Communication failure is when someone working on the project fails to communicate information about the project to an interested party (or interested parties). An example of a communication failure is a team member failing to say to the project manager (or the team leader) that he's having some difficulties on his task, and he won't be able to finish it on time. Another example is a project manager failing to report the status of the project to the stakeholders. A third example, is a client failing to communicate all his requirements to the project manager. Communication failure has nothing but negative consequences on the project, including scope/hope/feature/effort creep (essentially all kinds of creeps), unnecessary project delays, role confusion, missing requirements, little involvement of the stakeholders (which can cause major issues at the end of the project) because they are not aware of what's going on, etc...
There are many reasons behind communication failure, and they are mostly "human" reasons:
- Ignorance/Fear of criticism: For example, the client doesn't know exactly what he wants and he doesn't want to look stupid in front of the project manager by asking him to include features that may or may not be possible to include, but are necessary to the product. This is especially the case in software projects.
- Stress: Doing too many things at the same time can cause people to forget/ignore their routine tasks or forget about sending that email containing an approved change requests. Communication failure because of stress can be caused by anyone involved in the project, including the stakeholders, the project manager, and the team members.
- Laziness: A common example is a lazy project manager who just don't want to find the time to communicate with is team members, whether it's about the requirements, the issues they're facing, the schedule, etc... Projects managed under such project managers are usually way too late and way over budget.
- Fear: A project manager might be fearful to report to his sponsor that the project is way behind schedule, for example, so he doesn't say anything. Similarly, a team member who is not able to finish his task is afraid to tell the project manager out of fear from being labeled as non-productive. The fear factor is usually the direct consequence of an ultra-demanding and non-forgiving individual higher than the "afraid" person in the project management hierarchy.
- If it's not written, it didn't happen: Imagine a project manager passing by next to a team member and telling him to do something in one way, and that team member never did it (this is extremely common). The project manager will then pass by to check on that task, and discovers that the team member totally forgot about it, basically because it wasn't sent to him in an email. This communication failure results mainly from team members refusing to work on undocumented tasks.
- No collaboration: The project manager and the team members do not collaborate, they do not share the information they have on the project with the others. This often causes some tasks to be redone (for example, one team member is using the Yahoo ajax library to develop a form, while the team leader is using the jquery library).
Non-human reasons for communication failure include:
- Distance: Of course, for critical areas in the project, face to face communication is essential, but this cannot be done if the other party is thousands of miles away, so not-as-efficient means of communication will be used (such as video conferences) which can sometimes cause communication failure (misunderstandings, etc...)
- Different time zones: Imagine the project manager working in one time zone and his team working in another time zone, with 10 hours of difference. Clearly, the project manager can rarely, if ever, catch the team awake and communicate the necessary information about the project, so he uses alternative methods such as emails and just "hopes" that the team will immediately understands what he wants.
- There are also some technical issues behind communication failure, such as email problems (emails caught as spam or accidentally deleted), phone problems (people not listening to their voicemail messages, or understanding one thing as another because of the low phone quality),