Matthew Schofield, Executive Director, and Sean Vernon, Senior Contractual/Commercial Consultant at Quantum Global Solutions continue their series of articles on the construction industry. This month, Matthew discusses how communication is a critical component in project management.
Last month we discussed how instructions and indeed drawings need to be complete and more importantly be fit for purpose for any construction project to be finalised. This included constructing an IKEA desk compared to a multi-million dollar project, but how is this possible in today’s world. So many organisations have so many different departments, 3rd party consultants, various sign offs and approvals with some being in different countries. How on earth can anything be put together, agreed on and completed? How do they communicate to get alignment?
It is simply impossible to project, manage, construct or even define what somebody actually wants without communicating. To communicate doesn’t necessarily mean being a great talker. Research has shown that even in our earliest days in the classroom we are trained to focus on presence, vocabulary, delivery, expression, grammar and so on. One of the best diagrams in the project world to understand how communication has broken down, or how assumptions are made and perceptions derived, is the Project Tyre Swing Diagram. This truly demonstrates the result of what happens with the breakdown of communication and not understanding what somebody wants or even means.
Does the diagram show a true reflection on what happens on a project when communication breaks down? Yes very much so and rework costs a lot of time and money.
Great communicators possess a heightened sense of situational and contextual awareness. They listen and are astute in their observations. They are also able to read a person, which is not to be confused with stereotyping a person. They understand the moods, dynamics, attitudes, values and concerns of what is being communicated.
How can projects be successful? Interestingly enough, the success of most projects depends upon a set of crucial communication skills and techniques. This is irrespective of whether they are being handled by a project team or a cross departmental team. In reality, communication and human interaction make or break a project. We have heard many times that you can’t manage and lead a team, or manage a project, from behind a computer screen. If you look at most job adverts for Project Managers for construction projects, not only do they need to know about construction, many refer to the essential criteria of the candidate having a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). They also require a hands-on approach, ensuring that all areas are covered by a suitable candidate including communication skills.
In the project world, we sometimes forget that communication is a two-way street and that not only does communication go downstream (project team and contractors), but also upstream (stakeholders and clients). There is nothing wrong in seeking clarification and asking questions. Many of the most successful communicators and business leaders state they became successful because they asked the tough questions. We mentioned earlier how we are trained in our earlier days, but how do four to six year olds grasp what is going on around them? The answer is clear, by asking questions that satisfy their curiosity. They then develop new ways of engaging with the world; successful leaders and Project Managers do the same. Is playing it safe the right way? Refer to the Project Tyre Diagram!
Just as important for a manager and a leader is to also ask yourself, “Have you asked, or been asked an uncomfortable question from a direct report or distant employee in the past week, month or even year?” If the answer is “No”, are you missing something? Even critical information that could help the company or even the way you manage or lead. If no such question is forthcoming, are you or your company creating the right conditions within the company for employees to ask the tough questions? Again, please refer to the Project Tyre Diagram.
At the end of the day, we all communicate differently. There is nothing better than to have a face to face conversation, we can truly have a sense of how the message is delivered, with tone and feeling. Whereas, when an e-mail is sent, which is great for speed and to keep the process moving across locations, how many times have you read an email and reacted totally opposite of what the sender is actually trying to say? It is the same with a text message and in the current times, communicating with someone is as easy and simple as texting.
So when someone states “great minds think alike,” is it true? Please refer to the Project Tyre Diagram.