imageI’m not going to muck around with this one so I’ll say it up-front. My view (and I feel rather strongly about it) is that Social Networking is not positively contributing to proper Project communication. My conviction that this strong belief of mine is shared by most, if not all, fellow professionals has eroded somewhat in recent months after I’ve read a number of blog articles, each of which promoting some aspects of social media and social networking.

The straw that broke the camel’s back (metaphorically speaking) was a recent post by Derek Huether (from The Critical Path) where he elaborated on the following concept:

From our PMP Exam we know that the number of communication paths in a project is [N(N-1)]/2. Now, we all agree that communication is an important (if not crucial) aspect of project management. We also agree that knowledge accumulation is conducive to increased innovation and is paramount for correct decision making process. We can therefore conclude that by initiating and conducting large amounts of communication, provided that this is attentive communication (i.e. we actually listen and absorb the content of that communication) must result in positive results.

Right?

Wrong!!!

There is already a growing body of knowledge, supported by recent research papers, that not only ‘social networking attitude’ is on the rise but its true impact is yet to be realized.

  • A December 2009 study by Helen Hodgetts of the University of Cardiff in the UK warns that “Email notifications and instant messages all cause a break in focus of the task in hand, even if they are attended to only very briefly”. “Hodgetts and co-author Dylan Jones found that even a five second interruption caused people to take longer than normal to complete the next step in a simple seven-step computer task.”
  • A 2009 study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and which was set to explore the use of media by young people (age 8 to 18 – born between 1991 – 2001) has found out (amongst other things) that Young people were found to devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes to daily media use (an increase of 20% from an earlier study conducted in 2004 – in which it was found that the time spent on media use was 6 hours and 21 minutes). The study further found that the level of multi-tasking (i.e. a combined use of varying modes of media simultaneously [for example, watching the TV, while at the same time browsing the net and sending a text message]) has increased from 26% in 2004 to 29% in 2009.
  • A 2008 Accenture study made the observation that people who were born between 1977 and 1997 (corresponding roughly with Generation Y) expect their employers to respect their IT preferences, including their computers and applications and that employees in the above age group would show a preference to use instant messaging, text messaging, and RSS feeds to communicate with their clients and customers. The study further found that over a quarter of the employees surveyed use technology that is unsupported and unsanctioned by their employer. Amongst Gen Y employees, almost half reported that they use social networks, blogs, or Twitter without having their IT departments’ approval.

There are a number of basic and self explanatory risks associated with the growing proliferation of social media and social networking. These are:

  • The development of bad time management attitudes, associated specifically with over reliance on multi-tasking.
  • An apparent lack of adherence to corporate policies regarding the use of corporate mandated application and communication protocols.
  • Inefficient use of management time on non-productive communication approach.

I’d like to finish off with explaining why I believe the approach outlined above, regarding the utilisation of a large number of communication path to increase effective project communication is flawed.

The reasoning is simple. If there are 200 people in your communication network this will equate, using the formula above, to 19,900 communication paths. So, using the Twitter example of having 200 contacts, if they each send one message to all other contacts, you will enjoy the wisdom spread over just under 20,000 messages.

Let’s think about this prospect for a minute. If reading each of these messages took you only one second, how much time will you need to invest in order to review all these messages?

19,900 messages / 60 seconds / 60 minutes = 5.5 hours!!!

Got that? With just one second per message, you will need to invest 5.5 hours to review all messages in your communication path. That’s not quite realistic though, is it? So let’s assume you spend, on an average 10 seconds per message. Got the point? With 200 contacts and 19,900 messages, with 10 seconds required to properly review, absorb and internalize each message, the amount of time required will be staggering 55 hours!!!

Tom Davenport of the Harvard Business Review has a wonderful post about the suggestion (inferred from a couple of recent studies)  that the content of social media is trivial at best. In another excellent post he speculates about the contribution (or in fact, the lack) of  Social Media to the decline of our civilization. The reality is, and arguing against it based on solid facts would be difficult to do, that it is hard (if not plain impossible) to gain much from the clutter of information (and mis-information) stored in the millions of Twitter messages floating in cyberspace. Anyone trying to convince you otherwise ought to provide hard, objective and measurable evidence to substantiate their claims.

Did I mention already that as far as I’m concerned Social Networking is not positively contributing to proper Project communication?

Have a great week.

John Reiling writes about the importance of nurturing unseen relationships. He’s got a valid point. As a project manager your #1 challenge is maintaining relationship and your #1 tool for achieving it is effective communication. I’ve argued previously that as 90% of the project manager’s work requires communication of some sort, improved communication will have substantial impact on the overall project’s chances of success.

Scientific American has recently published an article where it brought together a number of scientists to explore the intellectual and cultural walls that have fallen (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) and those that remain to come down. One of the scientists quoted in the article, Muhammad Yunus, talked about the “falling walls of poverty.” The premise of his work is to engage large corporation with the aim of convincing them to create a business model that is not necessarily profit based but rather based on a social and environmental contribution – a fascinating concept.

