Communications breakdown killing projects

Failing to initiate “crucial conversations” may be the single biggest cause of project failure, according to preliminary findings of an ongoing study on project management.

The study, being conducted by Vital Smarts Inc., a Provo, Utah-based training firm, found that project managers’ inability to talk to people about five often-occurring negative situations frequently leads to failure.

According to David Maxfield, director of research at Vital Smarts, the five situations include:

• Setting arbitrary deadlines and inadequate resources that “set up a project to fail”.

• Failing to provide the necessary leadership, political clout or energy for a project.

• Skirting or manipulating the project priority-setting process.

• An unwillingness by team members to support projects as required.

• Failing to acknowledge project problems until it’s too late for remedial action.

Maxfield reported that surveys and interviews of more than 800 project managers, as well as 150 hours of observations of corporate project activities, indicated that 80 percent of project managers routinely face arbitrary deadlines and inadequate resources that have no relationship to reality, and only 18 percent feel they can confront that situation effectively.

He pointed to the key difference between those who don’t confront arbitrary deadlines and those who do. Those who don’t, “think of all the bad things that will happen if they stand up to their boss,” he said. Those who do talk about their concerns, “think of all the bad things that will happen if they don’t stand up.” When such crucial conversations don’t occur, he added, projects suffer.

A comprehensive report on the data will be released in September, but Maxfield said preliminary results indicate an overwhelming need for project managers to “speak truth to power” as well as for corporate leaders to make it safe for that to happen.

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