Mega projects call for intensive internal and external engagement with executive management, governments, organised labour, contractors, media, communities and other interested and affected parties which all see themselves as having a stake of some sort in the project. Ultimately it is about managing the expectations of the project stakeholders in order to ensure project success. But before one can get to expectation management, the right stakeholders should be identified, their needs and intentions should be understood, and they should be mapped using a power-interest grid which also indicate their attitudes toward the project. This will put you in a position to effectively plan and execute stakeholder management strategies.
Stakeholder engagement is an important discipline that is used to win support from others. It helps the sponsor and project manager ensure that their project succeeds where others fail. Stakeholder identification and expectation management are continuous processes throughout the project life cycle.
Stakeholder management entails the identification of project stakeholders, gaining an understanding of them, their expectations and views, prioritising them using a stakeholder map, developing a stakeholder management plan and finally engaging and communicating with them to ensure that stakeholder expectations are managed throughout the project life cycle.
Historically, many owner organisations have often adopted a passive and somewhat reactive approach to informing stakeholders of developments, relying upon traditional communication methods such as newsletters, press releases and annual meetings. Such organisations frequently relied on a one-way communication and engagement strategy. Increasingly, successful organisations choose to be more pro-active and actively involve stakeholders in the decision-making process particularly in connection with developing new ventures. They aim to encourage and ensure wider and more constructive engagement.
Stakeholders have the power to impede or promote and a project. Stakeholder management is an important activity that is used to gain mutual understanding of the objectives and expectations of all parties. It aids in developing a concept that will gain support from all the interested and affected parties enhancing the likelihood of a successful outcome.
The benefits of pro-active stakeholder engagement include:
- Gaining the opinions of the most influential stakeholders to aid in shaping projects at an early stage. Not only does this make it more likely that they will support the project, their input can also improve the quality of the project;
- Gaining support from stakeholders can help secure the right resources;
- By engaging stakeholders early and often, one can ensure that they fully understand the benefits of the project, and;
- One can anticipate what people’s reaction to your project may be and plan actions that will win support or mitigate resistance.
Project stakeholder management is not an add on! It is a key activity on a project that requires time, money and resources. By identifying and managing stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle, stakeholder related risks can be pro-actively managed. Stakeholder engagement and communication are ultimately about expectation management. Knowing what your stakeholders want from the project, puts one in a position to effectively manage these expectations, and prevent potentially serious issues that could impact project success.
For more on this toolkit that can transform your project teams, visit www.otctoolkits.com
Or of you are interested in attending the training, visit http://www.otctoolkits.com/owner-team-training/
Questions? Suggestions on how we can improve this article? Comments? Please leave your thoughts below.
By Davida van der Walt and Dirk Lourens
In today’s world of instant data access, project managers are being bombarded with the necessity to spend more and more time with their business partners, shareholders and other parties outside the actual project management team. These actions, together with internal communication requirements to their sponsors, steering committees and company boards, often lead to a situation where there are not enough hours in a day to communicate with their own project teams! The project manager is so busy satisfying all the power players, that he/she ends up neglecting the very people who must make it all happen.
According to PMI (2013), amongst those organisations considered to be highly effective communicators, 80% of projects meet original goals, 71% deliver projects on time and 76% within budget. For poor communicators, 52% of projects meet original goals, 37% deliver projects on time and 48% within budget. However, only one in four organisations can be described as highly-effective communicators (PMI, 2013). PMI calculate that one in five projects fail as a result of ineffective communication.
In this article, we briefly discuss a project communication model, consider barriers to communication and focus on some real-world communication problems.
Project Communication Process
In the project environment, communication is done to share information, clarify requirements, monitor progress, get team members aligned and it is a call to action. With projects typically on tight schedules, ineffective communication can easily lead to schedule slippage, rework and cost overruns. To better understand the barriers and problems associated with communication, we need to start with a basic project communication model, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: A Communication Model for projects
Communication specialists would normally describe the communication process as consisting of seven or eight steps, but we’ll do a shortened version.
The Sender: The sender, or the communicator, develops an idea to be communicated. It is also known as the planning stage, since the communicator plans the subject matter of communication. The sender develops the message and encodes it into a perceivable form that can be communicated to others. In the final step, the sender transmits the message through the chosen communication channel.
Communication Channel: The communication channel, or medium, implies the means of transmitting the message to the receiver. Once the message is fully developed, the next step is to select a suitable medium for transmitting it to the receiver. The medium of communication can be speaking, writing, signaling, gesturing, texting, etc.
The Receiver: The receiver is the individual, or group, that receives the sender’s message. The message can be received in the form of hearing, seeing, feeling or a combination of these. Decoding is the receiver’s interpretation of the sender’s message. Here the receiver converts the message into thoughts and tries to understand it. Effective communication can occur only when both the sender and the receiver assign the same, or similar, meanings to the message.
