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Communication Challenges on Projects

Recently I was working with a junior team member.  I realized when we were reviewing the task I had asked him to complete, that the  information he had needed to be most successful was the hardest information for me to communicate.  The information I had in my head was not what I had passed to him in my quick email . Like it or not, my poor communication effected his performance.

I find communication to be one of the biggest challenges on a project or when assigning tasks.  There is always a tradeoff made between the amount of effort the communication takes, and the consequences for not having passed the information needed to execute well.   Sending too much information can prevent work from progressing.  Not sharing enough information might require longer delays when problems to occur to bring everyone back up to speed.  All communication requires balance.

If the amount of information you have to communicate is large, finding a way to share it quickly will be necessary to keeping the balance.  I’ve found that if I can’t provide directions in five steps or less, I will need to have a phone conversation.  I may still need to provide the written directions, but also having a forum for questions is usually a good plan.

Here are a few of my communication tips:

  • What’s the format?
    If the amount of information you have to communicate is large, finding a way to share it quickly will be necessary to keeping the balance.  I’ve found that if I can’t provide directions in five steps or less, I will need to have a phone  or in person conversation.  I may still need to provide the written directions, but also having a forum for questions is usually a good plan.
  • Identify the core message and then repeat
    People will forget almost all of what they see and hear on the first exposure.  In order for a message to stick, it has to be shared a number of times.
  • Have I addressed my expectations?
    Communicating task expectations is always critical information.  For person to be successful, it is vital that expectations are well understood.   If expectations are not communicated and well understood, things can get very out of sync fast.
  • What are the underlying assumptions?
    Assumptions that are not explicit can often lead to a terrible surprise.  I have found that as I’ve identified a new assumption, communicating it quickly can be just as important as communicating an expectation.
  • Surprises are usually a bad idea
    Proactive communication means that you raise the important issues as soon as they come up.  It’s better to address the fact that a task might be late, than to miss a deadline.  People get angry when they find out bad news at the last minute.  Give people as much time to adjust to bad news as possible so they can have an input into the situation.
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