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Poor communication: cause or symptom in project failures?

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As project managers, one thing we all know is that communication is the key to following a project plan through to a successful outcome. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that poor communication is a cause (not necessarily the only one of course) of project failure. Unfortunately, all too often what a project team consider to be an issue with communication is in fact a symptom of a different problem altogether.

There are a variety of issues that can contribute to project failure. While many of them can occur as a result of poor communication, they are not always the cause so what else can be the cause of project failure?


When we are afraid it is a natural instinct to protect our own interests. Communication can become more guarded when there is fear of blame, fear of our ability being brought into question, or worse, fear of losing our job. These fears, and others, are barriers to communication and can result in a lack of fully open and honest discourse. In order to communicate properly there needs to be trust, and this is something that rarely happens immediately, especially in newly formed project teams. As a project manager it is important to nurture an environment of trust within your team so that team members aren’t afraid to communicate any issues to you. Being fair matters, and will help to alleviate any elements of fear that might creep into your team.

Differences in expectations about roles and responsibilities

All too often, members of a team may have different expectations and beliefs about how things should work with respect to roles and responsibilities. In situations like this communication appears to be happening but there is a lack of understanding. Make sure you clearly show your team how and where everyone fits in, each person’s specific responsibilities, and how different roles are all vital parts of the whole. This will help you to align the different expectations that might exist in your team.


Chaos results from confusion. When your team members are unclear about who is responsible for which tasks then chaos is almost certain to follow from this confusion and lack of clarity. Ultimately this can lead to a drop in productivity. This confusion can be the result of poor communication yet is something that can be very easily rectified, or indeed avoided altogether.  It is the project manager’s responsibility to make sure all communications are made clearly and to the whole team so that everyone has received the same information and any misunderstandings are less likely to happen. Avoid communicating individually with team members when the message is for the whole team.

Where there is a clear leader in a team, it is much easier to ensure that there is clear communication from a single source and so less confusion. Ultimately this will help to drive your project to a successful outcome.

Lack of job satisfaction

When your team are happy in their jobs then productivity is likely to be higher, according to research showing that happy workers are more productive. They are also more likely to communicate, whether it be good news about the project or problems that have arisen, and this can help the team to bring a project in both on time and to budget. When team members are dissatisfied then these levels of communication and cooperation are simply not there.

Communication issues can undoubtedly be a major factor when it comes to project failure however it is important to understand the root cause of this type of problem. All too often poor communication can be the symptom of a much greater issue and one that you will almost certainly need to resolve if you want to ensure that your projects are a success.

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