I was asked recently to review a new book about project management (as if what the world needs is another book about project management; the PM bookshelves shelves runneth over as it is). However, I agreed and have been happily surprised to find this book is competently written—literate, well-organized, nicely expressed—by someone who knows what he’s talking about.
I’m not planning to tip my hand here and tell you what book it is, who it’s by and what I really think beyond that first impression. I’ll save that for the finished product which you’ll be able to read on Amazon.com before long.
I will tell you, however, that the voice of experience who wrote this book on project management repeatedly makes a point that project managers are all-too-familiar with and English majors ought to be more familiar with, and that is this: What goes wrong on projects often can be blamed on poor communication.
In business, this word “communication” is a catch-all phrase for writing, speaking, listening and reading. While those who decry the problems of project management place a lot of emphasis placed on poor writing and speaking abilities, the other two are just as bad. Business “communicators” are often poor listeners and readers, at least in part, because the writing and speaking aren’t very good. It’s hard to read something that’s not well written.
Projects generate “deliverables”—which are documents and graphic depictions of things the project has figured out to do. When a project’s documents are poorly written, when status reports are boring, when emails are cryptic, ambiguous and confusing, then progress suffers. Projects are all about progress. Impeding progress is, to a project, a fate worse than car trouble, food poisoning and bankruptcy combined. When project progress is impaired by anything, project managers scramble to recover and project stakeholders (i.e., the people paying for the project and the people who have to live with its outcome) go nuts.
So our author and experienced project manager rightly identifies poor “communication” as a frequent cause of project trouble. One of the points he makes is how often project deliverables go unread. I know this to be true myself. Someone on a project team writes something (a status report, minutes of a meeting, a product evaluation) and sends it out to the project team and nothing happens. No one asks questions, argues with what’s written, suggests revisions—nothing. Not a peep. Why? Because business people are used to drab, dull, lifeless written works and, on a typically busy, over-booked day, the last thing they feel like doing is reading something that fits that description.
One of these days, a corporate champion of expense reduction is going to take a look at the amount of quantifiable waste a project experiences because written documents are boring, poorly organized, hard to follow and clumsily written. And where will they find people who can fix this problem? Look no farther than the nearest mirror, English majors.