Communication is the backbone of a successful project. Plenty of projects have failed because there wasn’t enough communication or the communication was the wrong type directed at the wrong people. It’s been reported that one out of every five projects is unsuccessful due to ineffective communications. Don’t let your project be the next one.

Numerous whitepapers have been completed over the years by various sources citing project failure rates and communication is always on the list of reasons why. That sounds like the age old definition of insanity to me – “keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

According to the PMI whitepaper, Communication: The Message Is Clear (Dec 2013), highly effective communicators really do have a greater chance of success.

Among those organizations considered highly effective communicators, 80 percent of projects meet original goals, versus only 52 percent at their minimally effective counterparts, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications. Highly effective communicators are also more likely to deliver projects on time (71 percent versus 37 percent) and within budget (76 percent versus 48 percent).

Those are some pretty staggering differences between success and failure, especially when you consider every percentage point equates to money that was spent by a company trying to successfully complete a project.

PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession™ report revealed that US$135 million is at risk for every US$1 billion spent on a project. Further research on the importance of effective communications uncovers that a startling 56 percent (US$75 million of that US$135 million) is at risk due to ineffective communications.

How to Improve Your Odds for Success

Sadly, one of the reasons communication takes a back seat to project plans and deliverable detail is because that’s where the comfort zone is of many project managers, project sponsors, and project stakeholders. The key to improving your chances for success is to make communication a strategic part of the project. It can’t be an afterthought – “Oh yea, and we have to do a communication plan too.”

That means at the planning stage of your project, you need to define all of the stakeholders – both internal and external – to the project to ensure you bring everyone on board with the appropriate level of information. That can be a pretty daunting task for a big project, especially if the project impacts the public in some way.

But it is doable. It starts with detailing how the project aligns with business strategy and what the benefits will be to everyone involved. That doesn’t mean ticking off a bunch of deliverables to everyone you meet. It means being thoughtful about what parts of the project message will be important to each group.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The makeup of internal and external stakeholders who will be impacted by your project will dictate the “what, why, and how” you communicate with them. This won’t be a “one and done” proposition.

You’ll need to identify the various methods you’ll use to reach each of your stakeholder types and position your communication accordingly. You can’t just rely on email and project review meetings to get the word out.

The best way to figure out how you will communicate is to brainstorm all the possible ways you could reach each of the stakeholder groups. Start by compiling a list of communication methods for your project. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • One on one meetings
  • Newsletter
  • Town hall meetings
  • Focus groups
  • All hands meetings
  • Video
  • Podcast
  • Posters
  • Q & A sessions
  • Contests

I’m sure you can add plenty more to the list. Once you’ve exhausted all the possibilities, align those methods to each stakeholder group.

That will give you a good start at creating a communication plan for your project. Of course, there’s still a lot of work left to do. You’ll need to align your project plan with communication timing to each of the groups to make sure the right message reaches the right group at the right time. We’ll tackle that in a future post. Stay tuned. In the meantime…

Read more: Unknown Communications That Can Tarnish Your Business