In our first article on poor communications, we looked at studies indicating that ineffective communication had a negative impact on project execution. In fact, ineffective communication was a primary contributor for project failures 1/3 of the time and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time. (www.pmi.org) Since that initial article was posted in May of 2013, managing communications has remained a challenge, but advancements in tools and processes, such as interface management, are proving that communication issues on projects can become a problem of the past.
Major capital projects in today’s engineering and construction market are complex. The size of projects has grown. The number of participants has grown. There is more of an international component to major projects. The processes of detailed design and construction now often overlap, increasing the complexity. As the complexity of projects increases, so does the complexity of the project’s communication plan – the plan that defines how all communication in all shapes and sizes and across all stakeholders will be managed throughout the project.
As noted above, managing communication is essential to project success – we know that. How do you manage all the information and related processes on projects that span years and involve hundreds, and even thousands of people? How do you proceed with the confidence that stakeholders are kept informed? That decisions are being made with all the right information? Can you really rely on emails, phone calls, and spreadsheets to effectively manage all communication? As the project manager or sponsor, how do you identify potential failures in the communication process?
As more and more companies are coming to find, a key practice to improving communication challenges on projects lies in both the process of interface management and the tools that enable it. Interface management formalizes all communications, information exchanges, and responsibilities related to project interfaces.
An interface is defined as a point where two systems, subjects, organizations, etc. meet and interact. For physical or hard interfaces, this is the point or boundary where the responsibility transfers from one party to another. Soft interfaces, such as environmental or regulatory, typically involve information exchange between parties, ensuring various permits are in place and compliance with regulatory requirements are met. When managing interfaces, it is important that the efforts of all parties be combined in a collaborate way to ensure the components of the interface work together cohesively to complete each interface successfully; which in turn results in completing the project more successfully.
The Construction Industry Institute’s Interface Management study revealed that interface management was recognized as a process back in the 1950s – so not a new idea. However, without a tool to support the more complex projects that needed interface management, the process was not practical. Even with the advent of spreadsheets to help manage interfaces, the process was not making a significant difference to project results.
A key element missing from early interface management tools was the ability to associate all interface communication and activity to the project’s schedule, scope, and cost (i.e., the ‘heart’ of the contract). Are interface deliverables aligned to the schedule? Do the interface agreements between interfacing parties fall within their contract scope? Who’s monitoring cost? This was a critical weakness. Communication related to project interfaces, whether internal or external, must take into consideration these three key factors; without them, you have little chance of improving the project’s outcome.
With solutions on the market today, improving communications on projects by implementing interface management is now a practical reality and offers many advantages to projects – including the ability to associate interfaces with the project’s schedule, scope, and cost. These advanced communication systems ensure collaboration on interfaces and offer project teams the following invaluable features & benefits:
Interface activity and deliverables can be linked to the project schedule.
Oversight & Transparency
All team members and stakeholders have full oversight through access to document status, reports, and dashboards, whether they are directly involved with the interface or not.
Interface agreements document the exchange of information and deliverables between two parties. In addition, when a deliverable is sent to a requestor by the responding party, the requestor must acknowledge the deliverable is adequate before the interface can be closed.
Risk Managed Across Project Phases
The ability to manage communication related to interfaces across all phases of a project; this ensures information used to make key decisions and activities managed in previous phases is available to parties responsible for future phases.
Clear scope delineation achieved through the use of interface points to define scope split and/or interaction boundaries (who needs to interface with who).
Be alerted to interface-related potential change to the contract price, scope, or schedule
While you’re still early on in 2018, ready to execute on your project commitments, make sure you equip your project teams with well-defined communication plans and the tools to support those plans. Projects should not fail due to poor communication. The challenge with communication is an age-old issue; one that needs careful consideration and planning, but can be overcome with today’s tools. Interface management is a proven solution to manage communication related to project interfaces with solutions available to support this discipline. Don’t miss this opportunity to improve project execution – set one of your 2018 goals to learn more about interface management and the many ways it will help overcome poor communication between the parties executing your projects and improve project outcomes.