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Communicating Project ManagementThe Integrated Vocabulary of Project Management and Systems Engineering
By Hal Mooz Kevin Forsberg Howard Cotterman
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-471-26924-7
Chapter OneCOMMUNICATING PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Communication is the soul of management: analysis and solid decisions translated into clear messages that influence people to act and feel good about their performance. Dianna Booher Communicate with Confidence!
As George Bernard Shaw once said, "The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished." Many infamous project failures, such as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, can be attributed directly to just that illusion. Project success depends directly on achieving stakeholder understanding by communicating effectively.
We all know that communicating is difficult enough in familiar work, social, and family settings. The project environment can be particularly challenging. Projects, being temporary, often bring people together who were previously unknown to one another-reason enough for miscommunication, especially in the first project phases. A related reason is that projects represent a microcosm of a broad, general organization-one that integrates different technical specialties and people with very different backgrounds. Common labels such as nerd, geek, and bean counter, suggest some of the attitudinal barriers that interfere with projectcommunications, not to mention the vocabulary ambiguities among the various disciplines. Referring to disparities between the technical and financial, Stephen Cross observed in his Foreword that technical and management issues are often aggravated and perpetuated by language barriers.
While much of this book is devoted to project language, it is but one major factor in the project communication equation. As illustrated in Figure 1.1, communications results are only as good as the least effective of the multiplication factors in this product:
Participants X Techniques X Environment X Language ~ Communication
This book consists of six parts. The main sections of Part 1 correspond to the four factors in the communications equation in Figure 1.1, emphasizing the first two: the participants and those techniques that are particularly important in the project environment. Part 2 broadens the discussion of techniques by defining the context for project communications in the form of visual process models, project integrity, and systems management. Part 3 focuses on the global professional environment and the organizations that shape it. Part 4 provides further context for the project vocabulary. Parts 5 and 6 address the language factor with a common project vocabulary consisting of terminology (Part 5) and acronyms (Part 6).
Our models, summarized in Part 2, focus on projects. This section briefly describes several general models that have proven helpful in understanding the communication process itself. We also identify references that delve into the underlying theories that are outside this book's scope and purpose.
Many models dating from the late 1940s are referred to as transmission models since they approach communications as an information transfer problem based on some variation of four fundamental elements:
Sender (or Source) > Message > Channel (or Medium) > Receiver
One of the most popular models was created when Warren Weaver, a distinguished mathematician, applied Claude Shannon's concept of information transmission loss over telephone wires to interpersonal communication (Figure 1.2).
Shannon was a research scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories trying to achieve maximum telephone line capacity with minimum distortion. Though he had never intended for his mathematical theory of signal transmission to be used for anything but telephones, the Weaver adaptations were very influential in information theory. Norbert Wiener, a renowned mathematician and founder of cybernetics, added the feedback loop to the Shannon-Weaver Model. We elaborate further on feedback in later sections.
The Lasswell Formula (Figure 1.3), another popular transmission model introduced a year later by sociologist Harold Lasswell, added the idea of impact or effect.
The transmission models have also influenced early studies of human communication, but many theorists now consider them to be misleading. These models and their derivatives focus more on the study of message-making as a process, rather than on what a message means and on how it creates meaning. The issues of meaning and interpretation are reflected in the models depicted in Figures 1.4 and 1.5, both of which emphasize the interpretive processes.
David Berlo, a well-known communication researcher who studied at the University of Illinois with Wilber Schramm, introduced the model in Figure 1.5 in 1960. Further emphasizing encoding and decoding, he defined five verbal communication skills: speaking and writing (encoding skills), listening and reading (decoding skills), and thought or reasoning (both encoding and decoding).
For those readers interested in a deeper understanding of the theories underlying these and other models, we offer these references:
Stephen W. Littlejohn, Theories of Human Communication (Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, April 1995). This book is considered the seminal text in the field.
Richard L. Lanigan, Phenomenology of Communication: Merleau Ponty's Thematics in Communicology and Semiology (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1988). Semioticians center their attention on semantics-what a message means and on how it creates that meaning.
The remainder of Part 1 addresses the communications issues of project teams by considering each of the four factors: participants, techniques, environment, and language.
PARTICIPANTS AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON PROJECT COMMUNICATIONS
We often think of project participants as being limited to the team members. But from total influence and broader communications viewpoints, the participants encompass a wide array of stakeholders, including:
Functional and middle management.
Closely related stakeholders, such as contractors, customers, and potential users.
Global stakeholders, such as professional associations and standards organizations.
Stakeholders all bring their own vocabulary, behaviors, communication styles, attitudes, biases, and hidden agenda to the project environment.
PERSONAL BEHAVIORS AND COMMUNICATION STYLES
To communicate effectively, we need to be aware of differing behaviors and styles and their potential impact. Leaders often need to adapt their own style rather than "shape up" the other person.
There are numerous texts and self-study guides for analyzing your own style tendencies and preferences. We summarize two models proven to be particularly effective. However, the details of any specific self-typing or group analysis scheme are less important than the process itself-exploring your own preferences and stretching your range of styles. To benefit from that process, you first have to be self-aware.
Wilson Learning Corporation's Interpersonal Relations Model (Eden Prairie, MN) has been widely used in the business environment for characterizing personal style. Your interpersonal style is determined by a blending of your peers' perceptions acquired through formal questionnaires similar in format to psychology and aptitude profiles. The process begins with the interpretation of your individual results relative to the four-quadrant model in Figure 1.6.