I wonder whether or not this concept can also be applied to project management. Can a project manager be judged not only by his/her ability to deliver the ‘profit’ based results (i.e. those objectives determined by a business case which have a $ value behind them) but also on the contribution that the project makes to the well being and long term aspirations of the people involved with the project.

Imaginary idea? I think not!


In my previous post, ‘It’s about communication, stupid’, I have introduced the idea that the single most productive way to increase the project manager’s overall effectiveness and efficiency is by focusing on increasing the PM’s communication skills. The premise behind this assertion is that although communication is an activity carried out by the listener, the responsibility to ensure the message does get across lies with the speaker. In the context of project management, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that his/her communication is correctly accepted by the intended audience of that communication.

I have also mentioned that a number of techniques, based on proven psychological models, are now available to explain communication tendencies based on personality types. Two of the main ones are the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and the DISC Assessment model. The two models provide extensive elaboration on the effect that specific personality ‘ingredients’ have on the way people communicate. Both can be used to suggest ‘pre-emptive’ actions one can use in order to minimize conflict and drive communication to a successful conclusion.

Today’s post will continue this discussion and introduce the DISC model, a simple yet powerful method for identifying people’s personality type with a focus on the impact that their personality type is likely to have on their communication style. I have decided to focus on the DISC behavioural model as, at its core, it is (in my view) easier to understand and its basic principles can be quickly grasped and implemented without major complications.

The DISC model suggests that the observed personality of people can be measured across four different dimensions and that all people exhibit all four behavioural factors in varying degrees of intensity. According to the DISC model people vary from one another by the degree in which they approach the following:

  • Their preference in regards to problem solving issues
  • Their preference in regards to how to relate to other people
  • Their preference in regards to their surrounding and work environment
  • Their preference in regards to keeping in line with rules and regulations

In line with the above, the DISC model identifies the following four personality types:

Dominance

Dominance – People with a ‘D’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate leadership qualities and quick problem solving attitude. They will strive to tackle the issue head-on and attempt to quickly understand the core issues at the heart of the problem, so they can quickly formulate an opinion and suggestions regarding their approach to have the problem resolved. As they hone down on the problem domain they will tend to ask ‘what’ questions (e.g. ‘what is the status of activity X’) as this type of questions calls for a specific and relatively binary (i.e. Yes/No) reply.

As they want to reach a resolution quickly they will, most likely, spend little or no time on small talk, they will be direct and blunt in their communication and could easily be perceived as lacking sensitivity and empathy.

If your PM is a ‘D’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Don’t ‘waste’ their time with small talk (it’s not that they don’t care about you, they do, but their mind is continuously thinking about the problem at-hand and how to get it resolved).
  2. Talk to the point; communicate the relevant facts, conclusions and actions you intend to take in order to get the issues resolved.
  3. Don’t get discouraged by their blunt and direct approach, it’s not you, it’s them.

If your team member is a ‘D’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. As they exhibit quick problem solving attitude they might not go through the due diligence that you expect. Make sure they present you with their plan before they start on what they believe to be the correct course of action.
  2. They like to make decisions and would appreciate it if you grant them the authority to take charge. Having said that, as mentioned above, make sure you monitor their progress and insist on obtaining their plan of attack prior to the work taking place.

Influence

Influence – People with ‘I’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate an outgoing approach towards other people. They will be talkative, expressive and sociable in the way they communicate and express themselves to others. Individuals with a natural disposition for an ‘I’ oriented behaviour will most likely be people oriented, seek to be the centre of attention, and demonstrate enthusiasm and energy when communicating. As their prime concern is the people with whom they communicate, their natural question will most often be ‘who’ (e.g. ‘who else will be working with me on this assignment?’) as they will mostly be concerned with their ability to remain the centre of attention while engaging with other people.

‘I’ people will be less concerned about reaching a resolution to the problem as much as they will be concerned about talking their way to a recognized resolution. They will spend a lot of time telling other people about their experience on working in similar circumstances, looking for the attention and recognition they feel they deserve.

If your PM is an ‘I’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Be prepared for long and animated discussions.
  2. Don’t confuse them with information about themselves, unless the point of your story is actually them.

If your team member is an ‘I’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. As they are mainly focused on themselves they might not give enough attention to the details you require. Make sure to state your requirements to them in a clear and definitive way.
  2. They like to talk, and when you ask them for an update they will, if you let them, talk about every single aspect of their work they enables them to glorify themselves. Make sure they understand your reporting requirements and reporting style and insist that they comply.

