Speaking the many languages of a project

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No matter how skilled and experienced the people are in a project team, poor communication can scuttle any project.

Take the example of a recent real-life scenario, which had the project heading for disaster…

The project’s business analyst was feverishly conducting a reverse engineering process to pinpoint problem areas that needed fixing. Essentially, this involved ‘drilling into the black box, unpacking thousands of transactions’ and formatting these so that they could be understood and analysed.

The project manager (PM), on the other hand, had to regularly report to the stakeholder, using language and measurables that the stakeholder could understand and that justified the money being spent on the project.

It is here that the problem arose: business analysts think and speak in technical language, they are inherently subject matter experts. The PM needs to be briefed by the business analyst in plain English that he can understand well enough to be able to explain to the stakeholder in ‘executive speak’ (in other words, ‘sound bites’ that make sense and give the most information in the shortest time).

And there you have the root of the problem: the business analyst ‘talking technical’, providing far too much detail, to the PM who needs to ‘speak executive’ to the stakeholder, with much of the pertinent data getting lost in translation along the way.

In the case in question, the lack of communication and the resulting frustration had hampered the project team for more than three months, threatening to derail the project completely.

The situation could have been avoided had the business analyst adjusted the message, taking out superfluous technical detail and providing just the relevant information.

Effective communication between the project manager and the project team eliminates misunderstandings and ensures that everyone understands the parameters within which they have to work and what’s being delivered.

Another sure-fire way of hampering communication is to rely solely on email and other electronic communication. Experts disagree on the exact percentage of how much of communication is non-verbal (some put it as high as 93%), but there is consensus that at least more than half of communication comes from body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Email may be useful for placing things on record but it should never be the sole method of communication within a team. And PMs that consider something done once an email instruction has been sent, do so at their own peril.

The importance of effective communication simply cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to project management. It is essential that the PM conducts regular deliverable reviews and that these are done face-to-face, even teleconferencing is not ideal. Considering that the proverbial buck stops with the PM, it falls to him to constantly reassess the project’s communication strategy and to not be afraid to make changes when necessary.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.