Apr 13, 2012

The Backbone of Projects: True Communication

Posted by Alan Fein in Culture & Change Management, Project & Program Management | 0 Comments

The misuse of terminology in projects, or in any human activity for that matter, is an insidious time thief.

Most project managers are keenly aware of the importance of communication management in the success of our projects. If perhaps not the most important, communication is certainly the ultimate discipline in project management; no communication, no project. However, there is one component of communication management that is given short shrift in project planning, and in project organizations in general; that is an established terminology. Communication only works efficiently when the speaker and receiver share a common understanding of terms being exchanged.

Consider the following terms – process and procedure.  As project managers we use these terms constantly, yet did you know they are not defined in the PMBOK®?  Frequently we define these terms in a serial fashion: a process is a collection of procedures which define the order and timing of tasks executed during a project. Nonetheless in everyday project communications these terms are frequently used interchangeably and some dictionaries considered them synonyms. This can present a problem or two.

The misuse of terminology in projects, or in any human activity for that matter, is an insidious time thief.  Whether we realize it or not, when we don’t employ standard terminology in our conversations every thought conveyed will be prefaced with a back and forth exchange regarding the meaning of the words before the receiver has understood the message. (Remember that "communication" can't be said to have occurred unless the parties understand each other!)

Wouldn’t it be more expedient to establish a set of organizationally accepted terms prior to the initiation of the endeavor rather than establish terminology during each communication event?

The moral of the story is a simple one - prior to launching a project, ensure that you have a task in your communication planning to establish and publish a documented glossary of terms to be used in your undertaking. Better yet, press your internal project organization to issue a universal glossary that governs all projects. This also will save precious time during the execution of the project.

Note: It isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. There are several online project management glossaries (here's one favorite) that, with perhaps the definitions of a few organization-specific terms added, can serve to get everyone literally on the same page.


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