The power of communication

and the challenge of hidden assumptions


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

United Kingdom


Communication is recognised as essential to successful projects (Dalcher, 2012), and indeed for almost any human endeavour. Moreover, one of the most commonly recorded complaints about the performance of organisations and teams relates to their inability to communicate, or to the lack of knowledge regarding the intentions of the executive group. The 2013 Pulse of the Profession Report (PMI, 2013) contends that one in five projects is unsuccessful due to ineffective communication. The report further affirms that a typical project manager should be spending 90 per cent of their time communicating.

Given the critical role of communication in projects, is there anything new to say about communicating?

When describing communication there is a temptation to focus on the message being sent, the channel that is being utilised or the underpinning technology. The Merriam Webster Dictionary accordingly describes communication as ‘a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior’.

However, communication entails a lot more. The Oxford Dictionary defines communication as: ‘the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing or using some other medium’, including ‘a letter or message containing information or news; the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings; and social contact’. The Oxford Dictionary traces the use of the phrase communication, to Late Middle English, with a derivation from Old French counicacion, and the Latin communicatio(n-), originating from the verb communicare, meaning ‘to share’.

The idea of sharing is more powerful than the single direction implied by imparting, or even the mutually bi-directional association enabled through exchanging. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary refers to communication as ‘the process of sharing information, especially when this increases understanding between people or groups’. The Collins Dictionary duly notes that communicating can extend beyond mere information to encompass ideas or feelings.

Conveying meaning, increasing understanding and sharing ideas and feelings extend beyond the typical core knowledge and skills taught to managers and leaders and should therefore merit further consideration regarding the potential, place and role of communication.

Exploring the context

Communication is not a smooth process that is constituted by recipient design and intention recognition, as is often implied by the different theories (Kecskes, 2010; p. 50). Firstly, there is a need to account for the internal representations of external things, whilst many of our thoughts are not represented in the external world (Rapaport, 2003; p. 401). Secondly, we do communicate with others (ibid.; p. 402)

‘When you and I speak or write to each other, the most we can hope for is a sort of incremental approach toward agreement, toward communication, toward common usage of terms.’ (Lenat et al., 1995; p. 45)


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

How to cite this paper: Dalcher, D. (2018). The power of communication and the challenge of hidden assumptions, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue VIII – August.  Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/pmwj73-Aug2018-Dalcher-the-power-of-communication-and-challenge-of-hidden-assumptions.pdf


About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
United Kingdom




Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI SMIEEE SFHEA is Professor of Project Management, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.