Message to Som Gollakota

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Woodinville, WA
Project Manager And Communications
May 22, 2009
rojects seldom involve just one group or discipline. Processes, procedures, and methodologies alone cannot deliver projects successfully. Typically, a project involves multiple groups, disciplines, technologies, businesses and often span across multiple organizations and companies. Effective communication between these domains, therefore, becomes the key to ensuring those involved in the project are moving in the same direction as the project. Since the Project Manager is charged with overall ownership of commandeering the ship to the right shores, it is imperative for the Project Managers to ensure effective communication.
What then is the kind of communication skill needed by a project manager? Individuals in a project usually fall either on the business side or technology side of the communication spectrum, at the working level or at a leadership level. Consider the following illustration.
In this illustration, 'T' is the Technology half of the spectrum and 'B' is the Business half of the spectrum. Further, '1' is the leadership (top brass) and '2' is the working level (the doers of the work). These four areas are what I call as Four Quadrants of Communication Spectrum®.
A project manager being the communication conduit in a project, thus, needs to be proficient in these four quadrants of the communication spectrum to achieve effective information flow between the quadrants.
Then, an inevitable question for a project manager is "Do I need to know inside out of technology as well the business to achieve success?". The short answer is 'No'.
Now the long answer.
A project manager is not a superhero. A project manager is that key link that connects superheroes; the one who knows how to leverage their individual heroism to achieve collective success. It is logical that the closer one gets to any of these quadrants, the farther one gets from the other three. Then they have to depend on the folks in-between to deliver the message, thereby adding multiple layers between the sender and the recipient of the message risking a 'lost in translation' scenario. The less number of layers, the more effective the message can be. However, the message also requires translation between the quadrants to achieve accuracy. A project manager needs to be sufficiently enough technology savvy and business savvy to perform the translation. This cannot be achieved by moving closer to any one of the quadrants (getting farther away from the other three). It is next to humanly impossible to be an expert in every technology and every business domain a project spans across.
At a core level, a project manager needs to know the technology aspects sufficiently enough to understand the technical message. Further, a project manager needs to know the business aspects sufficiently enough to effectively translate the technical message into business terms. What does this technical problem, issue, or challenge mean to the business groups? What does it mean to the customers? What would/could be the customer experience? What does it mean to the business space in which the company operates, or the project's target business area?
Similarly, at a core level, a project manager needs to know the business aspects of the project sufficiently enough to understand the business message. Further, a project manager needs to know the technical aspects sufficiently enough to effectively translate the business message into technical terms. What does this business need, problem, or issue mean from a technology standpoint? How would it rate against other technology issues/problems/ challenges that the technology teams are handling (defining priorities)?
To bring it all together, a project manager needs to be somewhere in the middle of technology and business working teams and leadership to be able to effectively translate messages across the quadrants, and yet not lose touch with any one of those quadrants. Once we lose touch with any one of the quadrants, we are moving ourselves out of the typical "project manager" realm and establishing ourselves as either technologists or business folks. Hence, a project manager is an effective communicator when (s)he exhibits communication skill to operate in all four quadrants of the communication spectrum.