Befuddle, Bewilder and Baffle

In the Project Management world, it’s a refrain that is repeated in almost every training program offered around the world; communicate, communicate, communicate. Despite the fact that students of Project Management are told that as much as 80% of a Project Manager’s time is spent communicating, in most Project Management training courses, as little as 5% of the time is dedicated to the topic of communications. Even then, most courses simply expose students to some basics ideas (such as the sender-receiver model) and there is little or no actual education in how to become better communicators.

The failure to provide people with real communications skills is apparent in pretty much every organization I visit. Lack of communications, ineffective communications and downright confusing communications, are among the most common gripes I hear. The problems are endemic to the modern organization and a source of frustration for everyone involved. In addition, poor communications are a contributor to many of the project failures that I’m called upon to review. Despite the fact that the costs at both a personal level and to the organization are extreme, few individuals or organizations are directly tackling the problems head on.

Despite the lack of attention given to the issue of communications, communications skills are something that can be taught and something that people are often keen to learn. When I first started my career more than 20 years ago, I received some quite harsh feedback about my own communications skills. In my annual performance review my Manager told me that although I was a smart guy, my inability to write clearly would hold me back. In response to what had been some quite harsh feedback I decided to read a few books on how to write clearly. As a result, my writing skills were quickly transformed and throughout the remainder of my career, my ability to communicate using the written form has been a key differentiator that has allowed me to excel where others have floundered.

The failure to train people to be effective communicators seems to me to be one of the great failures of today’s educational systems. Although we tell Project Managers of the need to communicate, communicate, communicate, oftentimes we only give them the skills to befuddle, bewilder and baffle. Where we failure to teach Project Managers how to be effective communicators we do a disservice to those who are being trained and the organizations in which they will work.