Avoiding the Communication Breakdown Project Nightmare
Have you ever been there – when a breakdown in communication happens, causing painful timeline, delivery and budget issues in your otherwise fairly successful project? And worse, it may not be apparent that it is a communication issue that is crippling the project... No, that realization can take days or weeks, while more and more issues arise.
What do you do? Well, fixing it is fodder for another article - maybe next time. Avoiding it altogether is what I would like to cover here. That is always going to be your cheapest route and the route that will cause you and the client the least amount of pain and suffering over the remainder of the project.
Develop a communication plan
I am of the opinion that every project should have some sort of communication plan in place from the beginning. It doesn't have to be a formal, paid-for deliverable. If you're running a small project, it can just be an ongoing, revisable chart that identifies what meetings happen, when, and who the primary contacts are, including all their key contact information. If it's a bigger project and you want to make it a planning document deliverable (paid for or not), then you can put together a more formal document.
Conduct good meetings and follow-up
Meetings are a key information sharing point. Information sharing and getting decisions made quickly are really the only reason to have meetings. So, conducting good, effective, and efficient meetings is critical to project and communication success. But, beyond that, the information must be accurate and understood by all. So always follow up each meeting with notes to those who attended and to those who should have attended – asking for revisions within 24 hours. Once you have feedback, make any necessary revisions of the meeting notes and resend. The end goal is to ensure that all parties ended the meeting with the same understandings and everyone is on the same page until next time.
Involve the team at every angle
Your team plays a major role in the successful delivery of a project, so a strong focus on communication among the project team is vital. Keeping them informed and ensuring they understand any tasks they are assigned are critical techniques to drive a successful project. Do this through weekly team meetings, daily project status communication emails or quick standup meetings, and close each discussion by summarizing to ensure there is common understanding of expectations for the next brief window of time.
Keep the customer engaged.
One way to keep decision-making happening and information flowing efficiently between delivery team and customer is to keep that customer well-engaged throughout the project. When you lose that client for extended periods of time to his other work, that's when you can get stuck interpreting requirements without having all information at your disposal. This can lead to making under-informed decisions on the project; decisions that the customer could otherwise have assisted you and the team through. Keep the customer engaged with assigned tasks and pre-defined expectations set. And always be pinging them for participation in weekly project status and review meetings. Be strong and stubborn with the customer... you won't regret it.
Review, revise, re-distribute
Finally, the three R's. Review, revise and re-distribute. This mainly refers to the project schedule and status reporting. Keeping everyone informed through the project schedule and status updates is a key responsibility that will just automatically increase the likelihood of avoiding those communication missteps and breakdowns that can lead to misinterpreted requirements, re-work, and missed deadlines.
A communication breakdown can result in all sorts of problems: unclear project requirements, re-work, gold-plating of project work, poorly reviewed deliverables being handed off to the client, budget overruns, and missed timeframes, among others. Avoiding these breakdowns needs to be a high priority, and following these steps will help you get there.
Readers – what are your thoughts? What do you do to avoid communication shortcomings on the projects you manage?
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience. Visit Brad's site at www.bradegeland.com
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