Wednesday, February 02, 2011

It's Always a Failure to Communicate

A failure to communicate is the root of any issue with new product execution; yes ANY issue! Problems with tools, schedules, requirements and predictability to name a few are purely a symptom of a breakdown in the communication conduit. Any execution problem is directly related to the inability of individuals to relay information, debate trade-offs or properly convey a position.

It's not the schedule that's broken; a lack in communication during schedule development is the problem. It's not that the requirements are wrong; it's the lack in quality communication during requirements development that misdirected the product scope. It's not that something unexpected came up; it's a failure in bubble up communications that allowed an underdeveloped plan to proceed. It's not a problem with the tool; it's a capability expectation that was not properly communicated, debated, verified and agreed upon.

At any point in a project there are exchanges of information required to enable progression of a new product from its earliest concept to the generation of production revenue. These exchanges must add value to the quality, predictability and profitable revenue aspects of a new product, or failure(s) of the plan will result. Although very simple in concept, this is often difficult in implementation. Success at adding true value along the path results from accurately communicating throughout development.

How would you define successful communication? Below is my list of attributes that are essential for high quality communication:

  • Communication is two way, meaning there must be a mechanism for ensuring proper transmission; always full duplex mode.
  • Effective communication must provide a forum for debate to allow hidden issues or concerns to bubble up.
  • A high quality communication strategy never assumes physical proximity will be "the" solution to interaction issues.
  • An ideal communication implementation will remove barriers that inhibit contact between any two individuals.
  • The sources of specific information are singular, explicit and electronic for enablement of clarity in communication.
If projects are going smoothly and predictably then there is a fairly solid communication methodology in place. However, beware if projects are riddled with surprises, delays and missed revenue expectations. A flag should also be raised if your meetings include conversations that frequently begin with the phrases in the above picture. In these cases I suggest looking carefully at how your organization communicates.

The only way to find out where interaction may be lacking is to ask individuals for both specific instances and their perceived solution. Listen, learn, confirm and then solve. Based on these findings decide what constitutes quality communication and find ways to apply more of the excellent technology that's available today to help. As is always the case with change, persistence and leadership will be essential for success.
So I sign-off with the famous clip from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke - "What we have here is (a) failure to communicate".

No comments:

Post a Comment