George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Well said, George, well said. Effective communication is really what Shaw was alluding to. Communicating effectively is, of course, easier said than done, especially in the complex world of project management. Maybe you have found the same to be true.
Why all the fuss?
The thing about poor communication is what it leads to. Communication challenges contribute to confusion, misunderstandings, frustration, and rework. It can result in poor decisions and disruption.
These issues can progress, negatively impacting the project and organization through inaccurate messaging, misalignment, and even mismanagement.
In the end, if communication isn’t addressed, it can result in irreparable damage. A study by the Project Management Institute (PMI) found that in many cases, poor communication is not just a leading cause of project failure. According to 42% of project managers, it’s the leading cause.
Like all good communication, let’s get to the point. In this simple guide, we’ll look at the top project management communication challenges identified by team members and leaders. Then we’ll provide you with suggestions, techniques, and tools to overcome them.
And to all the Georges out there, you’re welcome to join us!
Top communication challenges in project management and how to solve them
Since there are many, many communication challenges in project management, we will focus on five that team members and management have consistently named.
Challenge 1: Poor communication
We all know it’s one thing to communicate and quite another to communicate well.
It’s easy to understand why. Poor communication can result from a lack of clarity, miscommunication, insufficient feedback, lack of up-to-date information, or incorrect assumptions (to name a few!). Language barriers, technical jargon, and even time differences can compound these issues. Inadequate information in terms of access, flow, and timing is also a typical complaint.
To avoid poor communication, project managers should establish clear communication channels, encourage open and honest communication, and encourage team members to ask questions.
To address this challenge, however, project leaders should go a step further. There should also be a linkage between information and overall company goals and objectives. Communicating the “why” is critical for teams to understand how what they are doing, from small tasks to larger project objectives, provides value.
Critically, another of the key causes of poor communication is information silos. Information is often separated by different tools or relegated to specific projects, teams, and departments. This siloing of information makes it impossible to see the big picture. Breaking down these silos creates visibility and cohesion.
Challenge 2: Lack of transparency
According to a 2019 Harvard Business Review (HBR) survey, 56% of project managers reported that a lack of transparency was a major concern. An inability to get at information–especially information that can be perceived as negative, such as project risks, progress information, and performance indicators–can lead to poor judgments, oversights, and rework. Lack of transparency also inevitably leads to a lack of trust and impacts morale.
There are a few key ways to pull back the curtain and deal with a lack of transparency, ultimately democratizing project information for teams and stakeholders. Lack of transparency is rooted in a negative organizational culture. Organizations that do not reward truth, sharing of ideas, and learning from mistakes are less likely to promote transparency. A cultural shift is first required. Then this shift can be supported by practices and tools that enable a transparent norm.
To do this, leadership has to model transparency, even when it’s difficult. They also have to reward transparency when they see it. And they should celebrate individuals who embrace transparency for the organization's benefit.
Implementing systems and technology that provide visibility into the information people need is another way to promote transparency. Creating meaningful analytics and then rewarding teams who make improvements can also promote the kind of communication that results in project success.
Challenge 3: Difficulty managing remote teams
In its State of Remote Work study, Owl Labs found that 44% of remote workers said communication was the most difficult aspect of remote work. Even in a post-pandemic world, this challenge is still making the news.
Remote work itself can create challenges, such as difficulty nurturing company culture, managing workload, and coordinating time differences. Remote communication plays into this overall mix.
Effective remote communication requires team members to work successfully in their time zone. Unified online workspaces that house all the latest information supports this goal. Teams should be able to use the latest video conferencing capabilities, collaboration, and messaging channels. Project management software should be online and visible to all team members rather than just on premise.
Challenge 4: Inadequate stakeholder engagement and buy-in
A study by the PMI found that only 44% of project managers felt they were effectively engaging stakeholders. This issue inevitably links back in some form to–you guessed it–communication.
In another survey, the PMI found that 48% of project managers struggle with obtaining buy-in, perhaps tied to the challenge above. While there’s no guarantee that communication will result in buy-in, poor communication can contribute to the lack of it.
Trust, information, and transparency help create buy-in. If you detect recurring themes here, that’s not a mistake.
To nurture a positive stakeholder relationship, communicate the plan. Use them as a sounding board, document their feedback, identify risks and priorities, and follow through. When things deviate from the plan, notify stakeholders.
But don’t abuse this trust. Not every suggestion should translate into a promise. Manage expectations through evaluation and prioritization. When project teams and stakeholders do agree on priorities, managing those will be crucial to success with stakeholders.
Challenge 5: Managing conflicting priorities
We can’t mention priorities without leading to another challenge - how to manage them. Conflicting priorities is a communication issue at heart.
