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The communication problem

Group of project and programme manager communicating about their work while sat round a table in office with documents and laptops

Humans have been communicating with each other since the dawn of time. Communication has evolved over thousands of years to not only include speech but writing, still and moving images and much more. Today we have more channels available to us than ever before to instantly engage with people, wherever they are.

So why do we still struggle to effectively communicate with each other?

The chart below, from the recently published 2019 PPM Benchmark Study shows how project and programme management professionals rated poor communication as the biggest challenge that negatively impacts their projects and programmes. And it was a similar story in the 2017 study.

Data from AXELOS' PPM Benchmarking Report showing which challenges impact negatively on projects/programmes for respondents

I’d even wager that if you took a snapshot over the last 10, 20 or 30 years, poor communication would rate in the top five each time. And this is a problem that is having a very tangible impact on the success of projects and programmes.

So where are things going wrong? 

In theory the varied and improved communication technology available today should make communicating with each other easier. Teams, stakeholders or customers who are spread out across multiple locations (and potentially time zones) are likely to have a range of options available such as email, conference calls, video calls, instant messaging and so on.

These tools though are arguably only making the problem worse as it’s easier than ever before to hide behind that channel. The thing about communication is that it is not just a one-way broadcast. It must be a two-way interaction in which multiple people are sharing AND receiving information. Simply sending an email and expecting everyone to have read and understood the content is not enough.

I am sure that we have all been guilty at one time or another of sending an email and believing that we have sufficiently shared information. Rightly or wrongly, it’s not something that we can expect or assume.

More channels and an increased volume of communication also creates more noise. We are receiving more information than ever before which makes it even more difficult for our messages to cut through that noise and reach somebody.

Ultimately, we are still struggling because effective and successful communication is hard. It’s time-consuming, it involves not always taking the easiest option and often you have to be patient. Depending on what the message is, you need to communicate:

  • The appropriate level of detail
  • Via the right channel
  • At the right time.

And remember, nothing beats a good old-fashioned face to face conversation.

How would you rate the effectiveness of your communication in your projects and programmes? Are there things you could do to improve? And could those improvements, improve the overall success of your projects and programmes?

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts by Tom Lynam

Generalists vs. Specialists – what will the PPM future bring?

The Importance of Vision: a case study of the PRINCE2 2017 update

Defining the delta

How to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

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