According to research, more than 65% of digital transformation projects are failing to meet expectations, with a lack of communication cited as one of the key reasons for implementation failure.
It is not enough to possess only the technical skills to get the job done. Projects now are more complex than ever, interfacing with more and more different systems, departments and audiences, which means more interaction, more collaboration and more communication.
Too many people do not have the necessary people skills to make a project team work – and when communication fails, the project fails too.
Miscommunication is often the culprit
Communication skills need to be evaluated when forming project teams, to ensure a balance of skills across the team. Although technical capability is key to the success of a delivery project, the majority of unsuccessful projects have not failed due to technical incompetence.
They have failed due to miscommunication. A lack of understanding of the actual requirement, missed deadlines and scope creep, can all be rectified with clearer communication and better collaboration.
It is easy to forget the basics of communication when we have so many tools at our fingertips, such as Skype, email and instant messaging, but are these actually helping us to communicate more effectively?
Are we making a conscious decision when we use these tools to select the most appropriate one for the message, the audience and the timing? Many of us revert to our default tool of choice without considering its appropriateness.
First steps towards improved communication
A few brief sessions on laying some communication ground rules can work wonders. Teams should agree which communication mechanisms they’ll be using, and then supplement this with informal communication, that the entire team must be committed to.
Project teams need to ensure adequate time and investment is allocated for this.
Adopting a recognized best practice methodology
Methodologies, such as AgilePM from the Agile Business Consortium, is an example where communication is regarded as so important that it is one of the underlying principles of the framework.
A typical Agile team may have people from different backgrounds with different areas of expertise. All team members should try and avoid using specialist language, stick to clear and simple common terms, and maintain a glossary, to reduce misunderstandings throughout the project.
The project manager must continually assess how this is working and be ready to make changes if required, or introduce an element of coaching and training for individuals to increase the effectiveness of their communication.
The AgilePM framework recommends using a variety of communication methods and outlines some simple guidelines for using each one.
Face to face - Use for individual or small-medium sized groups. Allows non-verbal communication, incorporating body language, tone of voice and expression.
Misunderstandings can be immediately addressed.
Video calling - The next best option when teams cannot logistically meet in person. Whilst you do retain a lot of the non-verbal communication,
this is limited to the quality of the call and what you can see on the screen.
Those on the call should try to create a positive atmosphere and make each session vibrant and dynamic.
Instant messaging tools - Suitable for quick and straightforward exchange of words, but not suitable for more in depth communication.
Email - Often the default option for many, but is used so wrongly so often.
Email is great for confirming previous actions, sharing project updates and news with a wider audience that need to be kept informed.
Using the subject, To and CC fields correctly will help recipients quickly identify its relevance to them.
Shared Workspaces - Online tools such as intranets, Googledocs, DropBox etc are great for collaborative working and sharing of assets. Often used in conjunction with other communication tools.
Documents - The most formal channel and should be used for assets that need to be formally documented and recorded. Produce with your audience in mind and check the relevance often.
Ongoing communication includes the use of a Team Board, Daily Stand-ups and ad hoc communication.
Regardless of whether your team is working together from the same office, or in different cities, countries or time zones, effective communication requires effort and planning, and can mean the difference between the success or failure of your project.