This expands upon points made in a post on May 30, 2010 at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com.
Good communication, like a clean house, is rarely a matter of conversation.
Consider the clean house syndrome. You work all day Saturday shining up the place, and by dinnertime it looks the way it's supposed to look. You have a powerful inner glow about it, but your dinner guests won't mention it. Even if they notice, it's not really cool to praise someone for being a neat freak. And you sure can't bring it up yourself.
If, instead, you go out and play ball all day, your evening visitors definitely will make silent note of the dishes in the sink and the dust bunnies in the corners. They won't bring it up (at least not to you), and you certainly won't say anything. But it's on the record, for sure. Would that the clean house would make such an impression!
Same with communicating well. While the fruits of good communication are thoroughly enjoyed, the persistent extra efforts it takes to achieve it are rarely given the attention they deserve.
Poor communication, on the other hand, is readily noticed and loudly denounced. As it should be. It's also a lot more common than good communication, and that's the cause of a very significant amount of project shortfall and failure.
‘The communication is terrible around here.'
When communication does its job, group enterprises hum right along and we can focus on doing our part. When there are communication disconnects, we have to slow down, we have to do things over, we get annoyed. We say, “The communication is terrible around here.” Our work is less effective, our energy ebbs and collaboration suffers.
Communication is the lifeblood of project management, and poor communication cripples projects.
Because so many of us have seen so much poor communication on so many occasions, we are inclined to see it as inevitable, and we behave accordingly. In truth, most organizations most of the time operate with chronic inefficiencies in communication. The net result is a general inability of the organization to conduct its affairs effectively.
When the organizational activity affected is a project, the damage more often is serious. Projects are new and unfamiliar to start with. The participants have to invent ways of doing things, and work with other people, often unfamiliar ones, who are doing the same thing.
It's surprising, therefore, how little attention most project managers – and most organizational executives who sponsor or oversee projects – devote to communication. It's the name of the game, for heaven's sake, when coordinated human effort is the matter at hand. We do not realize how many unexamined “givens” we are importing without thought into our project planning. It's an endemic risk factor, and deserves to be treated as such.
The tomato is a . . . berry?
A project functions on the continuous flow of information, proposal, response, pledge, request, report. Communication is conducted through structures within the project team and the team's sub-units, as well as between individuals and groups, between the project manager and individuals/groups and along various lines connecting people within and outside the project activity.
The wise project manager invests direct attention in understanding, organizing and attending to communication. It's basic to everything. You make a practice of questioning assumptions and confirming intentions. Formally, specifically, as part of the project and team organization process.
You understand that my assumptions are not your assumptions, and act accordingly.
Is a tomato a vegetable? We all treat it that way. Well, it's actually a fruit. Botanically, it's classified as a berry. This is truly a fact that would be relevant in very few projects, but it illustrates a point: You can find some surprising truths when you invest a little time and conscious thought in probing generally-accepted assumptions. Some unexpectedly important matters turn up.
So when I say “to-may-to” and you say “to-mah-to,” it may be funny, or it may be irritating – but it also may be important.