What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate!!!

coolhandlukeSorry, no direct correlation will be made to the Captain in Cool Hand Luke. Oh well, same topic (sorta). Project Management is 90% communication! How many times have we heard that one before?

I revisited a post titled “Silence : One of the Two Great Wastesâ„¢ : Is a Project and Career Killer” over at Reforming Project Management. I would like to do a short review and offer some thoughts on communication.

The article cites a few sources that conclude:

“…that project deterioration was a function of not listening and not speaking. We named those behaviors the Two Great Wastes.”

I love the term quoted in the post, “organizational silence” to describe when communication just doesn’t happen. I addition to the points made in these sources, I’d like to add some more items regarding reasons why communication fails and therefore creating a high probability that the project will also fail.

“This is my show, punk!”
That person who just waits for someone to voice a concern or idea so they can shoot them down. The Theory X manager “who’s always right.” Gee, I really feel like putting myself out there and contributing in this environment.

“Silence is golden.”
The project manager who assumes that because no one says anything, they are all in agreement and understand. In truth, they are (a) confused but too embarrassed to admit they don’t understand, (b) afraid to speak up for some reason, (c) don’t care enough to put forth the effort, or (d) inhibited by one of a thousand other reasons. Correction; “Silence is failure.”

“Look at me! Look at me!”
These are the people who do a little too much contributing. They monopolize the conversation, use ambiguous language, and do not listen to what other people have to say. They view the world from all 3 viewpoints: me, myself, and I. They might not even have a good understanding of what they are talking about. Get out your bullsh%t bingo cards.

“What was your name again?”
From what I’ve seen of small to large projects, there’s simply no reason to not have a status update meeting at least bi-weekly with your project team. Whether or not you’ve got a major milestone to report on, regular meetings keep the communication channels open and keep the project progress transparent. You can review the major project risks, review upcoming tasks, and publicly applaud team members who have done something exceptional recently.
Change is happening all the time on your project, so use regular meetings as a way to acknowledge and deal with it. An experienced project manager once gave me some advice, “The only things guaranteed in life are death, taxes, and that once you baseline your project plan, someone or something will come along and screw with it.”

Of course there are tons of other reasons why communications fail on projects. What are some of your favorites?

About the author


JoshNankivel Josh Nankivel is a Project Planning & Controls Control Account Manager and contractor for the ground system of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a joint project between the USGS and NASA. His academic background includes a BS in Project Management, summa cum laude.  He can be found writing and contributing in many places within the project management community, and his primary project management website is located at pmstudent.com.

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