Avoiding Communication Breakdowns

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By Hatim Kader, X by 2

Toronto, ON (Aug. 17, 2017) – There’s an old real-estate adage that claims the three most important elements in any real estate sale are all the same one: location, location, location.  The same can be said for the practice of consulting by replacing the word “location” with the word that represents the most important element of consulting: communication.

Yes, the technology can be challenging, and yes, understanding the business goals and problems is vitally important, and yes, identifying the best-fit solution with the highest probability of success is key.  But none of these elements mean anything if they are not effectively communicated to the client, project team, solution provider, etc. Many projects have foundered as a result of inefficient and ineffective communications to the key stakeholders.

Communication can take many forms, and it is such a vast and deep subject that after many years of practicing effective communication that I find myself learning and re-learning some of its basics time and time again. This is not to say that effective communication requires a Psychology or Marketing degree either. It just requires some common sense, and more often than not, some persistence.  For instance, anybody who has been a parent, a manager of people, or even in IT, knows that it’s much easier to gain support for an idea or action if the party being communicated to believes that they helped to create said idea or action.

Put another way, it is much easier if the other party believes it to be their idea. This is not to suggest that deception, coercion, or even subterfuge be employed.  Rather, it is to suggest that understanding the other party, their perspectives and building a working relationship that’s based on mutual respect and trust helps to create the environment that yields successful outcomes.

In the real world of consulting and project management, it takes some experience to recognize when and where there’s a potential for communication issues. Many times the problem or issue is stark, and the eventual solution is evident; however, there could be other enterprise environmental constraints that influence the decision-making. Often things may seem clear on the surface, but just below the surface, there are obstacles to communicating effectively any proposed solution.  It’s important to work to understand such things. For example, an organization might have some underlying experiences that make committing to a particular solution more difficult.  These experiences could be some of the following:

  • The organization is cautious or averse to solutions they haven’t experienced, like cloud-based applications or storage solutions.
  • There may be push back over concerns of initial and ongoing costs.
  • There may have been prior bad experiences with a particular type of product (ex: COTS solution) or a particular provider.
  • There may be cultural or technical resistance to a proposed solution due to the potential impact on long-held practices and processes.
  • There may be political infighting that prevents progress from occurring.

Where such enterprise environmental constraints might be in play, a quick jump to the conclusion often carries the risk of a good solution proposal being rejected due to the real or imagined constraints. These could lead to lost opportunities for major transformational initiatives with high direct and indirect costs to the organization as a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication of the necessity for and benefits of the proposed solution. Good consultants should make note of such enterprise environmental constraints. As part of their overall strategy for understanding business problems and evaluating best-fit solutions, consultants should also devise strategies for getting their enterprise stakeholders to grasp the problem and assess the proposed solution options.

To avoid this unpleasant but all too common consulting mistake, there are a number of communication approaches that I’ve employed over the years that can help:

  1. The deliberative approach. This approach allows time for the problem and its shortcomings to be understood, usually through persistent and understandable communication. It helps the stakeholders to grasp the problems involved fully.  While it may take a little longer, the benefit of this approach is that the stakeholders will discuss solutions naturally and often of their own accord.
  2. The team exercise approach. This method involves engaging the stakeholders in exercises that acknowledge the current state, analyze the gaps that need to be remediated to reach the desired future state and discuss potential solutions – technology-based or otherwise.
  3. The anticipation approach. This approach involves more than just anticipating questions, a common practice for good consultants.  Rather, this approach requires a deep understanding of the enterprise environmental constraints – technology, resources, budget and revenue, talent, priorities, market pressures, etc. – and preparing and presenting multiple options that challenge those limitations and/or address those constraints and their relative pros and cons.

These common sense approaches have been around for quite some time, but in the heat of the project battle they are often forgotten or overlooked. The importance of effective communication between all key stakeholders is on the critical path for any successful business technology initiative.  However, even with experience using these techniques as a guide effective communication can be difficult to achieve and maintain.  In my own experience, there are any number of variables that can impact successful communication.  Despite my best efforts as a consultant, I am not always as successful as I’d like to be when establishing communication protocols with clients.  It’s fair to say that sometimes it works better than others, and sometimes a favored approach needs to be abandoned for something else that might prove to be more effective.  The key is to understand the audience, the environment, the constraints, and then to tailor a communication approach that is the best fit for the combination of elements.  The final, most important key is to keep learning.

About the Author

Hatim Kader is a senior consultant and program manager at X by 2. He has 18 years of professional experience, with a unique combination of business/technology consulting and project management expertise.  He is both a big picture thinker and a hands on implementer of large-scale enterprise initiatives in the P&C Insurance, Healthcare and Automotive verticals.

About X by 2

Established in 1998 and based in Metro Detroit Michigan, X by 2 is a technology consultancy focused on the practice of architecture in the insurance and healthcare industries. Whether P&C, Life, or Health, X by 2 knows the insurance business and has proven experience planning and delivering core insurance systems, business applications, and enterprise integrations. For more information, visit xby2.com.

Source: X by 2

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