Clear communication during a project allows everyone to understand what the goals are and how to overcome potential problems and cab vital in many unexpected ways.
Good and open communication can also potentially expose possible risks that need to be considered at the initial stage of a project. In this industry, we are all smart, we all have great ideas and we all have different experiences that if communicated and work as a team there is really no reason why we cannot have a successful project.
However, success may be perceived as one thing by the customer, another by the operator, and yet another by the contractor. If these don’t line up at the end of the project, the project was not successful. Communication, as simple as it may sound, can be a big help in all aspects of a project.
There is a chain of command and typically a procedure or communication matrix is developed at the beginning of the project on how information and contact will flow between all members/parties involved. There are different roles between members and they may adjust or shift based on the topic of interest and/or the stage/phase of the project. Some of these assigned roles are responsible, accountable, consultant and informed.
These roles are critical and need to be understood by all members of the team to which role pertains to whom. This will help keep clear communication and avoid any potential bottlenecks of communication. Applying these roles will help both the customer and contractor. The customer would need to know how to communicate successfully within their organization as much as the contractor within theirs. And in all this clearly define how the customer and contractor will communicate.
The responsible role is typically the individual that will be completing the task, getting things done. This individual or group of individuals will need to stay in communication to whomever is leading or managing the team. These individuals might generate a specific technical question that will need to be communicated to the customer, how that is transferred to the customer will depend on how the communication is arranged. It could go to the team leader and then, from there, across to the customer team leader. These team leaders can vary from having a particular specific focus or task on the project or could be the ones that know all aspects.
The accountable role will need to receive all communication as they are “accountable” to having tasks complete by the team and assure quality. The accountable roles typically land on those managing or leading an objective. Typically, the accountable would be the one communicating or being involved in the communication between customer and contractor. Consultant will be those individuals that will be advising and relaying their expertise to team members. They will not be responsible or accountable but will communicate what they know.
Experience goes a long way. Everyone has some background and experiences and they are all valid and useful, but typically those who have been in the industry for a long time have more to draw from. These individuals might be the older of the bunch but typically what they communicate is of great value. Communication is not just sounding out perspective or ideas to deaf ears; it needs to be heard.
Which brings us to the informed. The informed are typically our bosses' boss. The individual that needs to be in the loop of progress, budget but does not need to know the minute details being battled in the trenches… unless it becomes a big enough detail that would need to filter up the chain of command.
Forms of communication
How we communicate is critical. Communication can vary whether it's in person, on the phone, IM, text, email, or FaceTime. Always follow up with an email after any conversations or meetings that were held. This helps not only for documentation and traceability, especially if a decision is made, but it also helps in ensuring what was understood at the end of the conversation and or what decisions were made which will determine path or scope changes.
Having an assigned individual to take notes/minutes in a meeting is critical. This individual can type up what was discussed and share with the group. The last thing anyone will want is to have an outstanding meeting with great decisions and direction but then have nothing in writing.
Communication might sound simple, but it is critical. There are too many cases where communication fell during a project, resulting in a bad outcome for the project. If questions are not being answered, responses are not being received, and if information is not getting to the right people with a reasonable time, this can add unnecessary stress to team members and a project.
Remember that projects are never a team of one individual. It might be the one sole wolf contractor that is responsible and accountable to do a project from design to deployment, but they still need to communicate with the customer, management, consultant, and/or operators.
An informed individual may grow concern if the accountable is not sharing or communicating, the accountable will grow concern and not have anything to share or communicate if they are not being updated by the responsible. If any of the communication segments are not functioning, there should be a concern. And sometimes, the lack of communication could be an indication something is wrong.
This post was written by Miguel Gutierrez. Miguel is a senior control systems specialist at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. Maverick delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization, and more.