In their Agile Manifesto, the Agile Alliance highlighted the importance of understanding and addressing conflicts in order to ensure successful project outcomes: “Delivering a usable increment of product…requires close cooperation between the development team and stakeholders. This cooperation requires good communication, which in turn requires an understanding of what the stakeholders value. Conflicting priorities can make this difficult, but understanding and addressing those conflicts is an important part of successful agile projects.”
One way to communicate conflicting priorities is to use stacked ranking. Viewing features and tasks through the lens of forced priorities provides clarity. Keeping an eye on priorities through effective tracking and reporting helps manage this process.
To overcome all these challenges, have a clear communication plan, use simple and clear language, choose the right communication channels, and involve stakeholders in the process. Work to break down silos, be open to feedback, and be willing to make adjustments as needed.
You can address project management issues in several tangible ways, starting now. Here are a few communication tools and techniques to address the challenges above.
Project Charter - provides clear direction on the project's definition, scope, budget, and objectives. These goals should be aligned with the organization’s goals so that it is clear how the project meets them. Charters serve to communicate this vital information to all stakeholders.
Risk management plan - outlines a systematic approach to identify, assess, prioritize, and mitigate potential threats to a project’s success.
Requirements documentation - communicates project requirements-and their inevitable changes-in a way that is easy to understand, prioritize, and track.
Product Roadmap - a representation of the features planned for each release of the product, the roadmap helps communicate direction and timing to stakeholders.
Project task planning and resource management - task estimation, management, and resource assignment.
Interface designs and working prototypes - allow stakeholders to visualize and respond to product features, providing teams with the ability to consider changes before coding a particular piece of functionality.
Interviews, feedback sessions, and surveys - these modes of communication create opportunities for project ideation and feedback.
Reports and analytics - provide the data and insights for project status, performance indicators, and decisions.
Finally, here are the bones of a good communication plan, which ensures critical information is not overlooked or misunderstood. Key components include:
- Objectives, tied to the project charter
- Stakeholder analysis for proper coordination
- Communication channels and distribution plans, specifying the frequency, purpose, and methods of communication
- Message development, identifying format, tone, style, and level of detail
- Timing, reflecting a schedule for each type of communication
- Feedback and evaluation, providing ongoing assessment to ensure effective communication
- Roles and responsibilities
DevStride can help.
Project management tools can help track project work, goals and objectives, documentation, roadmaps, milestones, requirements, tasks, assignments, and more. How well they do this can create clear communication or confusion.
DevStride is a modern project and portfolio management tool purpose-built to promote collaboration, communication, and cohesion, reducing the stress factor and making managing projects - successful. A refreshingly easy-to-use tool, DevStride provides the robustness and insight project leaders need and support that teams love.
Here are just a few ways you can use DevStride to overcome and prevent communication challenges:
Workstream mapping to strategic goals and objectives - ensures work is focused on the right projects and is aligned with goals.
Smart Stream AI automation - allows users to generate custom workstreams while providing AI-suggested descriptions and tasks. This super-smart feature helps eliminate the “blank page syndrome” and provides helpful ways to ensure all basics are covered.
Dynamic roadmapping - provides a visual way to manage story and epics for release tracking.
Task and assignment tracking - tracks requirements, tasks, and assignments in an easy-to-use and responsive interface, including Kanban boards and Scrum sprint cycles.
Collaborative workspaces - promote communication through unified workspaces, breaking silos and promoting cohesion. Create and collaborate, keeping all your project documentation and activities up-to-date for everyone.
Stack ranking - makes priorities clear and easy to manage.
PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) and WIP limiter features - for sizing and controlling projects.
Workflow automations - make use of customizable, event and criteria-based triggers to notify owners, promote task management, and stay informed.
Notifications - keep work moving, information available, relevant, and up-to-the second regarding changes, communications, and issue management.
Filters - provide real time visibility on all projects, teams, and portfolios, organization-wide.
Visual indicators - displayed throughout the tool for easy information at-a-glance, including priorities, completion rates, and status.
Rich Analytics - deliver a powerful and effective way to identify and communicate potential issues before they become problems. Beyond raw data, DevStride provides teams and leaders with insights to make informed decisions.
Reach out today - we are here for you
If you need access to a modern project and portfolio management tool that can help you plan and control projects, then schedule an introductory call with us today. Our integrated work management platform provides teams with superior visibility and alignment. Understand the true state of the work, even as priorities shift.
By using DevStride’s platform, you can gain a holistic view of your projects and initiatives, enabling you to deliver successful projects and improve the overall performance of your organization.
We’ll show you exactly how DevStride can help your teams manage exceptional project and product delivery. For projects big and small, DevStride is here for you!