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Herding cats: why project management communications need more thought

Putting together a big project is tricky enough — but pulling together a team of contractors who might not have worked together before? That is where the real challenge begins.

Why it matters

In project management, effective communications can make or break successful outcomes.

Project teams are commonly a team of contractors from across the organisation as well as external agencies. The need to wrangle the entire project team can see communications become the core of operations.

A common misconception is that the shared goal of completing the project means that all stakeholders are automatically on the same page when it comes to how to deliver on that goal.  However, working with stakeholders across different companies, locations and disciplines can lead to different ideas, interpretations and ultimately, misaligned operations and overall results.

In 2007, Dow and Taylor discussed in their book, Project Management Communications Bible, the considerations of project failure against an industry survey. The survey found that communication problems attributed to 14% of project failures, however, the authors attributed a 90% responsibility to communications problems being the real reason projects fail.

Poor communication can become the highest cost of failure for a project and for an organisation.

Traditional vs project stakeholder communications

Stakeholder communications is a part of the stakeholder management process you should be adopting, when overlooked it can hinder the project.

Traditional stakeholder communications involve regular communications with stakeholders that the organisation is familiar with and comfortable providing messaging to.

However, this approach may not work with project stakeholder communications as the dynamic is more likely to include a diverse team of professionals who usually work independently of each other.

The key to project stakeholder communications is to provide a clear and consistent message to everyone through direct channels. A common mistake that can be made is detailing technical details, data and processes that are unique to one contractor in the team, meaning the message is lost on others.

Stakeholder engagement is, and always has been, about people, and any approach should ensure that organisation’s communications are focused on them and how they work together as the priority.

The challenges

Stakeholder engagement can be challenging when being executed in traditional ways, so in a project management setting, complexities can be certain to arise, they may include:

  • Unclear point of contact – actions can be duplicated, and messages repeated to the same people.
  • Multiple project management tools – communications can be misunderstood and missed entirely.
  • Too little centralised communication – speculation and rumours can become rife, and distortion of messaging can occur.
  • Too much centralised communication – no one wants to be cc’d on 1000 emails and it can lead to communications being ignored.
Getting it right

Although getting it right may seem difficult with varied contractors in a project, the foundation of successful stakeholder engagement can be built by implementing the following.

  1. Establishing a communication strategy

Spontaneous and casual actions can result in unpredictable outcomes. By outlining the project timeline, messages, objectives, and mapping stakeholders and actions, communication materials can be planned, directed and controlled to prepare and align stakeholders.

  1. Understanding your stakeholder

By mapping and analysing stakeholders, you can understand your stakeholder’s context and then anticipate their respective behaviours. This prediction can then be used in communications materials to better connect to your audience. Understanding your stakeholders assist in setting and managing expectations.

  1. Setting expectations

If all stakeholders have the same expectations about the project, disruptions can be minimised. These expectations could be included in the communications strategy by outlining the project success criteria, project scope and prioritising requirements.

  1. Ongoing management of expectations

Although stakeholders may know what to expect, the need to proactively manage expectations is always required. By providing appropriate communications through various channels, stakeholders will be able to align with expectations and not disrupt the project.

Reacting when things go wrong

Not everything is perfect and sometimes things can go wrong.

We work closely with project managers to help set the right expectations across the various teams from the start. But if something does go wrong, we can also help you recover.

Contact one of the Canning’s Purple stakeholder engagement consultants for services including:

  • Stakeholder mapping
  • Communications strategies
  • Facilitation of workshops and meetings
  • Internal communications
About the author

Rhiannon is a dynamic and values driven communications professional, working across the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in WA (Western Australia).

Rhiannon is passionate about providing the best outcome for her clients with a dedication to exploring the depths of traditional and new methods of communications and engagement. Contact Rhiannon.

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