How to Communicate Effectively in Projects

Projects completed in time and budget are few and far between. There are many reasons for this: unclear requirements and goals, bickering over responsibilities, egoism, lack of resources, incorrect planing, politics, wrong methodologies – the list goes on and on. But maybe the most important reason for failed projects is ineffective communication in projects. How is this possible in 2015, with countless options to communicate at our disposal and every employee instantly within reach and customers as well as stakeholders actively participating in projects? Is there maybe too much communication, or is there not enough of it? Or is it the way we communicate?

Senders and Recipients

Communication is regarded as the Alpha and Omega of project management; it is easy to contend that ineffective communication is the main reason for failed projects. Indeed, it is hard to refute this claim. Communication is difficult.

There is something you want to communicate, a thought, an idea, a concept; but your counterpart does not understand you, does not get it. The Shannon-Weaver model of communication¹ defines a common code as a prerequisite for successful communication. Cultural and linguistic differences, ambiguity, nonverbal information or a lack of alertness can lead to a dissonant codification and decoding.

Communication in projects – the Alpha and Omega of success

Communication in projects – the Alpha and Omega of success

The so-called Four-sides model² takes a different approach. Its concept comprises a matter layer, a self-revealing layer, a relationship layer and an appeal. What both models have in common is the need for a “good will”, the intent to participate in a fruitful communication process. Without this good will, communication will inevitably fail, pushing the aforementioned reason to the stage again: egoisms, politics, power struggles or simply a lack of motivation.

How Do You Want to Communicate?

Everyone has his or her own preferences when it comes to communication. So you want to give feedback every time a work package has been completed? Do you want to be informed about each and every completed task? Or just about important tasks? Via e-mail, automated notification, in person, in the evening, via SMS? Do you always want to have some form of insight into the result or is the message itself enough?

All these questions may seem to be easy to answer but they aren’t, and the answers heavily depend on the context and the importance of the project as well as the progress of the project so far. The closer you get to the deadline the more likely it is that the amount of communication increases.

The answers are also closely connected to your personality and your individual need for current information and security. Whatever your answers are for all these questions, the most important thing is that you are able to provide answers. Only you know whether you like to discuss project details in meetings, if you are a fan of lists and reports, if you need direct feedback from colleagues and superiors.

What really is interesting are the parts of communication about which you are unsure, the gray area that contains all the little aspects you just cannot pin down. The obvious next question is: How do all the other members of your project want to communicate? More questions and hopefully more answers. The more answers are identical the more effective communication will be in your project.

Diversity and Wear of Project Communication

There is a growing number of tools designed to improve communication in all kinds of areas and situations. Mobile apps, project management software with social media functionality, chats and many more. I don’t know about you but I have been stressed out by some of these tools more than once. And most of these so-called options become a drag after a few weeks. Also, communication habits change with time. Not each and every colleague wants to be informed about minor changes. Not every superior wants to busy himself with every little aspect of a project. Not every staff member is happy about his inbox overflowing with tasks to be completed. The middle way may be the way to go. With the type and amount of communication best suited for your team. Ideally with adequate tool support.

Yesterday the app was all the rage, today it is a drag. Versioned communication? Yay! Oh, wait, booo! Things change, people and their preferences change. And if one type of communication shows sign of wear the project participants should have an idea of how to improve communication again.

Until the next time.


The clearer your picture of communication in projects is, the more detailed your idea of communication with all project participants, the more effective this communication with colleagues and superiors will be. The more open and clear you are about this idea, the easier it is to simplify, streamline and optimize exchange in your projects. Regardless of type, medium, frequency, depth of detail or amount of feedback.


[1] Shannon-Weaver model
[2] Four-sides model

Michael Schenkel believes in useful tools, that support users in their work and that provide a common working environment for all types of roles in a project. He became a member of the microTOOL family more than fifteen years ago and took over the position of head of marketing for about half a decade. In October 2017, he moved on to a new adventure and we wish him all the best on this new path.

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