Combining your primary style-Analytical, Driver, Amiable, or Expressive-with your secondary or backup style (one of the same four quadrants in the basic model), places you in one of the 16 style categories (e.g., an Expressive/Driver) (Figure 1.7).
The utility of the Wilson model becomes clear when you consider the interactions among the various categories. The result is a much-improved insight and awareness, not only of your own styles, but of others' behavior patterns as well. Perhaps most important is this newly acquired means to recognize behavior patterns and then anticipate interactions so as to adapt by extending your own personal behavior boundaries.
Another model broadly supported in psychology and self-help, is based on the theory of psychological types described by Carl G. Jung (1875-1961). Jung theorized that people are different in fundamental and definable ways and that preferences for how people function and solve problems can be categorized. He believed that, while certain preferences are inborn, they can be changed over time. Jung's model places you in one of 16 categories based on determining your dominant traits. In the 1950s, Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs devised the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to further characterize and apply Jung's 16 categories. The Myers-Briggs model uses a questionnaire to help you determine your dominant trait in each of four pairs of traits:
E/I Extrovert or Introvert
N/S Intuitive or Sensing
T/F Thinking or Feeling
J/P Judging or Perceiving
David Keirsey developed his related Temperament Sorter to help with personal action plans and communications. The characterizations in Figure 1.8 are adopted from David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me, Character & Temperament Types (Del Mar, CA: Promethius Nemesis Book Company, 1984), one of several guides for interpreting the results.
Rather than consolidating peer- and self-review into one composite result, you are encouraged to characterize yourself and to independently have others respond to the same questions about you. Additional insight can thus be gained by comparing your results for each trait with the perception of others. As with the Wilson model, most authors provide detailed advice and insight regarding the dynamics of one style interacting with another (e.g., an ENTN interacting with an ISFP), whether it be as team members, manager/ subordinate, or spouses.
These models help discern cognitive preferences and do not represent behavioral absolutes. They provide insight into how we gather information, process it, and communicate. Regardless of your preferred style, your actual style at any time should be affected by factors such as the maturity level of team members and the gravity or priority of the situation. Variety and shifts in style are not only necessary-they're healthy. Communicating in projects requires flexibility and adaptability in dealing with the task at hand, the personalities involved, events, and the situation.
ATTITUDES AND BIASES CAN BUILD BRIDGES OF UNDERSTANDING OR DESTROY PROJECTS
We refer to negative personal biases regarding important project management techniques as the hidden enemies. For example, our surveys of some 20,000 managers regarding their attitude about red teams, revealed that only 20 percent of project participants have a positive attitude about this important communication technique. Please refer to the illustration under bar chart in Part 5 for more attitude survey data.
The Berlo SMCR Model (Figure 1.5) identifies attitude as one of five facets that affect personal communications (some models combine Berlo's social system facet with culture). An inappropriate attitude or bias regarding project subject matter or a specific technique, once understood, can usually be dealt with rationally and amicably. However, attitudes toward you or toward another in the communications loop is a much more significant barrier. If you have a low opinion of the person with whom you are dialoging, you will certainly formulate your message differently from the way you formulate it for your close collaborators. This person is a computer nerd. That one is a geek. You make sure that you don't smile too much and don't say any more than necessary in case it is interpreted as an invitation to strike up a friendship. It is regrettable that the type of productive dialog illustrated at the top of the mountain in Figure 1.9 is so unstable and susceptible to a sudden decline.
Constructive challenge (Figure 1.9) is a problem-resolving technique that depends on good communication skills and a positive attitude. Known as constructive confrontation in some circles, it can easily turn destructive without the right intentions, skills, or the commitment to immediately solve problems. To keep it constructive:
Go directly to the most likely solver-independent of organization structure.
Confront the problem not the person-use facts.
Exclude personalities from discussion.
Jointly work toward resolution-hold each other accountable.
Used with good intentions, this approach eliminates whining and solves problems fast. But when used in name only, as a weapon in rivalry or for other wrong purposes, it can destroy teamwork and the project.
Excessive rivalry can be just as destructive at the individual level as it is at the global level. As long-time participants in professional associations and industry standards organizations, we have observed a trend of increasing cooperation among the key project disciplines, which we address in the next section and in Part 3, The Collaborative Environment. But this industry-level collaboration frequently fails to permeate the very organizations and projects that form their constituency. Sometimes this is a result of competitive pressures. More often, it is ignorance or misdirected ambition.
In the face of management and global barriers, how can project managers ensure effective communications on their own project? Just like every other responsibility within a project, it starts at home-by taking responsibility for communicating skills, attitudes, and training at the individual and team levels. You, as project manager, need to assess the skills within your team and take the appropriate measures, which often starts with good guides, such as those we identify in the next section.
The participants have the greatest potential to promote understanding by proactively strengthening the other three communication factors. When you or other key stakeholders anticipate a communication breakdown or encounter a barrier, the best strategy may be to turn to a nonstakeholder for objective feedback or assistance. For example, the initial project planning session is often held before the new group of people has coalesced as a team; therefore, they may benefit greatly from an outside facilitator, one who is skilled in the subject matter as well as the art of communicating among disparate factions. Not only will this converge more quickly on a workable plan, but it also can provide valuable on-the-job communications skills training and experience while serving as a model for future conduct.
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