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Formal Communication Will Not Save Your Project from Failure


We often hear that communication is important while managing a project. It is often said that it is a significant role of a project manager.

It can be true at times. And if your project has the following characteristics, communication will be even more critical:

  • Large project team
  • Numerous stakeholders
  • Groups with diverse point of views and objectives
  • Groups with conflicting schedule
  • High level of complexity
  • High level of uncertainty

In such context, mastering communication is an essential leadership skill. You cannot hide behind technical knowledge or your project management tools. You need a strong project communication plan. It will be your ally. The quality of your project communication plan will be a key success factor in completing a project in this kind of environment.

Formal Communication Is Not Enough

When developing a project communication plan, most people will think about formal communications. In our world, the reflex will be to develop a set of formal email to key stakeholders. They will be official and document the project file. It also helps if the project is audited, or even if someone asks what communication was done. You can provide these formal messages as evidence.

There is definitely a need and a place for that type of communication. Don’t get me wrong! Formal messages are an essential component of a communication plan. But if that’s all that is included in the plan, it will be very weak. Alone, formal communication may only give you 20 to 25 percent of the positive impact of communication.

More is required.

Communication happens all the time throughout the life of the project. Don’t underestimate the power of other forms of communication, including bilateral and team meetings.

Then there are the even more powerful daily interactions, as informal and unplanned as they can be. Throughout the day, you will have numerous opportunities to have a conversation with many different persons. They should not be viewed as simple social talk, only wasting your time on other things than working on tasks. They give you a unique opportunity to obtain and share information.

The Value of Informal Communication

Informal communication can be even more powerful. People tend to be more candid and transparent in informal conversions. Ask someone to prepare an official report for the executive or steering committee and people will start to worry about the content. They will start to massage its content. It is a sad reality that very few organizations have created an environment that can tolerate total transparency on projects.

That is a huge loss because decisions are then made based on incomplete reports, or an inaccurate view of the reality of the project. The issue is obtaining a complete and real view on the project is even more important in rescue project management. To make decisions and bring back the project on a successful path, you need to know the real status of the project. From reports, you may think that the issues are known. But it is often an illusion. If the root cause of the problems were known, they would likely have been corrected long ago. Let’s assume we have nobody on board who wants to sabotage the project.

Every Chat Is an Opportunity

So take all opportunities to listen and communicate. It includes conversations in the hallways, or in the elevators. It includes meetings with your team, the client, the sponsor or any stakeholder. A visit to the client, or owner of the final deliverable, is a unique chance to build a relationship. Have an open door policy. Even better, be visible on the floor by being part of the team. You must provide leadership and be the leader with boots on the ground.

In the end, you are not only obtaining information. You are mainly building relationships, which will strongly impact the success of the project. Any project with some complexity will face issues. It is the relationship that you have built throughout the life of the project that will give you the support needed to navigate these issues. It is the absence of relationships that will make every issue a challenging process difficult to navigate.

If you only communicate through formal communications, you will miss most of the benefits of good communication. It does not build trust, and it provides far less information. It leaves you alone, with an incomplete view of the reality of the project.

Good communication is your ally. It provides a powerful tool to share and obtain information. It also let you build relationships, and that is your responsibility as a leader of your project.


For more brilliant insights, check out Michel’s website: Project-Aria

Additionally, check out his book, Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve better results in a dynamic world:

About Michel Dion

Michel Dion is a CPA and PMP, living in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and 2 kids. He also has a certification in Internal Audit (CIA), Risk Management (CRMA) and Fraud (CFE). Michel has managed in his career many projects, including special initiatives and emergency projects. He is developing a website called Project-Aria, and is very active in the project management community on the web. The key areas of focus of Project-Aria are project management, leadership, productivity, mind and health, and career and training. He has loved technology since the moment he played on the TRS80 a while ago. Despite that, his two sons insist that they know more about technology than him. Sometimes, he will comment on other subjects, as he likes fitness, travel, chess, photography, and music. He also has a goal of mastering four languages: English, French, Spanish and Swedish. Pay Michel a visit at Project-Aria by clicking the button below.

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