Summary tools and technologies reinventing communication


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In the Programme Management SIG Webinar “Turbocharge project performance by reinventing communication” Mark Phillips gave us a fascinating insight into the role and importance of communication within projects and programmes.

Starting with an obvious - but often overlooked - observation that projects are about people and that therefore communication between people is the binding structure that holds a project together. If communication breaks down or is ineffective then project delivery suffers. Conflict within a project has a direct impact on it, often causing cost and time overruns.

Interestingly the use of technology in communication can make things worse, not better, if it is not used wisely. The introduction of new tools can create more noise and reduce the quality of the signal.

The way in which the people are organised - for example multiple contractors or a single organisation, flat or as a hierarchy - drive the sorts of risks that projects face and affect the style of communication. With multiple contractors for example, communication needs to be formal and follow the hierarchy and the project will be exposed to more integration risk than a single organisation project.

Mark offered a couple of case studies by way of illustration.
● The F18 fighter programme - a very large and complex programme which agreed a common Earned Value Management “language” from the outset and was very successful.
● The Mars Climate Survey Orbiter on the other hand failed to agree even a common scale of measurement (metric vs imperial) between the teams of scientists with the end result that the Orbiter, literally, crashed and burned.

He introduced us to some marketing research that strongly suggests that the time of day and the day of the week that a communication message is sent can have a significant impact on how the message is received. The research indicates that messages sent toward the end of the day/week are more likely to be heard.

The effectiveness of an individual item of communication can be increased if it is a boundary object. A boundary object is something that holds common ground between different groups of stakeholders. Each group may have different insights about, and understandings of, the object but because it is shared across the groups it provides a point of common ground between them.

Mark finished with a discussion about project complexity. Recent research has suggested that problems can be broken down into 3 separate categories:
1. Tame - first order problem requiring the knowledge of a single subject matter expert. Problem is understood outcome is predictable.
2. Messy - Numerous systems involved, requiring input from multiple stakeholders. With collaboration the problem is understandable and the outcome can be predicted.
3. Wicked - Problems that emanate from people. Outcomes and solutions are not knowable upfront because people are unpredictable.

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Summary tools and technologies reinventing communication

  1. 1. APM Events 1 | P a g e Reinventing Communication Turbocharge project performance by reinventing communication: webinar with Mark Phillips on 30th July 2014 “What kind of tools and technologies do you use in your projects?” Audience Responses  Currently, and in the past, projects use predominantly themed meetings, teleconferencing for multi locational teams, Outlook and communication strategies which may include contractual elements of do's and don'ts. Seminars not so much but still have been used.  In answer to your spot prize question - So much of communication in humans is linked to body language and facial expression, I feel there is no substitute for face to face communication, and technology enables us to achieve this even if teams are working remotely to one another.  Depends very much on project ... have recently submitted a white paper on varying project controls (& comm's) to enable 'impossible' projects to succeed phone and conference calls, meetings, breakout sessions.  Communication tools are dependent on the audience I use anything from Comms zones to meetings face to face and all digital forms for virtual teams.  Visual communication board - OK this may not be the most technologically advanced of tools but we reached people 'where they were' - result!  We use office communicator including Webex and screen sharing facilities Also now we use OCS (Office Communicator)  Lync as everyone is different we use audio, visual and kinaesthetic emphasis  Catch up meetings, emails (1:1 and groups) and phone calls (1:1 and in groups), comms plan...  We use Skype, webinars and occasional face to face meetings as we have found people respond better if they have met people, be it virtually or face to face. Thanks for the webinar.  Communication webinar and you had the intro on mute. So funny. But it happens and you are forgiven. 
  2. 2. APM Events 2 | P a g e Reinventing Communication  Key to our project communications is our daily stand up meeting - low tech (a white board & post it notes). This is supported along with using and tools as appropriate. These tools are all focused at the project team. For the management team, we use MS Project - high level views and good old PowerPoint internally - the mark I eyeball to eyeball meeting, telcon and email. External as above, but increasingly remote telcons and Webex and file sharing  In my opinion Fresh Cream Buns are an effective tool to use. Everybody relaxes and enjoys creamy goodness. I must track this as Mark suggests as the team work really well and communicate effectively  Best comms method, co-locate team members, agree who the decisions makers are, formalise escalation criteria, clear remits for sponsor and steering teams.  MS Lync for Video Calls, Conference Calls, IMs, Groups IMs - Group IMs - great for implementation updates/questions.  Also use blueKiwi (Social Media) for comms that you pull depending on what you are interested in.  We use regular calls with web joins to share communication around our teams; this allows a number of people to collectively contribute.  Make the tool the communication vehicle - e.g. the status update report becomes the communication tool; also you can't improve what you can't measure so track a KPI on communications or even better track a KPI on the effectiveness of communications  Google Drive, Project Place, SharePoint, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Skype and good old fashioned email. My favourite is personal contact and building rapport with key stakeholders where possible. This coupled with good meeting management, bringing the right people together at the right time, emails, and action points circulated and highlights reports.  We use the OpenStrategies system which, consistent with Mark's presentation, creates clear 'boundary objects' which we define as Projects, Results, Uses and Benefits (PRUB). Mark's description of 'boundary objects' is a bit of an 'ah ha' moment for me because I now realise that PRUB neatly encapsulates critical strategic 'boundary objects' which all stakeholders can relate to.  Tools and technologies used: Phone Conference calls, live meetings, Video conferencing.