Thursday, October 2, 2008

Managing Communication Interfaces

One of the most important aspects of project planning is communication. As a project manager, you must define needed interactions between project teams and project support groups as part of the project planning process. To do this, you need to understand where communication occurs. Areas of communication, called interfaces, generally fall into one of three categories: organizational, technical, and interpersonal.

Organizational interfaces
An organizational interface is a communication interface among organizational units. Communication between organizational units is affected by the:
  • Individuals that make up organizational units - Good communication between individuals is essential to project success. Miscommunications and disagreements between individuals can cause delays in your project.
  • Overall unit goals - When units within an organization have similar goals, everyone can work together to meet those goals. When the goals of organizational units conflict with one another, each unit's effort works against the others.
  • Different managerial styles within each unit - Difference in managerial styles from department to department can cause confusion, frustration, and miscommunications.
  • Decisions made outside the immediate organization - Decisions made by governments, interest groups, and competitors can influence your project and must be communicated.
Technical interfaces
Technical interfaces are the formal and informal reporting relationships among different technical disciplines.

Technical interfaces occur within and between project phases. They can occur in products, facilities, and hardware, in other words, in anything that is non-people related.

The technical interface falls into two categories: physical and performance. The physical interface is between interconnecting parts of the system. The performance interface is between various functional or product subsystems. These categories contain both good interfaces and problems with interfaces.

For example, MercuryRising has an excellent technical support team that is familiar with the hardware and software within the various departments. Quick response time to computer problems ensures little disruption time on projects and makes meeting deadlines easier.

The office supplier for MercuryRising has software to let them know what and how much of a product is being used daily. This tells them exactly when and how much to deliver. Such precision aids project delivery.

Project managers can help to ensure project success by managing technical interfaces.

Interpersonal interfaces
The interpersonal interface deals with formal and informal reporting relationships among different individuals working on a project.

Differences in personality, skill level, and communication style can create issues as a project team begins to work together. Typically, as the number of people involved in a project increases, so does the potential for problems with communication. A project may involve:
  • different organizations
  • organizational departments (Accounting, R&D)
  • groups (special interest)
  • subgroups
  • individuals
To enable effective communication at the interpersonal interface, you must carefully plan your project reporting relationships and keep the communication lines open to accommodate everyone involved.

For your project to succeed, you must remove barriers to communication through interface management—a constant juggling of communication issues.

A good project plan outlines individual, technical and organizational responsibilities and authority. It enables you to simultaneously manage the three interfaces and maintain the flow of communication.

If you effectively use the inputs to organizational planning, you can avoid most conflicts. Your projects will run more smoothly, and your project will have the best chance for success.

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