Steadiness

Steadiness – People with a ‘S’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate clear preference towards a controlled and stable environment. Their attitude towards change would be cautious at best and if possible they will tend to shy away from high risk, change provoking, situations. Due to their innate desire to ‘keep the peace’ they are likely to be accommodating to other people needs, and will often attempt to find a common thread and a mutually agreed solution to complicated disagreements. As they dislike change, their natural question will most often be ‘how’ (e.g. ‘how will you perform this task?’), as they will seek to confirm that no out of the ordinary, change provoking, actions will be required in order to achieve the desired objectives.

If your PM is an ‘S’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Expect a friendly and supportive environment.
  2. Expect not to be bombarded with harsh demands and tight deadlines.
  3. Let them know early about any issues or risks you’ve identified as they will require time to digest the information and formulate their opinion.

If your team member is an ‘S’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. They like to follow standards and procedures. If you intend to break any ‘rules’ make sure you discuss them earlier on to give them time to adjust.
  2. As they are people oriented, be prepared to listen to them.
  3. Follow up as they have difficulty prioritising tasks and would therefore have some difficulty meeting your deadlines.

Conscientious

Conscientious – People with a ‘C’ behavioural tendency will demonstrate clear preference towards sticking to established procedures and guidelines. They will often be the ones saying “that’s how we’ve always done it” and will promote doing things “the right way”. They will be analytical in their approach and accurate and orderly in their performance. As they like to adhere to established routines, their most likely question will be ‘why’ as they will try to understand the reason for doing things in one way or another, and attempt to map that against known standards and procedures.

If your PM is a ‘C’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Expect the focus to be on accuracy and adherence to standards and procedures.
  2. They will want to know why you chose one approach as opposed to another.
  3. Being reserved and task oriented they will spend some time analysing your report and then reply with a detailed set of instructions.

If your team member is a ‘C’ here’s what you need to do/know:

  1. Make sure to explain your expectations and the reasoning behind them.
  2. You won’t need to worry about them breaking away from existing standards and procedures.
  3. Be ready to receive detailed progress reports.
  4. They will be comfortable working on their own.

Identifying each of your stakeholders’ dominant personality type will assist you in tailoring your communication style in order to achieve your communication objectives and maintain or even improve your relationship with them.

Until next time.

Academic research conducted in the last few years has highlighted the fact that while project management, as a discipline, is dealing well with identifying and promoting the hard skills required to manage projects, further work is still required in order to bring project management attention to the crucial need to promote and strengthen project manager’s soft skills. A recent 2009 publication from the University of Southern Indiana suggests that project managers, unlike other managerial disciplines, are required to operate in unique organisational structures, and in those circumstances they are required to communicate with a large and diverse population, with varying and quite often conflicting needs and agendas. An earlier publication, published by the University of South Africa in 2005, focused on Software Project Management, and in that context made the observation that there apparently a positive correlation between the high rate of project failures in Software Development projects, as, unlike other project management domains, they are more heavily reliant on the implementation and proper utilisation of soft skills.

Unlike the set of tools and techniques available for project managers, which collectively make up the hard skills, soft skills are usually described as an art and in most cases are harder to learn. Also, unlike their hard skills counterparts they are not intuitive or easy to grasp without proper training, coaching or mentoring. Whereas hard skills, like constructing Gantt Charts or Work Breakdown Structures, can be self taught and independently practices, a much more involved effort is required in order to master soft skills associated with people management and communication. Given the fact that 90% of the project manager’s work requires communication of some sort, it is surprising that no greater attention is given to promoting those skills, methods, behaviours and attitudes required to ensure some improvement in the way we communicate and generally deal with other people. If we were to use risk management as a temporary guide and assume (albeit very simplistically) that 50% of all of our communication is misinterpreted, that would result in 45% of our project effort rendered ineffective (being 90% x 50% = 45%). If we were to increase our communication efficiency by just 10% to 60%, our overall project effort effectiveness would increase to 54% and so on. It is obvious then that while some of the key hard core project management activities can be ‘outsourced’ to other project management technocrats, helpers and administrators, communication is uniquely seen as the sole responsibility of the project manager and thus any marginal improvement in his/her performance on this front can generate significant dividends in the overall efficiency of his/her performance.

It is obvious, yet worth pointing out, that the area of communication with the most need of improvement is the verbal communication, where direct (i.e. face to face) or indirect (e.g. over the phone) communication takes place. With the proliferation of presentation and writing aid tools, most project managers are able to produce quality (although not necessarily accurate or effective) communication. Written communication is a skill that can and should be improved on, but as mentioned earlier, the best bang for the buck will be achieved by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our verbal communication.

A number of techniques, based on proven psychological models, are now available to explain communication tendencies based on personality types. Two of the main ones are the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and the DISC Assessment model. The two models provide extensive elaboration on the effect that specific personality ‘ingredients’ have on the way people communicate. Both can be used to suggest ‘pre-emptive’ actions one can use in order to minimize conflict and drive communication to a successful completion.

In my next article I will discuss the applicability and ease of use of the DISC model for improving project managers’ communication skills.

In the meantime any comments on the above will be greatly welcome.

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