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Project Communication: If It Ain't Broke, It Can Fix What Is

 

This completes thoughts expressed August 31, 2010 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com

       What's the area that most often produces the most fatal of all flaws in the management of projects?

       Here are your choices:

               Schedule

               Resources

                    (Other than People)

               Staffing

                    (Number & Skills)

     Goal Coordination

                    among Stakeholders               

               Problem Solving

               Planning & Task Definition

               Individual Performance

               Communication               

               Teamwork

               Process Management

   

     I offer that list in an advanced project management course, triggering arguments that presumably cause all of the participants to thoughtfully examine their projects, their management and themselves as they seek to fix bad projects and avoid new problems.

      It certainly produces a rich supply of new insights for me, after a quarter-century of this stuff.

      If there's one prime baddie among the 10, my vote has gone to the failure of Goal Coordination among Stakeholders. The theory is that, if the make-or-break deciders of the enterprise don't have their thing together, their conflicting decisions will jerk the project around until it falls into poor performance.

      Second, in my book, is Planning & Task Definition, because that is the foundation of implementation, when people are given the specifics of what is expected and when, what actions are required of them and what practical investments will be made to support those actions.

      Third, I say, is communication. If there is solidarity at the top and clarity in the plan, the fulcrum of success moves to how well those expectations are made present to the worker bees, how effectively the ongoing progress/problems are made known to the deciders and how competently the entire group of individuals pivots to meet its variety of ever-changing demands.

      Makes logical sense, does my hierarchy of evil, but some pretty thoughtful project managers have made a lot of sense in the ongoing debate when we get down to the one-flaw choice.

      How, for example, do the key deciders arrive at consensus? If you are to have Goal Coordination among Stakeholders, how do they articulate those Goals? How do they Coordinate them?

      Well, each key Stakeholder must first be clear on its own expectations, organizing its ideas among its own constituents. It must express them persuasively to its fellow deciders and arrive at mutual agreement. Hmm. Sounds like ascending levels of Negotiation - the highest form of Communication.

      What is Planning? Well it is putting into understandable words the strategies, tactics and action items that will achieve the results the Goals have defined. Those words must first be agreed to by those who must stand behind them. Then, they don't accomplish anything until they go somewhere, in writing or verbally (or both). Gee, isn't all that Communication?

 

      So, turns out Communication is the glue and the fuel. However contradictory that comment sounds, it describes the dual purpose of Communication. The acts of Communication are both the defining structure and the driving force of the project. They provide the direction and momentum at the start They are the moving parts of the monitoring and correction machinery as the project moves through its phases and its crises to conclusion.

      Communication is not a mysterious priesthood. There are identifiable, practical, personal things you do to communicate effectively, from the early strategic discussions with the powers that be to the daily problem-solving with the individual project workers. It requires skill to do these things, which means you must study and practice. They frequently require courage, which means you must prepare.

      But they are fully do-able, and without them you cannot succeed. If you are a project manager, you are a communicator or you are a failure.

      Communication is the lifeblood of the project. When it fails, the organs collapse. When Communication is healthy, and something else goes wrong, the problem is described to those who have the power to do something about it, the resources are activated and moved to the crisis and the project moves on. All by Communication.

       So the arguments will continue, as they should. Every organization is different, as are its projects. Every project manager is different, as are his/her history, circumstances and problems. Every solution is different.

       What is unchanging is that Communication is the name of the game. When it's broke, you're destitute. When it ain't, you can fix anything.

 

 
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Project Management is the 21st-century model for managing complex, risky innovations to on-time outcomes within budget. Jim Milliken offers workplace-tested designs in customized formats for onsite implementation and classroom training.
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