went to their direct supervisor who went to their direct supervisor. None of these people brought the issue to your attention until your leadership asked for a meeting.

What Went Wrong

The perceived issue went up the hierarchical path. At any point in the process, someone should have a) questioned the person to determine if they had spoken with you and b) brought you into the issue immediately.

How You Should Respond

If you know the facts of the situation, identify what action you will be taking to mitigate the situation in the future. Ask for their support of your role as project manager. If you don’t know the facts of the situation, explain your plan for finding them out and set a time to get back together so you can explain your plan of action.

Additional Steps You Should Take

Meet individually with every single one of the people involved. Provide them feedback as needed on the situation. Request that in the future they a) ask the team member whether they have already brought the issue to your attention, and b) support your role as project manager.

No matter what, you will have communication issues during your project. Make sure you face them head on using constructive feedback and mitigation strategies to prevent them from happening in the future.

What do you think? Please add your suggestions.

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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    If you know the facts of the situation, identify what action you will be taking to mitigate the situation in the future. Ask for their support of your role as project manager. If you don’t know the facts of the situation

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