There is no magic wand to wave that will ensure that a project won't suffer issues or even that a project that starts out with a formal communication plan in hand and a project leader dedicated to staying on top of all communication channels at all times won't still suffer from communication breakdowns.
Review status regularly as a team. Since a tightly knit, cohesive team is usually tantamount to success, it would make sense that a team that communicates well, accurately, and frequently is also more likely to experience success and high productivity. Therefore, regularly scheduled team meetings, communication, and tasks and status review is always going to be a good idea. Keep in mind, It doesn't always have to be a meeting. Daily updates via email can be enough to make your team feel like they know everything about the project at any given minute. One of my business analysts on a project – who was also working on three other projects with three other project managers – told me that I received more emails from me than the others and always felt like he knew the project status much better because of it and he knew what tasks he should be working on at any given time.
Keep meetings regular. Regular meetings = a stable stakeholder environment = communications that are comfortable and open. If you are conducting – as you should be – regular weekly project status meetings with the project customer and weekly project team meetings to keep the team focused and up to date, keep those meetings no matter what. Even if there isn't much to say at any given meeting, still conduct it...even if it ends up being a 5 minute meeting to talk about what everyone is doing this weekend. You never know when some piece of key project information may slip through the cracks when a meeting is canceled that should have otherwise been held. Plus, when you start to cancel meetings, people who would normally be in attendance may feel that your meetings aren't as critical as other meetings they could be attending and your attendance and participation levels may drop. You've then lost key participants and decision makers and that can be disastrous for the project and it's often very difficult to rein those individuals back in.
Follow up on key communications. Always, always, always followup. Making sure everyone is on the same page after meetings, after key brainstorming or troubleshooting sessions and following customer communications is critical to moving forward in the right direction. Followup with notes and ask for a 24 hour turnaround response with any feedback or changes from those involved in the discussions. Redistribute with any necessary changes and everyone will be back on the same page again.
Summary / call for input
Communication is Job One for the project manager, in my opinion. Keep communication in order and you've taken huge steps to ensuring project success and top project team performance for your project customer. If you are experiencing any communication issues, noticing and miscommunication that is cloud requirements and scope understanding for the team or a situation where people aren't taken the same understanding from meetings you're conducting, try these three actions on your project to get things back on track. A strong line of communication with the project customer is also a very good way to keep customer satisfaction high and hopefully secure repeat business from your project clients.
Readers – what are your thoughts on project communication issues? What do you commonly see as communication issues on the projects and how do you best avoid or mitigate those issues?