What’s in Your Communications Engine?

A 2013 study by the Project Management Institute entitled “The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications” says “Ineffective communication is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time.”


A poll of customers released in 2012 by CompTIA of Oakbrook Terrace Ill. says that close to 30% of respondents said that poor communication is the number one cause of project failure.


comm engine

I conducted a webinar this week for the PMI Government Center of Practice called “Effective Communication Skills for the Government Project Manager”. It could have easily been addressed to any project management community. In preparing for this webinar, I used the phrase “Communications Engine”. I suggested that this ‘engine’ contained all of the tools that we had available at our disposal to get the right information to the right people throughout the lifecycle of our project.


The idea of a ‘Communications Engine’ is a little out-of-the-box.
In the world of professional project management, we talk about a communications plan and often think, or believe, that this is our Communications Engine. Within the plan we are considering who gets what, when, why, and where. Who are the major stakeholders and how much information do they need throughout the life cycle of the project?


But I think when we talk about a communications engine it should include more than just the communications plan. What about the project fundamentals? What about the business case? What about the strategic plan? The a smooth running, well-oiled communications engine should include ALL of the tools that will deliver ALL of the information that we ALL need on ALL projects. Repeatable, reusable and reliable in every project.


Tools that come to mind that I might include in my “Communications Engine”:

  • The Strategic Plan (or a part thereof) in some circumstances when it would be important for all of us to know where we are headed:
  • The Business Case that provides us with the justification – again, not in all circumstances
  • The Project Charter that describes the scope of work, schedule, budget, risks and more – no options here
  • The Communications Plan that covers more than just the what, who, why, where and when
  • The Team Charter – a tool we seldom take the time to build. Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What’s going on in your life that may positively or negatively affect your performance on this project. And more.

These are the pieces (of course with lots of detail underneath) that will successfully drive the communication flow across the whole project. These are the pieces that tell the whole story and not just the part that we think is most applicable to a certain segment of the audience.


Without knowing why we are doing the work (from the strategic plan and business case) we won’t be working together as well as we might. Without knowing who our team members are and a little bit more about them professionally and personally, coming out of the team charter, we will miss out on the all-important level of communications vital to any team. Without rules of engagement that come out of the communications plan we risk misunderstandings throughout.


We need a new ‘family’ of tools called the ‘Communications Engine’. A group of tools for the project manager, project director and anyone who is put in charge of a group of people who need to work together towards a common goal.


The Communications Engine: driving all of the information that we need to know in order to work well together, collecting and reporting all of the information we will need to do our jobs properly moving forward.


What are the components of your Communications Engine?


Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.com


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