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Reducing Project Risks Through Effective Communication Print

Communication is one of the most significant manageable risks in any project – large or small. KPMG research shows that 20% of projects fail due to poor communication.

Other studies and experience show that failure to communicate effectively - internally, with suppliers, the community and customers will affect the both the outcomes of projects and the bottom line of companies.

Project communication is an all-encompassing discipline, but communication specialists are a relatively new addition to project teams. In part this is because communication is so fundamental that project leaders have taken it as a given. People talk to each other all the time, send e-mails, memos and reports, while notice boards are festooned with important stuff. In many projects, most of this just seemed to happen.

The project may be as simple as painting the office, changing the computers, or introducing a new lunch-time menu – or as complex as opening a new mine. No matter the scale, we are dealing with people, and people work best when they have the information and recognition they need as human beings.

It is only when analysing why the projects are not being delivered on time and on budget that one discovers that communication – as with all other aspects of projects – does not just “happen”. It has to be planned, co-ordinated, managed and reported on in the same way as procurement, training, construction, etc. Take a simple example – putting up the safety signage on a site. Someone has to design the signs, ensure they meet statutory requirements, order them, ensure they are displayed in the right places, and then monitor their condition and effectiveness. If half the drivers are ignoring a stop sign, the reason may not be that they are all careless, but simply that the sign is in the wrong place.

Another area of waste, failure and risk is documentation. Most teams today work in remote locations or at least different offices. Ensuring that everyone is literally on the same page at the same time instead of working off different sets of drawings and specifications is a communications function. Documentation is managed through both systems and tools.

Internal communication and documentation are two sides of the same coin. When we as project leaders live, breathe, eat and sleep a project, we can come to believe that everyone around us is doing the same and can somehow magically read our minds. Quite the opposite is true. Systems have to put in place to ensure that every member of the team is fully informed, and to do that we need to communicate in the way they understand.

Wads of paper, over-complicated drawings and thousand column spreadsheets may be the way to communicate with some team members, but the majority probably have neither the time nor the inclination to try and decipher them. A regular briefing, illustrated with scribbles on a flip chart often does the trick. Specific instructions, details and plans must, of course, be committed to paper to ensure that they can be monitored effectively.

Then there are the traditional roles for the communications team – dealing with shareholders, investors, the public, the neighbours, the media, and organising celebratory braais. All important, all measurable, and all part of the communication mix which, we believe, starts with project inception and only ends when the project is closed out.

Which brings us to another reason why communications specialists so seldom form part of the project management team. Much of what we do is considered as “soft” and “nice-to-have”. Given the high failure rate of projects due to poor communication, we see this as a fully avoidable risk.

These are the stages at which project communication adds value and reduces risks:

Pre-feasibility: Packaging the project for presentation to the company executive, funders, investors, and other stakeholders. In a world full of good ideas and opportunities, those which are best presented are most likely to attract support.

Feasibility: Branding the project - Projects work best when they have an identity with which everyone involved can relate. The brand and identity help drive the project forward. Communication planning identifies the key stakeholders and the best ways to interact with them. It is at this stage that Document Management and Reporting systems and procedures need to be put in place.

The communications team will then help package the project to take it to the next phase.

Implementation: Communication planning is developed around the project milestones. Tasks may include advertising for staff, placing statutory notices, meeting with the neighbours, informing suppliers, and ensuring that the right communication tools are in place. These tools include branded workwear, stationery, information signs, etc.

Communication is also vital to ensure that the project complies with all the Safety, Health and Environment regulations. Induction programmes, training materials, on-site signage, all need to be made, presented and monitored for effectiveness.

Other important communication tasks in this phase include:
- Stakeholder management: it should be the task of communications to organise and manage the stakeholder engagement sessions, providing literature, banners, mock-ups and other tools.
- Crisis communication: Working with the project team, the communications specialists assess and identify risks, and then develop communication strategies designed firstly to minimise the risks, and then to manage the communication flow in times of crisis.
- Public Relations: Projects require specific communications strategies for both internal and external communications challenges and opportunities. Tools will include newsletters, websites, pamphlets, media briefings, stakeholder tours, etc.
- Advertising: from jobs and official notices to invitations to invest – all part of the communications responsibilities.
- Multi-media: Websites, information videos, multi-media presentations, visual progress monitoring, should fall under the communications project team.



Ed Richardson and Des Bartlett Cognisant Communications (c) 2009


About the Authors

Ed Richardson and Des Bartlett are co-founders of Cognisant Communications, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which has been and is involved in providing communications services for a number of major projects around the country.

For more info about Cognisant Communications please visit our website at www.cognisant.eu , contact us on + 27 41 582 3750 or send us an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Prvadovas, July 30, 2010
I do remember a project that was delayed due to communication problem. When project is not completed on time everybody are looking to understand whoes fault is it. But instead blaming each other we need to see how to make sure it will not happen again. The example i have is that the documentation and status was sent by email and not recorded in the project management tool. We used excel at that time. Today i know that there are very effective tools to track coments and documentation together in one place with the time tracking. http://www.clarizen.com/Projec...ID=Organic

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