Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Interface management and communication

A recent post on this blog looked at how lessons analysis can help organisations identify some of the high-impact issues affecting their performance.  Yesterday we examined ‘scope definition and the lack of shared understanding of requirements’ and discussed how contracting parties fail to achieve sufficient clarity over work requirements and their execution.

We now turn to the related issue of interface management and the absence of effective communication.
What is the problem? 

‘Interface management’ describes the processes, tools and behaviours used to communicate between a large project’s many components, teams and disciplines.  Companies that manage interfaces well ensure that knowledge is accessible to all who need it and changes are communicated swiftly and effectively.

Companies that manage interfaces poorly suffer blockages in the transmission of knowledge (to use the ‘stock and flow’ analogy explored by Nick Milton here) and communications are haphazard and sporadic instead of regular and deliberate.

How does it manifest itself?

Manufactured connecting components, software features or even 'ways of working' are found to be incompatible without significant effort; teams that are meant to co-operate suffer poor relations as the boundaries between them become increasingly rigid; only a privileged ‘elite’ seem to know what is going on; rumours are rife; plans are soon shown to be unrealistic as delays build up; even minor events have a major impact and control is lost, with everyone ‘reacting’ and ‘fire-fighting’. 

What is its impact?
Work proves more difficult than expected and solutions of ever-increasing complexity are required to resolve problems.  This results in late delivery which, in turn, results in short-cuts as formal processes are skipped; this adversely affects quality and costs exceed original estimates as corrective measures are needed to address the shortfall.  Morale suffers and all teams agree on one thing at least – that this is all someone else’s fault.
What recommendations are made to address it?

Some organisations that have endured poor communications, either internally or with partners, suppliers or clients, have introduced formal interface management systems and created teams to enable (and enforce) good communications.  Others have considered that a KM assessment may be appropriate, in order to identify and locate any blockages or weaknesses in the system through which knowledge should flow.
A cultural audit can help organisations understand the actual values that underpin their teams’ behaviour (as opposed to the professed values).

Finally, some companies have responded to these problems by seeking to develop long-term relationships between internal teams and with external suppliers, partners and clients; this has included examining and revising the incentives (both explicit and implicit) in place.
For further information about KM assessments and cultural audits, please visit the Knoco website.

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