Feedback Loop: The final step of any communication process is feedback. Feedback means receiver’s response to sender’s message. Feedback helps ensure that the receiver has correctly understood the message from the sender. Feedback can be in the form of verbal or written response, or it can be the performing of a task as requested.
‘Noise’: Barriers to proper communication, also called noise, are discussed in more detail later on.
Lines of Communication
Project managers, in conjunction with the project sponsor, need to establish three clear lines of communication once the project has started, as illustrated in Figure 2. Managing, and continually improving, these lines of communication can dramatically increase your chances of a successful project.
The main lines of communication that are critical for project success, are an upward line to senior executives, a lateral line to authorities and other stakeholders and a downward line to the project team itself. When communication is delayed or neglected to the project team (the downward line), various unintended results start to surface.
Figure 2: Main lines of communication (adapted from Charvat, 2002)
How much is enough?
The art of communication is all about:
- Communicating the right messages;
- To the right audiences;
- At the appropriate time;
- In the right format, and;
- Using appropriate channels.
Getting everything just right is obviously not easy. However, estimates of how much time a project manager should spend on communication varies in the literature, but is typically given as between 80 and 90%. The Project Management Institute (Whitaker, 2016) believe it should be 90% and that at least half of this time should be spent on the project team, or the downward line of communication.
Barriers to Communication
Barriers to communication is also referred to as noise. Some of the barriers to effective project communication are briefly described below (adapted from Venkatesh, 2015):
Physical Barriers: Since communication is a two-way process, any physical hindrance between the sender and the receiver of the message will contribute to ineffective communication. Physical barriers include distance, noisy areas, environmental factors and the wearing of hearing protection.
Personal Barriers: Anything which can widen the psychological distance between the sender and the receiver of a message has the same effect as a physical barrier. Personal barriers include, for instance, difference in social values, culture, racial bias, gender bias, attitude, time pressure, age difference and communication skills.
Language/Semantic Barriers: Even for speakers of the same language, the same words and symbols carry different meanings to different people. Difficulties in communication arise when the meaning intended by the sender is different from the meaning understood by the receiver. Obviously, communication is futile when the language used by the sender is unfamiliar to the intended receivers.
Positional Barriers: Position in the hierarchy of an organisation is one of the fundamental barriers that obstructs free flow of information. A superior may give only selected information to his subordinates so as to maintain status differences. Subordinates, on the other hand, tend to convey only those things which the superiors would appreciate. Such selective communication is also known as filtering.
Project Organisational Structure: This barrier is usually not so pronounced in project organisational structures where the communication lines are relatively short. If the structure involves several layers of management, the breakdown or distortion in communication will arise. It is an established fact that every layer cuts off a bit of information and takes additional time.
Lack of Attention: Lack of attention to a message makes communication less effective and the message is likely to be misunderstood or ignored. Inattention may arise due to the receiver being overworked or because of the message being contrary to his expectations and beliefs. The failure to read notices, minutes and reports is a common feature of work overload.
Premature Evaluation: Some individuals have the tendency to form a judgment before listening to the entire message. This is known as premature evaluation. Premature evaluation distorts understanding and acts as a barrier to effective communication.
Emotional Intelligence: The lower the emotional intelligence of the sender and/or the receiver, the lower the expectation of effective communication. When emotions are strong, it is difficult to understand what motivates the other party. Emotional intelligence and attitude of both, the sender, as well as the intended receiver, obstruct free flow of transmission and understanding of messages.
Resistance to Change: Human beings, by nature, tend to stick to the familiar, old and customary patterns of life. They may resist change to maintain the status quo. Thus, when new ideas are being communicated to introduce a change, it is likely to be opposed or even ignored.
Trust Barriers: One will freely transfer information and understanding with another only when there is mutual trust between the two parties. When there is a lack of trust between the sender and receiver of a message, the message is not followed. Credibility gaps, in the form of inconsistencies between saying and doing, also causes lack of mutual trust, which acts as an obstacle to effective communication.
Real world Communication Problems
Poor Integration Management
It is estimated that for a $5 billion capital project, there are, on average, 2 000 interfaces; 10 000 agreements (plus multiple revisions); and 100 000 task related transactions. Each one of these interface points may lead to misunderstanding, conflict, changes, costs and delays on projects that will tear your project team apart. Good communication will unite your team as an integrated team, facing the same direction, and, most importantly, understanding what the project wants to achieve, the risks involved and understanding each other’s roles.
Work breakdown structures, Gantt charts, responsibility matrixes and all the other tools we have to plan, schedule and integrate, give us a planned road to travel, but lack the personal appreciation and understanding brought about when a project team communicate face-to-face on a regular basis, highlighting bottlenecks, pending interface points and potential responsibility grey areas. The project manager is the catalyst to facilitate and promote opportunities for such communication sessions. If he/she is absent or overworked, keeping senior management and other lateral communication going, team members will most probably retreat into their comfort zones, relying on e-mails and official project documents to show up problem areas. A safe approach, but time consuming and not conducive for meeting project and business objectives.
