How to Reduce the Risk of Project Failure with Improved Communication

by | Aug 25, 2020 | ZAG Standards

The world of technology is fast-paced, challenging, exciting, and most of all, rewarding. Those of us who have been in the technology field for any length of time recognize how fortunate we are to work in an industry that is the engine of the world’s economy. Most everything that we work on daily requires extensive planning, precision, and good execution. We work on projects or applications that can take months or years to implement. We work with teams, that in some cases, span the globe and cross multiple time zones. With all this complexity and precision, the most important thing holding it all together is communication.

Communication, loosely defined, is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common sense of symbols signs, or behavior.” Today we have countless tools by which to communicate in the workplace: text messaging, chat, collaboration tools, video, and yes, even the old-fashioned phone call are at our disposal. We not only use these tools in our professional endeavors, but in our personal lives as well.

As technology professionals, most of us can look back over our careers and recall projects, deployments, and initiatives that were both successful and unsuccessful. In both cases, the odds are that the teams working on the project/initiative consisted of highly skilled individuals, well versed in their respective disciplines. So then, why did some fail, and some succeed? The knee-jerk response is that it had something to do with the technology itself. Or maybe it was not planned properly? All of this may be true, but I submit to you that in the case of failure, poor communication played a huge part.

So then, why with all the communication tools at our fingertips do we fail to realize the importance of good communication? I believe that it is in part due to the type of work that we do. As technology professionals, we rely on “tools” to assist us with not only our daily work, but our project-based work as well. We look to these tools to make our jobs easier, more efficient, and more accurate. With all of that in mind, the question becomes, why don’t we recognize the communication element? We see it and can identify it, so why don’t we do a better job of it? I believe we too often we rely on computing power rather than human power.

There is no doubt that communication can be difficult, but there is also no doubt as to its importance in the success of organizations, projects, initiatives, etc. Look back over your career and ask yourself if better or clearer communication would have made a difference in the overall success of whatever you were involved in. If we were all honest with ourselves, my guess is that the answer would be a resounding yes.

Now that we have established just how important good communication is, how do we ensure that it is part of our daily regimen going forward? There are two answers to that question. The first is to honestly assess how good we are at communicating. Some are better at communicating than others, so if this a weakness, we should focus our efforts on improvement. If this resonates, consider these techniques:

  1. Communicate often
    Your team, vendors, and clients want to hear from you. Striking the right balance is nuanced and specific to your relationships, however communicating more often than less reduces uncertainty. Provide regular updates to stakeholders, and check-in with your team often to discuss their work and wellbeing.
  2. Be transparent, be direct
    We are all under more pressure than ever to deliver outcomes for clients and colleagues alike. Direct and concise communication is preferred to abstract, wandering monologues. No-one has the time for the latter. Be respectful of everyone’s perspectives, focus on getting to the right outcome, and say what needs to be said.
  3. Empathize with your counterparty
    Even though direct communication is most effective, that doesn’t mean being rude is acceptable. Many people are uncertain about their future, and that means a lot of people are stressed. Be mindful of how you communicate. Considering others’ emotions is now a superpower.
  4. Consistency builds trust
    No-one wants to deal with a Jekyll & Hyde personality, unsure who’s going to turn up to the next client meeting. Be true to your personal and corporate values, be consistent in what you say, how you say it, and how often. (Communicating “often” doesn’t mean 24/7.)

The second answer to effective communication, is to ensure that organizations not only recognize the importance but practice it daily. In a recent post on the ZAG blog, “Beyond Remote Work, Scaling a Hybrid Workforce,” we discussed several ways to improve communication in the context of remote teams—a reality for many knowledge workers today. My colleague discussed why it’s important to over-communicate when working with a remote team, why managers need to trust their people more, and why choosing the right tools matters.

Even with the right approach and tools, communication can still be a challenge though. Context is, after all, critical to effective communication. How often have you sent an email when a call was more appropriate? Or interrupted someone with a chat message, when the response needed an email? With so many tools available, be thoughtful about how you communicate.

We have all seen the past five months dramatically shift the way we communicate daily, but more importantly we have realized just how important communication is. We should seize this opportunity to become better and more effective communicators ourselves. And we should work toward establishing that good and consistent communication be a part of our professional lives. Ultimately, we can all be a catalyst for change.

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