An editorial for Project Mangement World Today Web Magazine. Published here May 2000.


Musings Index

Communication: The Project Life Blood

Typical project people spend a lot of time planning, organizing, doing and fixing but often pay little heed to communication. As a result, the communication, such as it is, may be inadequate, of poor quality, or unidirectional. In project work there are two essential ingredients: people and the effective exchange of ideas. Without people nothing gets done and without communication nobody knows what to do. After all, the very nature of a project is that it has not been done before.

Communication is like engine oil: it needs to be applied to the machinery or the machinery will not start or, if it does, it will quickly falter and grind to a halt. And the oil, like communication, needs to be continuously recycled and regularly replaced with new oil as the old becomes no longer usable. But what of the quality of the oil? Too little or too thin and it is not effective; too thick or too much and everything just gets gummed up.

It's the same with communication, yet how much attention do we pay to the 'quality' of our project communication? In our new world of virtual teams where some members never get to see each other from one project to the next, accurate exchanges are even more important. This is especially true over the Internet where some 60% of normal person-to-person communication, the non-verbal part, is simply removed. Even in video conferencing, this component is seriously filtered by the medium.

For well over a year now, David Curling's Project Management Forum web site has recognized the importance of communication, and especially the language that we use, by hosting the Wideman Comparative Glossary of Common Project Management Terms. This compendium of terms does not mandate a set of meanings based on a single view point. Rather, it provides from well respected sources various interpretations - each with its own special flavor.

It is understandable that there may be differences of opinion over interpretation of the more esoteric or more recent terms being used in the discipline. Surprisingly, however, that is where there is least argument. It is with the well-established long-term labels where arguments arise. For example, it is generally agreed that a work breakdown structure, one of the most powerful of project management tools, is hierarchical. However, what it consists of, how it should be expressed, and how best it should be used causes much debate. Again, there is much confusion over the term 'scope' and 'scope of work' and whether they are the same or different. But above all, the Glossary describes no less than sixteen different variations of the term 'project' - surely the very foundation of the project management discipline itself?

In the interests of a future project management profession, is it not about time that national organizations set aside their intellectual turf protection to build an internationally acceptable glossary and provide it in the public domain?

Home | Issacons | PM Glossary | Papers & Books | Max's Musings
Guest Articles | Contact Info | Search My Site | Site Map | Top of Page