In Revay's experience, personality conflict is the principal accelerant when it comes to disputes. Currently, sensitivity to money is heightened and many issues are being taken "personally". The antidote lies in treating emotive issues like any other business decisions and by taking especial care to avoid "ostrich mentality", to refrain from dishing out "mushroom treatment" (i.e. keeping subordinates in the dark about pertinent issues) and to eliminate potentially inflammatory language in conversation and written documents.
Dr. Francis Hartman, a respected project management pundit, in his first book states:
"Success of a project is directly linked to meeting stakeholder expectations, and failure is linked to communication breakdowns"
This situation is mirrored in other industries.
By way of example, the following quote comes from an article published in the journal Computer World.
"The research suggests that the culprit in 85% of project failures is silence. The study showed that there is a definable set of project communication problems that are far more common than most senior leaders realize. An estimated 90% of project managers routinely encountered one or more of five critical problems in the course of a project but the killer is the silence that follows."
Bad communication is the death knell of construction projects. Yet, on many construction projects, clients and project managers will insist upon early warning of problems while contractors will be reticent to provide this for fear of adversely impacting working relationships and starting a letter war. Irrespective of the consequences of failure to satisfy notice provisions, contractors will too often address problems only after any opportunity to mitigate the situation has been lost. Occasionally, the client first hears about the problem through a Request for Equitable Adjustment submitted after substantial completion.
Clearly, clients and project managers need to be receptive to genuine problems; for the sake of the project, they must create a non-adversarial environment wherein the contractor is empowered to provide early warning. By the same token, contractors must improve their communications, both in frequency and quality. There is a simple but effective channel for this during the course of each coordination job site meeting. It is to ask every contractor or subcontractor whether they are aware of any current or potential situation that is affecting or might affect the time and or cost to complete their work. Obviously, their responses should be minuted and agreement or exceptions to minutes recorded.
The intent is for issues to surface early so that the project team can address them in a cooperative manner, thereby saving money.
In the same vein, all project participants need to think twice before hitting the send button in "Outlook". Emails sent in anger serve only to increase the potential for communication breakdown. In its line of work, Revay knows only too well that keeping emotion out of emails and other forms of communication goes a long way to avoiding trouble on projects.
10. Hartman, F., Don't Park your Brain Outside: a practical guide to improving shareholder value with SMART project management (1st ed.) (Upper Darby, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, 2000).
11. Scott, R., For IT projects silence can be deadly, Computer World, 5 February, 2007 www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=279450.