Is Communication the Biggest Cause of Project Failure?

“We have terrible communication around here!”

“This place is screwed up! I never know what’s going on!”

I regularly hear from project managers, sponsors, and other stakeholders that their biggest problems with delivery come down to communication. Could it be that poor communication is the single biggest factor to tanking projects?

A wise mentor once told me that when someone complains about poor communications, it’s really a sign that something else is wrong. Poor communication is a symptom of deeper problems.

I’m sure there are examples to the contrary, but my bias is that every problem is a leadership problem. If I don’t like what’s going on with my team, I could blame it on the members but I have to look at what I’m doing to make things better. If a company is struggling, they could blame the economy but what were they doing to prepare for the risks? What are they doing to navigate the problems?  If I don’t like the current state of my family, I could blame my spouse or children, but once again, I have to take a look in the mirror….

Every problem is a leadership problem.

If the above is true, then poor communications could just be a symptom of underlying leadership problems. There are plenty of surveys that indicate “lack of executive support” is more deadly to projects than any other factor. That’s leadership (or lack thereof).

Poor project management?
Insufficient involvement of users/stakeholders?
Denial of risk?
Difficulty defining work in detail?
Unreasonable timeframes?

All of these are factors that show up on most “Leading Causes of Project Failure” lists, and we could reasonably argue that poor leadership is a primary cause of each of them.

Finally, if most of what I’ve said is true, then I fully expect that poor communications is something project managers, team members, sponsors, and stakeholders will be complaining about just as much 10 years from now.

And they’ll be just as wrong as they are today…. 🙂

P.S. Contact me about our project management training series. We help you not only learn how to deliver but also how to lead.

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