Communication – still the cornerstone of project success



By Jürgen Oschadleus

Sydney, Australia

Project Management South Africa (PMSA) celebrates its 25th year, and I was thrilled to be invited to the November 2021 conference to reprise a paper I presented at their inaugural conference in November 1997. The world today is vastly different from then. The challenges of delivering projects have increased exponentially. The pace of change has accelerated even as the attention span of stakeholders has shrunk. Uncertainty dominates. Social media has amplified the noise clogging the airwaves. The way in which we communicate today bears little resemblance to what it once was. While access to information has never been easier, connecting information and people in a meaningful, effective manner seems harder than ever. As much as technology allows us to move content around the globe in milliseconds, the time to truly engage and absorb information and distil meaning has reduced proportionally. And yet it is as true today as it ever has been, that communication is still the cornerstone of project success.

When I started out in project management I was interested in the mechanics of communication. The 1997 paper focused extensively on the communications management plan and the well-known sender/receiver model articulated by Shannon and Weaver in 1947. I cited the newly released Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management (Vol 2, 21 July 1996, p. 16), which stated:

Project communications management provides a critical link between people, ideas and information at all stages in the project life-cycle. Project communications management ensures the timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, storage and disposition of project information via formal structures and processes to aid in decision making, and the control of informal communication networks to aid the achievement of project objectives.

And I highlighted the role of the project office (i.e. PMO) as the central location from which the communications management plan could be deployed into a project. These principles are still relevant and necessary, but they are not enough.

Over the years I have conducted numerous project reviews (in-flight and post implementation), both on projects I have managed, and as a third-party consultant to others. I have read extensively on projects that have made the headlines and have shaped how we live; I have engaged with and taught business leaders and have learned about projects in their world. Amidst all the learnings, one unescapable truth emerges: communication shapes performance. Great communication was a characteristic in every successful projects, just as poor communication was a hallmark in every project failure.

Successful projects have challenges. But they are built on a foundation of effective, open, honest and trust-based communication. Yes, difficulties arose. But problems were identified, addressed and resolved; conflict was managed (even welcomed) and accountabilities clarified and accepted. Team members and stakeholders could speak their mind.

Equally true was the observation that every failed and significantly challenged project suffered from, and was characterised by, poor communication. Communication that was totally absent, or misinformed and misleading. Communication that may have delivered the contractual obligations of the communications management plan, but not its spirit and intent. Key messages that were buried in an avalanche of electronic noise, or delivered in different metaphorical languages that obscured their importance and value. At times this was the result of an intentional desire to manipulate or distort information, but more often it was the natural yet unintended consequence of how we process information and communicate with each other.


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Editor’s note: This article is based on a presentation by the author during the Project Management South Africa (PMSA) 2021 National Project Management Conference held virtually in November 2021m for which the PMWJ was a media partner.  To learn more about PMSA and their events, visit https://www.projectmanagement.org.za/. For more on the subject of this article, see the author profile at the end of this article and contact the author directly.

How to cite this article: Oschadleus, J. (2022). Communication – still the cornerstone of project success, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue III, March.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/pmwj115-Mar2022-Oschadleus-communication-still-the-cornerstone-of-project-success.pdf

About the Author

Jürgen Oschadleus

Sydney, Australia



Jürgen Oschadleus is Director of project and leadership training, consulting and advisory services at ACT Knowledge in Australia. He is an international speaker, educator, consultant and coach on project leadership, influence and effective communication. He combines his background in history, teaching and technology projects with a fascination for sport and psychology, and uses this to challenge people’s thinking and help them create new mental connections, apply knowledge and achieve the outcomes they seek.

With over 25 years of education, strategic consulting, systems deployment and leadership development projects on five continents, Jürgen has been exposed to a broad range of industries across the commercial and public sector, and often presents postgraduate classes at UNSW and Sydney University. Qualifications include MBA,

PMP and DASSM from PMI, and MAIPM from AIPM. For more, visit https://actknowledge.com or http://au.linkedin.com/in/oschadleus. He can be contacted at jurgen@actknowledge.com