Insufficient Team Recognition
During progress and planning sessions, communication tend to focus on next tasks, next milestones and problem areas. However, people want their successes to be recognised, not only their failures. Recognition motivates people. According to Dapulse (2016): “Working in a vacuum is evil. The more everyone knows, the better they can work as a team. Your hard work should remain as a trophy of your accomplishments.”
Their philosophy is to use software that turns the status of a task to green when completed; they want teams addicted to turning things green. In traditional project management tools, when you complete a task or a project, it’s automatically archived. They think this is wrong. Completed work therefore stays on their progress reports, giving people recognition and accountability for their work.
This recognition within a project team is driven by the sponsor and the project manager and his/her senior staff. If they are busy running around keeping stakeholders satisfied, the project team may lose motivation and team spirit. Give your project manager the time to be the leader and chief communicator for the project team.
The art of translation
True communication, which means two-way communication that is understood by both sides, remains a challenge. This is often as a result of lack of clarity of messages and the incorrect level of detail and the sharing of the incorrect level of detail as per the needs of the audience. Project managers need to learn the art to communicate effectively and succinctly with executive teams. Similarly, project sponsors need to master the art of translating the grand strategic vision into practical language that can be understood and internalised by project teams. Such an understanding will motivate and energise project teams. Both the sponsor and project manager need to be effective at translating business vision into measurable and well-defined project objectives and scope.
According to IPA (2015), the most powerful leverage point to improving capital project performance is the interface between the business and project (i.e., engineering) functions. However, the link between these two functions is often weak. It should always be remembered that the only reason any project comes to life is to satisfy a business need or opportunity.
Georgius (PMI, 2013) highlights that everyone needs to understand the long-term objectives of a project so they can know how they’re contributing and how they’re making an impact. This includes the business and project objectives. The project sponsor is responsible to always keep the team focused on the business objectives, whilst the project manager should clearly communicate the project objectives and how they will support the achievement of the business objectives. Needless to say, a solid partnership is required between the project sponsor and project manager.
Project Meetings lack the bigger picture
Kick-off meetings are the forums where project leadership will communicate the business and project needs, objectives and project risk profile to their project team. This usually only happens at the start of a new project phase. This sets the scene to get the “real work” of work breakdown structures, Gantt charts, work packages and tasks, started. Every engineering discipline, contractor or subcontractor will only focus on their work scope, and depend on the already mentioned project documentation to guide them through the quicksand of inter-relations and interfaces.
Good communication means that the business objectives and the risks involved must be repeated at every opportunity – at progress, coordination, planning meetings to ensure that the context of the work is understood by all. Most of project decisions are made by ordinary project members on a day-to-day basis without the luxury of having senior members of the team present. Knowing the business objectives of the project, potential conflict can be defused before it becomes an issue. Whenever change becomes necessary, understanding the bigger picture will improve and accelerate decision-making.
During the project execution phase, progress and planning meetings need to be attended as one project group and not as separate groupings i.e. per design discipline, procurement, construction, operations and maintenance. Communication among such a diverse group will help that communication, understanding and feedback is at an optimum level. It will also make most interfaces more tangible, as progress and scheduling, requirements and delays are being discussed. Interface points then become living realities, not only a point on an interface chart.
Merrow (Klaver, 2012) highlights the need for more business education for project professionals. Similarly, from our experience, it has become evident that business also needs education on project realities. Too often business pushes a fixed agenda, which is not realistic from a project execution perspective. This is where the project sponsor should step in and communicate extensively with business to educate them on project realities.
In this day and age, social media is a necessity. All generations seem to adapt to this new way of work. It must, however, never be forgotten that social media cannot replace face-to-face interaction. Social and electronic media lends itself to misunderstanding and incorrect translation of messages. It is a great mechanism for quick communication that is not of a sensitive nature and where the message is simple and clear. Where uncertainties can surface, revert back to interpersonal communication.
Communication starts with understanding your project stakeholders. Both internal and external to the project team and owner organisation. Knowing what power stakeholders exert over your project and what their level of interest is (either positive or negative), can help you decide on a strategy for engagement and communication. Stakeholders in the right upper quadrant of Figure 3, should be actively engaged, and using interpersonal engagement and communication. The project team inevitably fits into that category!
Figure 3: Engage the right stakeholders, in the right way at the right time.
If you wish to learn more about stakeholder management on projects, which includes communication requirements, please refer to the OTC Toolkit for Stakeholder Management.
Charvat, J.P., (2002), Project Communications: a plan for getting your message across. Available from http://www.techrepublic.com/article/project-communications-a-plan-for-getting-your-message-across/. Accessed on 16 June 2016.
