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Poor communication is the reason for most project management failures

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

Have you noticed there is hardly any information available in the communication profession on the skills required to successfully manage projects?

The academic literature hardly contains anything, and PR courses neglect this important aspect of our profession.

Yet we are required to manage projects of varying complexity, often simultaneously and usually under time pressure.

What’s more, most of the time the experts fail to grasp the importance of communication to the success of projects of any kind.

I have observed this myself. Over the years, I have seen the way the world’s top management consultants like McKinsey & Co and various project management planners have almost totally ignored communication. And when they do remember it, it is an after-thought – to be put in place after the real work has been done.

Fortunately, experts are slowly starting to realize that communication is the most important element of projects.

In a new book, Project Management Communications Bible, authors William Dow and Bruce Taylor note, “communication is the key to keeping team members, managers and stakeholders informed and on track to pursue the project objectives.”

The authors, who are vastly experienced in project management, including major work for Microsoft, point to the results of an industry survey in 2007 that attributed reasons for project failure as follows:

Poor requirement definition 50%
Inadequate risk management 17%
Poor scope control 15%
Communication problems 14%
Lack of qualified resources 3%
Other 1%

Then the authors give what they consider the real reasons for project failure:

Poor requirement definition 2%
Inadequate risk management 1%
Poor scope control 1%
Communication problems 90%
Lack of qualified resources 1%
Other 2%

(This adds up to only 97%; 3% seems unaccounted for in this summary, but I’m sure you get the idea.)

The authors believe poor communication is at the core of nearly all project management problems.

What is the best way to manage communication projects? I will write a series of articles on good practices for managing communication projects (including good communication practices for the management of communication projects!).

An example: during every significant project someone always asks for a report on the project. Usually a report is run off as quickly as possible and people turn back to the project.

But a strategic approach should be taken with all such requests for reports. Rather than providing the report immediately, think about asking some important questions:

  • What information does the report provide?

  • What are you trying to achieve with this information?

  • Who needs the report and how will they use it?

  • How often is the information needed?

  • How quickly do you need the report developed?

  • Do you have the budget to develop the report?

  • Does an existing report already provide the necessary information?

  • Which other stakeholders can be included in the distribution of the report to satisfy their needs?

By clarifying the needs of the people requesting the report and other stakeholders, you can save time and money.

Next time someone requests a project report from you, pause to consider these questions.

This approach also works with other requests from internal customers. When someone from senior management contacts you to say, “We need a newsletter” or “We need a new brochure” or “We need an article on …in the newsletter,” don’t just take their request at face value. Probe with similar questions to the above list to establish what the real need is. Most of the time they actually need a much more strategic response than the production of simple communication collateral.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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