A Failure to Communicate

In project management, as in life, communication is the number one most important ingredient to ensure a successful outcome.

Recently, I was on a multi-million dollar project that included a number of contractors working on a joint venture, as well as independent contractors, government agencies, and local authorities.  From the get go it was clear that the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.  Every morning went something like this:

All of the workers would show up out front of the hotel at 0500, drink some coffee, and try to determine where they were going that day.  There were a few options; two different barges, a jack-up boat, and the shipyard.  Everyone would get together and start piecing together the various text messages, emails, and phone calls that the other guys had made, in order to develop a clear picture of what had taken place during night shift, and what was going to happen later that day.

Then everyone would take off every which way, every man for himself.  Sometimes you got lucky and there was a crew boat waiting to take you offshore to your barge, some days there were nothing but seagulls.

A number of issues plagued the project but the primary hang up was this:

Nobody was appointed or empowered to communicate the needs of the project through the ranks.

The project manager wasn’t even in the same state at first.  But every day there would be an email sent with the “look ahead”.  One glance at this would show that it was not based in the reality of the situation.  It projected tasks for the day that were impossible to complete, due to location of the assets, works completed the previous night, or weather conditions.  All of which would have been known if they were actually on site, or at the very least communicating with the representative on each unit.

It has been my experience that for the most part, people just want to be told what to do.  Give a plan, provide the resources, and it will be executed.  Leave a large group to its own devices however and you’ll be rewarded with complacency, apathy, and ill-will.

There needs to be a top down, clearly defined management structure which is essentially a line of communication.  The previous days progress needs to be tracked and the plan to be revised accordingly.  Then this plan needs to be distributed to the various line managers for each unit, and finally disseminated to the men.

By the time I left the project it was already two times over budget, with the winter season approaching fast.  Effective communication would have saved weeks of time and millions, MILLIONS! Of dollars.

But the one thing that everybody preaches, communication, is the one thing that is lacking entirely.  With the proper tools and systems in place the likelihood of the project being completed on time and on budget would be substantially greater.  Effective systems need to be implemented in the planning stage, not half way through the job.

Keep in mind that we are not talking about individual communication, but overall communication.  Upper management, project goals, basic freedom of information kind of stuff.

The kind of stuff that ensures a successful outcome.

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3 thoughts on “A Failure to Communicate

  1. The lack of communication has over budgeted many projects I was involved in. I was involved also in projects where communication had a place. The only results of that communication were for convincing top management of investors/owners about something what did not existed in reality. All progress reports were supported by false information or made up excuses to justify an extension of projects and delay in delivery/completion of it. So not only lack of communication but untrue communication should be avoided to ensuring successful outcome.

  2. Great point Vlado. I’ve seen that as well. However, I also feel that the people being reported to allow themselves to be mislead in these situations. This due to either fear, apathy, or culture within the company.

  3. True as well and fully agree with it. There is another reason I have experienced..intentional prolonging time for certain projects by “soft” approach in all stages of commissioning during project. This reason is connected to certain nationalities which are and will be doing everything to stay out of their country of residence as long as possible since everywhere is more enjoyable life apart of their own country (I am sure you know which nation I am talking about). I have seen very relaxed approach during commissioning of small or big parts/machineries/equipments, without proper pushing shipyard to do efficient job. Due to such approach we came to a bit more than 1.5 year delay in delivery of unit.

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