PMI (Project Management Institute), (2013), Pulse of the Profession In-depth Report: The high cost of low performance – the essential role of communications. Available as Pdf download from http://www.pmi.org/learning/pulse.aspx. Accessed on 16 June 2016.
Dapulse, (2016), Create transparency and empower your team. Available from https://dapulse.com/features/. Accessed on 28 June 2016.
IPA (Independent Project Analysis), (2015), An interview with Margaret Walker. Available from http://www.ipaglobal.com/featured-capital-projects-business-professionals-interview-of-the-quarter. Accessed on 28 June 2016.
Klaver, A., (2012), Speed kills, Available from http://projectmanagermagazine.realviewdigital.com/?iid=57297&startpage=page0000019. Accessed on 28 June 2016.
Venkatesh, (2015), Top 11 barriers to communication, Available from http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/management/communication/top-11-barriers-to-communication/53345/. Accessed on 14 June 2016.
Whitaker, S., (2016), PMP® examination practice questions – 400 practice questions and answers to help you pass, 3rd ed. Apress, New York, NY.
You can download this and other Insight articles from our website at http://www.otctoolkits.com/download-insight-articles/
A critical part of a successful project is the ability to identify and apply applicable lessons learnt and successes throughout the project life cycle. Key to the success is capturing the lessons learnt and making it available from one project to the next. Capturing lessons learnt on projects is always a challenge. So what are the typical challenges being experienced with lessons learnt on projects?
- Lessons are captured very well, but not transferred;
- Lessons are captured, but successes (best practices) ignored;
- Lessons are captured into systems from which they prove difficult to extract;
- Lessons are poorly documented;
- The context relevant to the specific lessons are not captured;
- Lessons are not captured throughout but only at the end of the project;
- The symptoms are captured instead of the root causes.
Project teams should start sharing knowledge at the beginning of each project, and lessons should be captured as they occur. The dark blue numbers superimposed on the model indicates the lessons learnt interventions on a given project. The dark blue arrows indicate that lessons from these stages will be captured in the database and considered for carry-over to the next stage, and the green arrows indicate the use of past lessons in the planning of stages to come. At stops 1 and 4, the lessons learnt database should be consulted for lessons on previous projects that could be transferred to the project at hand.
So what are the success factors when implementing lessons learnt on projects?
1. Secure management commitment
The successful implementation of lessons learnt on a project is firstly dependant on management support. Be sure to gain the support and commitment of a management champion or sponsor.
2. Plan lessons learnt
Include lessons learnt in your milestone planning for a project. If it is not planned for, it is likely to be forgotten.
3. Capture lessons and successes
Projects typically focus on what went wrong. Why not also capture successes? Projects should endeavour to avoid repeated lessons and repeat successes.
4. Understand the context
A major lesson we learnt whilst doing lessons learnt, is that the understanding the context of a project is very important in the successful transfer of lessons. Contextual factors such as location, complexity, size, contracting strategy, driver and so forth, directly impacts the applicability of lessons for transfer from one project to another.
5. Define symptoms and root causes
When doing lessons learnt on projects, it is very easy to focus on the symptoms of lessons. It is in fact crucial to delve into the root causes associated with lessons and successes. If the facilitator focuses on symptoms of the lessons learnt, chances are that the remedial actions will be reactive. Our approach at OTC is to understand root causes and hence being able to prevent the occurrence of these issues on future projects.
6. Assign dedicated resources to do lessons learnt
Having dedicated resources ensures that lessons learnt gets the focus it deserves. It also provides an opportunity for making sure that such resources are trained in the skills of facilitating lessons learnt. It contributes to the consistency and quality of lessons extracted.
7. Follow a standardised process
A standardised process makes it easier to capture lessons in a consistent way, which in turn facilitates the extraction of lessons.
8. Effective knowledge management system. Tags. Garbage in garbage out
Having an effective knowledge management system which allows for access to past lessons learnt, greatly facilitates the use of lessons on future projects. Make sure to have a system that allows for sufficient meta data tags that makes it easy for project professionals to extract relevant lessons. It will ensure that they are not overloaded with lessons that are not relevant to their projects.
By applying these success factors you can ensure that the lessons and successes are effectively captured, but that relevant lessons are also easily accessible.
The time has come for all project professionals to stop repeating the same lesson on projects. Let’s take it serious, capture lessons and successes actively, understand the root causes, and implement preventive actions.
For more practical lessons on lessons learned, visit the OTC toolkits on: www.otctoolkits.com. Members have access to a full online course on lessons learnt, with practical advice and experiences shared by the OTC team.
Watch this space. OTC will also be releasing a Lessons Learnt App in the near future…
Questions? Suggestions on how we can improve this article? Comments? Please leave your thoughts below.