Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding virtue in simplicity when complexity becomes problematical, and vice versa 2

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 28, 2017

This is my second installment to a brief series on simplicity and complexity in business communications, and in carrying out and evaluating the results of business processes, tasks and projects (see Part 1.)

• And my goal in this is to consider communications per se,
• And also at least a few of the common contexts where developing and offering the right message in the right level of detail, and for the specific audience receiving it, can be vital.
• As a general rule, consider this goal as always being vital, and certainly when the successful completion of a business endeavor is important to it, and when a failure of communications can derail it.

Think in terms of one-off tasks and projects here, but at least as importantly think in terms of more cyclically recurring business activities here too – where that can also include project work per se. Individual projects might be one-off and as non-repeating endeavors, but any business that at least periodically has to develop and carry through on projects and project work, needs to develop and maintain clear and consistent systems for doing so, and ones that take advantage of ongoing learning curve opportunities for making next projects run more smoothly and more cost-effectively.

• Effective communications is a key to all of this,
• And under-communicating,
• Over-communicating and particularly on the extraneous,
• And miss-communicating in general
• Can and too often do kill workplace efficiently and the timely effectiveness of results achieved.

Let’s consider cyclical business processes here, and project-supportive business systems as a source of working examples. And I choose project work here precisely because it can and often does raise novelty issues for at least some of the participant stakeholders who have to be brought into this type of work context for the specialized expertise that they can provide.

I write here of hands-on employees and managers who are more routinely responsible for what for them have become standardized tasks, goals and priorities at work, who suddenly find that they have to step outside of what might be their more usual comfort zones for this new workplace responsibility. And that can mean their facing novelty in what they do and certainly for the specific details of what they will contribute to a project, and novelty in whom they have to work with and communicate with in this, and both individually and by areas of expertise.

To expand at least briefly on that, these new-to-project work participants might very well start out not knowing the areas of responsibility of fellow project stakeholders who they will now have to effectively work with, and particularly in large and organizationally complex businesses where few if any really know and understand their business as a whole, beyond their own general areas of involvement there. Even if they have a basic idea of what an otherwise distant functional team of their business does, that they now have to work in collaboration with on a project, they are unlikely to start out knowing in any usable detail, the precise goals, priorities and challenges faced there. And it is even less likely that they will know and understand the communications needs or preferences of the specific individuals who they will work with from those more distant parts of the business, too.

Let’s consider what the stakeholders to a project would collectively, collaboratively do, considering all such participants as a group in this from the most senior project leader on down. What at least categorically would they do together? That would, in broad outline at least, include:

• Planning, and setting goals and priorities, and determining how much next and future-step detail to include in that assessment and for who, and with several or even many individuals involved in this for at least their areas of responsibility.
• And so is explicitly reaching mutually agreed to buy-in of what is arrived at in that planning, with that based upon mutual understanding of what is to be done and how and why and by whom and when – and with everyone involved knowing what they need to do in order to complete their part of the overall task and in a coordinated manner,
• And this means everyone involved knowing enough of the general context of what they would do, as well as knowing their part of it, for them to understand at least basically how their contribution fits in and what the project seeks to achieve with their contribution to it. This, among other things, is essential for gaining and keeping a sense of buy-in for all of this.
• And this level of communicated knowledge and understanding is just as important for post-project review and analysis too, and both for better understanding and I add better implementing what has been done and for better understanding and planning for what should be done next – and as both ongoing standard business process and in any next-step project work as well.
• Basically, what I am doing here is to map out a need for effective communications that meet the needs of involved participants, as this requirement plays out throughout what can be complex project-organized, business process cycles.

I have probably seen more projects that get into trouble, do so as a result of communications mishaps than from anything else. Materials and specialized equipment availability problems can and do occur, but effective communications that involve all necessary stakeholders can limit the impact of that type of problem to the extent it can be ameliorated at all – and it usually can be at least adjusted for. Scheduling problems for coordinating project participant availability to meet project timetables and needs, while still meeting other priority needs can be worked on, and certainly where communications are good. But a real breakdown or failure in communications can stop everything here.

• Communications problems drive scheduling mismatches where a stakeholder A has not laid the groundwork for B to do their step in a project that is dependent on A’s contribution, to cite a common source of project work flow breakdown and schedule slippage.
• And this can happen as a stand-alone issue involving just two stakeholders and their contributions to a project, but it is also one that can readily turn into a cascade of scheduling mismatches and with essential resources unavailable when needed: access to essential bottleneck equipment or specialists definitely included. And to clarify this point, I am not writing here of either A or B not taking this work seriously and I am not writing here of either A or B simply pushing this project and their part in it aside in their own work schedules and on their own initiatives. This can and does arise when other more standard-for-them work requirements force that, forcing them to delay and put off their project work, and even if they actively seek out permission from their usual manager or supervisor for time to do this too – where their manager or supervisor might be under real pressure too.

That last bullet point and its details are important here, and certainly in what can be the crucible of project work, as it takes shape in the context of ongoing routine work. It is not just the immediately participating stakeholders who work on a project and those who would directly receive its productive output who are involved here. And it is not just the direct project participant’s more usual managers and supervisors, and the teams that hands-on and managerial level project participants routinely work with, that would have to be added into consideration here either. This also includes wider-ranging stakeholders who also require the time and effort of those more directly involved here, and who can become either project-blocking or project-enabling gatekeepers in this:

• And for access to and effective involvement of essential project participants,
• And for access to critically limited resources that they might need – such as a specialized piece of equipment that others need too in a business, and that that business only has in very limited supply for anyone to be able to use,
• And for access to critically important business intelligence that a project would call for and that might be sequestered in just one area of the business – or that might be fragmented throughout it.

Include there, any possible bottleneck resource that might become significant in the specific business and project context. Part of good project management is thinking through and anticipating where access problems of this type might arise and preparing for those possibilities.

I have been writing in general terms here, of projects and the resources that they require, and about effectively communicating as a means of driving project success. I am going to shift directions in my next series installment to consider this from the perspective of project management and leadership best practices, where different organizations and I add different types of projects might face different best practices alternatives for managing the issues that I raise here. And after more fully discussing communications as a project enabler per se, I will turn to consider an at least brief set of other business contexts from a communications best practices perspective, where effective information development and sharing can hold overriding value.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its Page 2 continuation. And also see my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set, for its more generally applicable discussion of focused message best practices per se. I offer that with a specific case in point jobs and careers focus, but the approaches raised and discussed there are more generally applicable. You can find that series at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, as its postings 342-358.

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