Monday, October 25, 2010

Channels of Communication

The Project Management Book of Knowledge offers a formula to determine how many channels of communication exist in a project. The formula is: N(N-1)/2. N is the number of stakeholders involved in the project. So if you have 5 people involved, then you would have 10 channels of communication [5(5-1)/2]. Seems like a lot. As your team grows the number of channels increases exponentially.

So, I was in charge of a platoon of 16 people in Iraq, so 120 lines of communication. Within the platoon, not including communication to Company and Battalion. How do you manage 120 lines of communication. Largely with a plan. I had sergeants who were responsible for 3-4 people each. I would communicate with them, they would push the information below to their people. They would handle anything they could, and pass the more difficult stuff on to me. In turn, I told them what needed to be accomplished, and trusted them to accomplish it (Ronald Regan once said "Trust but verify," so I would go onsite and make sure that everything was up to snuff). It was an effective communication plan, so long as you can trust your people.

There are many books out there about getting the "right" people on the bus. In some cases it takes time, however you need to identify the people you can trust and put them in the proper place for control and communications. In almost every company there is middle management (the sergeants) that you have to trust to push the right information to the team. A leader cannot be everywhere. He/she can mitigate risk, can give detailed instructions, and can even be standing over most of them a lot of the time. But at some point you need to trust your managers, then go back and verify that they told the right thing... maybe during your lunches with the staff/troops/whatever.

So when you are figuring out your staff, as a leader, you need to have a communication plan. You need to know how information gets from place to place. You also need to make sure that everyone else knows what the communication plan is. Otherwise, channels get muddles, lines get misused, and people can get hurt, or projects can fail.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, and communications is just another plan that needs to be thought out and executed. Sometimes its given to you, sometimes you have to figure it out. Either way, take the time to review it, because it may not be what you need it to be. Good Luck.

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