Better Communication During Projects

Aug 01, 2005

There’s something about the entire design and construction industry when it comes to doing projects— we just don’t spend enough time on communication. I think there are a number of reasons for this persistent state. Primary among them is that many of our most productive team members simply don’t value anything that’s not “real work,” i.e., therefore don’t slow down to communicate with other project team members. Another reason for the problem is that the majority of those in the business today learned from others who wouldn’t take the time for a project kick-off meeting or weekly job status report to all team members, so why should they? The behavior wasn’t modeled for them. Either way, the “communication problem” exists on the solid majority of construction projects today, causing incredible inefficiency and waste of time and materials throughout the entire process. The important thing is making it better. Here are a few simple suggestions: Change your policies and practices such that good communication procedures are not optional, but required. This requires some solid definition of what steps you want followed at every stage in the project process. Kick-off meetings, weekly status reports, weekly job site meetings, how incoming e-mails and faxes are dealt with, and more, are just SOME of the critical communication processes and procedures that need real definition. Along with this definition must be top management’s insistence that they be followed. So think about what you are asking your people to do as you risk your credibility as leaders by requiring steps be taken that are unnecessary or that don’t really help communications on the project! Only define what you really expect your people to do. Teach your managers to do what they should. Once the processes and procedures for how things are supposed to work are laid out, all managers need to be told what they are. It’s not good enough to simply write these up and send out an e-mail mandate to follow them. Training needs to be personal and ongoing, and address the “whys” of why these things are important IF you want anyone to do them. Yes— sometimes you have to slow down on your real work so 15 other folks on a job aren’t heading off in the wrong direction. This is real work, too! Tell the non-management employees it’s their responsibility to speak up when the processes aren’t being followed. Few firms really encourage their employees to “rat out” a bad manager who is wasting everyone’s time and money, but it has to be done. The offenders cannot feel that it’s OK if they choose not to comply. But this tattling has to occur or top management won’t know what’s really going on. Set a good example yourself as the leader at the top of the organization. Of course to do this, you must still be involved in projects to some extent. That’s important, or eventually everyone will wonder what you really do with your day, and you will get disconnected from your employees, clients, and the knowledge of what it takes to get a job done in your organization. Without this, you will be obsolete. I firmly believe that most projects could be done with a whole lot fewer man-hours IF we spent more time on this issue. Yes, “better communications” is a tired catch-phrase solution to many problems. But it is for a reason! Originally published 08/01/2005

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