Project Management Strategies, Part IV: Communication and Responsiveness

"The art of communication is the language of leadership." – James Hume, Author, and Former Presidential Speechwriter

In this series, we have been identifying potential project killers and what can be done to prevent or remediate them. Previously, we’ve discussed issues with unclear scope and commitments, how a parallel-path project approach can yield massive savings, but also when to avoid parallel-path in favor of tip-to-tail project execution.

One common element between all previous entries in our project management strategies series: communication. For example, in our first entry, we discussed the unclear scope and unidentified third-party commitments. Fundamentally, those scenarios both represent fundamental failures of communication.

Unfortunately, many project stakeholders treat good, responsive communication as something that just “happens.” Treating communication as an afterthought, however, can put projects at risk. According to research from the Project Management Institute, communication is essential to project success: “Ineffective communications 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.”

Even more specifically, they found that highly-effective communicators are significantly more likely than minimally-effective communicators to (1) meet original goals, (2) deliver on time, and (3) fall within budget (see chart below).

These issues are intensified in substation projects due to their complexity. When there’s a problem, a breakdown in communication will amplify the impact, whereas excellent communication can minimize the impact to project schedules and costs.

For example, we had one 230/34.5kV substation that was dealt a one-two punch that might have knocked many projects completely off-schedule. First, they had a fire in the substation, necessitating replacement equipment and materials. Then, some of the equipment showed up damaged!

But highly responsive communications between the project owner, DIS-TRAN, and the manufacturer allowed us to turn around and replace the necessary equipment so that there was no major delay to the project at all. As the project owner later told us, “When these assets go down, there’s a lot of money being lost. Getting everything back on track quickly is paramount.”

DIS-TRAN Project Manager David Perry agrees. He says, “Communication is customer service. If a client has a problem, we do not procrastinate. We call them right away, attack the problem head-on, and figure out how to fix it. It’s the communication and customer service that separates excellent project management from mediocre.”

That said, our own communication effectiveness depends on our clients. The following actions can help us to provide better service and communication:

  • Don’t delay alerting DIS-TRAN to any issues or concerns.
  • Be clear and detailed: the more precise information we have, the better we can respond.
  • Use communication channels appropriate to the situation (e.g., don’t rely solely on email for high-urgency situations).
  • Use appropriate terminology and language that all participants can understand; particularly when the conversation involves multiple parties, use wording that everyone will understand.