It’s good to talk …

For many years I plied my trade running IT Projects and Programmes. I’ve seen a vast array of projects ranging from small implementations to large multi-year, Multi-Country Programmes. Some of them were great and delivered beyond expectations, some of them just never got off the ground.

In many cases a team of perfectly well trained, experienced and committed professionals would succeed on one project, only to fail spectacularly on the next. How could that happen? And what can we learn from that to help us in our daily business?

The top reasons projects fail are typically quoted along the lines of:

  • Poor requirements / scope definition
  • Lack of stakeholder engagement
  • ‘Scope Creep’
  • Lack of a project charter
  • Poorly defined or unrealistic timelines
  • Lack of resources
  • Political infighting

Ask any seasoned (crusty old!) Project Manager about what causes a project to fail and you’ll probably get the same answer: Lack of clarity around the requirements; lack of stakeholder management; poor communication … It’s highly unlikely you’ll hear that the team were incompetent or didn’t care about the outcome.

In our day to day activities the same principles apply. Most people get up in the morning and go to work with the intention of doing a good job. What gets in the way of delivering great performance are the same things that cause our projects to fail:

Are the requirements really clear? – When we ask someone to do something, are we sure that the message is clear and unambiguous when it hits the brain of the person we’ve asked to help? Have they heard what we said, or understood what we meant?

  • Are other people who may be impacted by the task, aware of what’s being done and the priority assigned to it? – ‘This is more important / urgent than that’ needs to be communicated to everyone impacted to avoid conflicts and misaligned expectations.

Communication only happens when the intended meaning is transferred from one person to another. Writing an email or having a quick conversation is NOT enough! You may think sending an email with ‘FYI …’ is enough to let a busy colleague know that you need them to read through an email chain to find the action buried in the middle and then understand and complete the action! Most likely, the colleague will simply wonder why you sent them the email and either hit the delete button or, at best, save it for later, allowing your email to drift out of sight and out of mind as the next 25 emails arrive!

We all live within an ecosystem of competing demands. Sometimes priorities are clear e.g. if the building is on fire, getting out of the building safely is more important than ordering a new box of paper! Sometimes priorities are less clear e.g. ‘Can you look at this presentation for me?’ Which could mean ‘Can you look at the presentation for me and give me comments by the end of next week?’, or ‘Can you look at this presentation for me right now as I have to present it in an hour’s time?’. Without the timing information communication has not occurred and ‘doing a good job’ is unlikely to occur.

Don’t forget that the person you’re expecting to do something, probably already has something to do(!) and if you want them to prioritise your new task, then you need to make that clear to them and everyone who is impacted by the change in priorities.

How clear is YOUR communication? When you have an expectation that someone is going to do something for you, do they share your clarity on what the expected outcome is (or even that you are expecting them to do something!). Perhaps the best way to improve the performance of others is to look at our own communication performance especially over gathering, sharing and checking the understanding of requirements …

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