Communication Traps

Projects are run by communications. The work is defined by the communications tool known as the work breakdown structure. Actually, this is the easy part of communications, where everything is wel defined. Unfortunately, project managers cannot document everything they wish to say or relate to otl people, regardless of the level in the company. The worst possible situation occurs when an outside customer loses faith in the contractor. When a situation of mistrust prevails, the logical sequence of events would be:

• More documentation

• More interchange meetings

• Customer representation on your site

In each of these situations, the project manager becomes severely overloaded with work. This situatic can also occur in-house when a line manager begins to mistrust a project manager, or vice versa. Thei may suddenly appear an exponential increase in the flow of paperwork, and everyone is writing "protection" memos. Previously, everything was verbal.

Communication traps occur most frequently with customer-contractor relationships. The following a examples of this:

• Phase I of the program has just been completed successfully. The customer, however, was displease because he had to wait three weeks to a month after all tests were completed before the data were presented. For

Phase II, the customer is insisting that his people be given the raw data at the same time your people receive it.

• The customer is unhappy with the technical information that is being given by the project manager. As a result, he wants his technical people to be able to communicate with your technical people on an individual basis without having to go through the project office.

• You are a subcontractor to a prime contractor. The prime contractor is a little nervous about what information you might present during a technical interchange meeting where the customer will be represented, and therefore wants to review all material before the meeting.

• You are a subcontractor to a prime contractor. During negotiations between the customer and the prime contractor, your phone rings. You find out that it is the customer asking for certain information.

• The customer has asked to have a customer representative office set up in the same building as the project office.

• During an interchange meeting with the customer, one of your company's functional employees presents data to the customer and concludes with the remarks, "I personally disagree with our company's solution to this problem, and I think that the company is all wet in their approach. Let me show you my solution to this problem."

• Functional employees are supposed to be experts. In front of the customer (or even your top management) an employee makes a statement that you, the project manager, do not believe is completely true or accurate.

• On Tuesday morning, the customer's project manager calls your project manager and asks him a question. On Tuesday afternoon, the customer's project engineer calls your project engineer and asks him the same question.

Communication traps can also occur between the project office and line managers. Below are several examples:

• The project manager can hold too many "useless" team meetings.

• The project manager can hold too few team meetings.

• People refuse to make decisions, and ultimately the team meetings are flooded with agenda items that are irrelevant.

• Last month, Larry completed an assignment as an assistant project manager on an activity where the project manager kept him continuously informed as to project status. Now, Larry is working for a project manager who tells him only what he needs to know to get the job done.

In a project environment, the line manager is not part of any project team; otherwise he would spend forty hours per week simply attending team meetings. Therefore, how does the line manager learn of the true project status? Written memos will not do it. The information must come firsthand from either the project manager or the assigned functional employee. Line managers would rather hear it from the project manager because line employees have the tendency to censor bad news from the respective line manager. Line managers must be provided true status by the project office. Consider the following example:

John is a functional support manager with fourteen highly competent individuals beneath him. John's main concern is performance. He has a tendency to leave scheduling and cost problems up to the project managers. During the past two months, John has intermittently received phone calls and casual visits from upper-level management and senior executives asking him about his department's costs and schedules on a variety of projects. Although he can answer almost all of the performance questions, he has found great difficulty in responding to time and cost questions. John is a little nervous that if this situation continues it may affect his evaluation and merit pay increase.

Sometimes, project managers expect too much from their employees during problem-solving or brainstorming sessions, and communications become inhibited. There are several possible causes for having unproductive team meetings:

• Because of superior-subordinate relationships (i.e., pecking orders), creativity is inhibited.

• Criticism and ridicule have a tendency to inhibit spontaneity.

• Pecking orders, unless adequately controlled, can inhibit teamwork and problem solving.

• All seemingly crazy or unconventional ideas are ridiculed and eventually discarded. Contributors do not wish to contribute anything further.

• Many lower-level people, who could have good ideas to contribute, feel inferior and, therefore, refuse to contribute.

• Meetings are dominated by upper-level management personnel.

• The meetings are held at an inappropriate place and time.

• Many people are not given adequate notification of meeting time and subject matter.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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