Ineffective communications between project managers, their teams and their clients can have a disastrous effect on project outcomes. Even when miscommunication is clearly the culprit, many project managers simply don’t know how to constructively address the problem, instead chalking the experience up to usual and even acceptable risks of project management. The lack of a carefully thought-out communications strategy with the appropriate tools to regulate and store information can ultimately cause companies to lose millions of dollars.

Here are five important reasons why poor communication can cause a project to fail:

Misunderstandings. In the late 1990s, NASA and the European Space Agency worked together on the Mars Climate Orbiter. Part of the Mars Climate Orbiter was a lander, which was a weather station intended to land on Mars and transmit data to the orbiter around Mars. When the lander detached from the orbiter, it crashed into the surface of Mars. Afterward, it was found that the NASA engineers were using feet, pounds and inches as units of measurement, while the ESA engineers were using the metric system. This disaster was the result of both sides making an incorrect assumption that understanding had occurred, causing serious and expensive consequences.

The project’s vision is poorly communicated. A project manager generally receives the project’s vision from the customer or sponsor. If the customer cannot clearly articulate his needs to the project manager, or believes the questions can be “worked out as we go along,” the project is likely headed for serious trouble. When the project’s vision isn’t clear, then the team doesn’t understand what the completed project should look like. Without clear direction, the team could spiral until the project runs out of time or money and the project is not complete.

Cognitive biases can lead to failure to understand the project’s “big picture.” Sometimes, people listen only long enough to hear what they think is important. They stop listening before they have understood the complete message. This is where feedback is critical: Don’t give instructions and leave. Project managers must take the time to ensure their messages have been received and understood.

Failure to make accommodations for teams that are remotely distributed. Issues that arise from team members’ inability to collaborate in person must be resolved. A good project manager must communicate ways to coordinate a positive online working environment for a remotely distributed team.

Emotional or cultural bias. When teams are working with stakeholders in other countries and are not sensitive to their emotional or cultural norms, there could be a disconnect about why they are behaving or reacting a certain way. You could be offending people or missing critical behavior nuances without even realizing it, especially if you are working remotely.

Improved communication between the project manager, the team and all stakeholders is an achievable goal with expert support, guidance and instruction. The University of Maryland’s Project Management Center for Excellence is providing the opportunity for project managers to learn new, strategic ways to be more proactive, successful communicators by offering an online self-paced course through edX called  Effective Communication for Program and Project Stakeholders and Teams.

“Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful projects,” says Dr. Bill Brantley, instructor for the course.

Formal communication plans are critical for project success. “Effective communication is the cornerstone of successful projects,” says Dr. Bill Brantley, instructor for the course. “Good communication unites the members of a project’s team and its stakeholders to the project’s strategy and objectives, and it enables everyone to act in accordance with their specific role in a project.”

Obtaining a program management certification or project management certification (such as the PMP certification) is an important first step in becoming a project or program manager who is comprehensively prepared for the rigors of the job. However, as project and program managers gain hands-on experience, they often realize there is more to effective project and program communication than what is on the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. The topics covered in the course can fill those gaps. Project managers learn how to create, coordinate and manage meanings in their communications process, how to give good feedback and how to build empathy — all vital to building a high-performing team with more successful project outcomes.

Successful project management is about being visible, present, and engaged with everyone. It can be the differentiator between a good project manager and a truly effective leader.

Dr. Brantley’s research and extensive personal experience in project management indicate that when it comes to the reasons why a project succeeds or fails, the deciding factor is almost always the level of productive communication between manager and team, executive sponsors and customers. He bases his communication strategy on the emergence model of communication created by Dr. Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist. Dr. Luhmann found that meaning emerges in the interactions between people. The key to Dr. Luhmann’s theory is how effective communication is based on understanding.

A product, project or program manager spends nearly his or her entire day communicating, also called “information transfer.” Difficulties occur when managers assume, but do not ensure that their messages are clear enough to be understood by their team and other stakeholders.

“This course is about creating understanding in the product, project and program team and ensuring a coordinated management of meaning and making sure that people understand each other,” says Dr. Brantley. “We will talk about two models: understanding and giving good feedback. This is the goal of the course—look at your own communication and how well you test for understanding, as the project manager.”

Dr. Brantley added that productive communication is even more critical for program managers because many sets of projects could be ongoing within a program, with as many separate project managers. “Coordinating and transferring information and meaning in a ‘mega’ project can get down to very small details, and it all comes down to good communication,” he said.

According to research by Google, the higher the level of communication, the higher performing the team. “This is achieved by learning conversational turn-taking and ostentatious listening,” Dr. Brantley indicated. “Everyone gets a chance to speak, but then, really listen to understand.”

This Effective Communication for Program and Project Stakeholders and Teams course, is the first of five courses that make up the Project Management and the Art of Communication Professional Certificate developed by author and professor Dr. Bill Brantley and the University of Maryland Project Management Center for Excellence.

The five courses in the professional certificate include:

All courses are asynchronous which allows students to sign up and start the courses when they want and at their own pace. Successful completion of all five courses, culminates in the issuance of a professional certificate for verified learners.

Project success depends on effective communication delivered by strong, persuasive communicators. Upon completion of this professional certificate, project managers will expand their communication “tool box” by demonstrating mastery of the power of persuasion, emotion and stage presence as they negotiate with sponsors and coach or mentor team members.

Project managers will be able to handle all varieties of communication events, including effective coordination of communication flow, which is key to the project’s success. Managers will also gain the skills to build the psychological safety and trust all teams need to work together, and evaluate their own methods to become even more persuasive and empathetic. Dr. Brantley believes that exploring what emerges from communication and testing for understanding is the critical element for project managers to master. “It’s more than just giving instructions. It’s making sure you have tested to make sure everyone has understood what’s been said,” he said.

He added, “The highlight of the professional certificate is the storytelling piece. Project managers need to learn to tell good stories about their experiences. It’s an extremely effective way to get their point across to people.”

Learn more about the Project Management and the Art of Communication Professional Certificate and enroll today.