Looking for IT Project Success? Communicate for Action!


So you’re an IT Project Manager, a Business Manager, or an IT Consultant. You’ve had an IT project go south on you. You thought you figured it out, changed your approach for the next project, and it still didn’t go as expected. A considerable amount of research suggests that ineffective communication is an underlying cause of many IT project failures. It could be that the lack of documented expectations and a failure to effectively communicate them were the root cause of your problem!

If you’re already interested in learning more about how Expectation Alignment can be a leading indicator of impending problems on a project, get a copy of our white paper on the subject right here. If not, let me convince you.

The Challenge

You’re a good project manager, well trained and thoroughly experienced in the art and science of project management. You use all the appropriate techniques to establish a strong management environment necessary for your IT project to succeed. That includes defining the necessary lines of authority, communication and reporting. The problem is that establishing those lines, and effectively using them are two different things.

In school we learn the barriers to effective communication and some useful techniques like active listening and repeating. But we don’t learn the techniques that really work and help us build effective tracking and reporting systems. We’ve been taught to communicate for understanding but not for action.

When we don’t communicate for action, we assume. When assumptions are in play, team members end up doing things that are not expected of them, and not doing things that are expected. They’re distracted, not aligned, and getting off track. Without overt communication and agreement, there is a lack of accountability and necessary tasks are not completed. There is a lack of understanding about deliverables, necessary resources, deadlines, and budgetary constraints. And there is a lack of information about project progress that, if available, could provide a leading indicator of impending disaster.

Some Examples

A previous employer of mine once tackled a development project to create a new central purchasing system. After two years and two false starts we couldn’t even get a decent set of user requirements together. We had an extremely competent CP Manager, and a very successful IT Project Manager; so what was the problem?

I was called in to facilitate a series of meetings with the developers and customers and we quickly discovered that team members weren’t communicating effectively. Personalities were interfering with the process of establishing clear expectations about customer needs and technology capabilities, the extent the customer was expected to participate in development and testing, and the extent to which the development team would accommodate change requests.

The problem was obvious; the challenge was how to get past the personalities and focus on the task at hand. We settled on a process of hammering through what the customer and the development team expected of each other, documenting it, and feeding it back to gain their agreement and commitment. Once done, we could proceed with requirements definition and the rest of the development effort. The result was a successful project.

Sometimes communication problems are not so obvious, they’re more subtle and insidious. And they’re predicated in part on a very cooperative team with everyone assuming that they know what the other team members will do and deliver, that everyone knows about those assumptions and will forge ahead. But even a well-oiled team needs to communicate those assumptions, document them, and gain agreement.

Communicating for action in a project management situation helped a general contractor client of ours bring a project in on time, on budget, and with no legal challenges for the first time in fifteen years with that particular client of theirs. On another major construction project they used these techniques to cut a contingency fund burn rate of $50,000 per day to zero. We know that communicating for action works in a project management environment.

The Solution

And what is “communicating for action”? It is expressing specific expectations of each other, gaining agreement and establishing accountability for those expectations, defining the deliverables, timing, and budget constraints, identifying resources required, and documenting it all in a way that can be reported for use as a leading indicator of growing problems or possible success. It is closing the communication loop, extending communication to its logical and necessary conclusion. Communicating for action will get your people aligned, keep them on the same page, and help keep your project on track.

You can find out more about IT Project Success and Communication. Grab a copy of our white paper “Take Control of Your Project! Using Expectations Alignment as a Leading Indicator to Avoid Project Failure” right here.

Hoping to boost the rate of IT Project successes…

Terry Merriman

PCO Associates LLC

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