ProjectManagement101.2-Unavoidable Misunderstandings

"The difficulty with communication might be the illusion that it occurred."

Was it Churchill who claimed that Brits and Yanks are one people separated by a common language? The observation could apply to any two people, too. My daughter Heidi, who owns a small business providing translation services, can testify that no Rosetta Stone exists, for no one-to-one correspondence has ever been found between any words in any two languages. Nuance bridges the gaps. Interpretation, patience, and MISunderstanding seems to be required for any communication to ever occur.

Even in mature, routinely replicating manufacturing processes, miscommunication intrudes.
Even, perhaps especially, the human/machine interface prominently features bungled attempts to provide coherent direction to the machine and comprehensible feedback to the human. All code features bugs, errors inhibiting intentions from being satisfied. Attempts to fix recognized shortcomings routinely introduce additional errors even when resolving the acknowledged bug, and these often go unrecognized until some inconvenient time. Testing and debugging is a statistical game with expected shortfalls, an infinite engagement.

'Projects', because they're mustered with an intended short lifespan, often exist in the absence of any well-defined culture. Quite the opposite, contributors come from several different cultures, each subtly different from every other, each carrying norms its members might not even consciously acknowledge. Each will most certainly embody their culture anyway. Coders differ from testers. They prioritize their aspirations differently. The team member from HR will be seen as a weenie or a "puke" by many of their teammates and this likely preconscious prejudice will influence their interpretations of the HR representative's contribution. The HR rep will reciprocate without knowing he is.

Command and control techniques won't work very reliably because of the lack of a common language. The 'project' manager might well employ a variety of dialects in hopes of limiting the damage, but must remain mindful that none of the techniques will work perfectly. The chief difficulty might be that in the moment a misconception sprouts, nothing indicates its presence. Only later might (I said might) the difference become apparent, and nobody will suspect any disconnect until then. Even then, the tangle might appear no more distinct than a whisper, an intuition, a feeling.

'Projects' are dialogues, meandering conversations which wander down ratholes with great dependability. They are a squeaky sense-making machine, often only knowing something when they don't see something. One team used a stuffed rat in their meetings. Everyone was empowered to grab the rat if they sensed an inquiry starting down a rat hole. I thought this practice a vestige of a typical organizational aspiration, that a team might make forward progress without endless meandering, a Utopian delusion. Meaning gets made from the connections only disconnections can provide. The idea that a 'project', any 'project', might simply follow a prescribed plan's straight and narrow path is anathema to any project's purpose, for purpose must be somehow discovered. The principle means for discovering purpose might just be the miscommunication unavoidably shared along the way.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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