“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”

Like the sadistic prison guard in the movie Cool Hand Luke who told his prisoners, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” project managers often do not attribute unrealized plans, missed goals and unsuccessful projects to a lack of honest communication.  It is much easier to lay blame on project issues or the ever-popular ‘not my responsibility.’

I take offense when I hear of consultants pulling such stunts.  No wonder we (consulting companies) get such a bad rap in the market.  It is very frustrating to go in to talk to a new client and start off the conversation defensively.  To these companies, there isn’t anything we can say to assuage their previous experiences of being repeatedly burned by people that ostensibly came in to help.  To these companies, the only thing we can do to change their minds is to do what we say, when we say we’ll do it, for the amount and scope that we’ve mutually agreed to.


On time, on budget, on scope.  It shouldn’t be that hard, but without good communication, it is impossible.  Regular and honest project updates keep the client updated, maintains their expectations of both the project and their consulting partner, and keeps the consulting partner accountable.  Rarely does a client react well to, “oh, we forgot to mention X and now it is a BIG problem that is going to cost you BIG money.”  However, if you approach them with the potential risk early on, not only can the problem be resolved before it becomes an actual issue, but the client will feel reassured that you are pro-actively handling their project.  Resolved risks = reduced issues, which means keeping the project on timeline, budget, and scope.

Even if things go wrong, as sometimes they inevitably do, being open with the client and explaining the problem and the steps to resolve it, goes a long way in maintaining a friendly partnership.

Sometimes it feels as if clients have fallen into the “Sucker’s Choice” trap. This trap occurs when you think you can only choose between two bad options, A or B. However, a greater choice, C, which is usually available if honest communication occurs.

For more information on how to handle risk and issue management, read the Penny PM section of Aspire OpenMic.

About joehillesheim

Founder and President of Aspire HR, Inc.
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