Houston, We Have A Problem: Why Effective Communication is a Key Component for BPM Efforts

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Do you wonder why some BPM efforts seem to proceed more smoothly? Stakeholders have provided clear directions regarding improvements. The project manager has the pulse of all the activities happening on the project. The process owners and technical experts are collaborating and making changes to processes that will enable the organization to improve its operations substantially.

No this isn’t someone’s dream, and it does happen, albeit rarely!

Project members’ poor communication is one of the reasons business process efforts aren’t more successful. In fact, failure is virtually ensured if just one of these groups doesn’t communicate clearly. 

Good communicators know before they open their mouths what they want to convey. They are clear about the message they want to communicate. Accomplished communicators are specific and use words and language that resonates with their listeners.

Finally, communicators who consistently achieve success have one characteristic in common. They know what they want!

What is Effective Communication?

There are numerous definitions for “effective communication.” Some of them describe, in great detail, the importance of verbal and non-verbal communication along with the significance of tone and word choice, but the simplest definition is on BusinessDictionary.com:

A two way information sharing process which involves one party sending a message that is easily understood by the receiving party.[i]

Communication is a process. Good communicators appreciate that the process of communication is as important as the message to be conveyed, i.e. the goal.

Stakeholders

For stakeholders effective communication means providing specific, and measurable, directions to process owners and the BPM team regarding the organization’s goals. How often does a project charter contain language such as:

Financial close process will be streamlined and more automated. Or;

Current processes will be reviewed and improved.

While the statements above are specific and descriptive, they aren’t measurable. Effective communication from stakeholders’ about a BPM effort means clear directions that are specific and contain metrics. Without both of these success is unattainable.

Instead the stakeholders in the above examples could have directed their BPM teams to:

Streamline and automate the company’s financial close process so that reporting is available to the CFO and senior management within two days of period close. Or;

Review no less than 80% of the company’s current processes and make recommendations for achieving between 10 to 20% efficiency, i.e. fewer cycles or people, and/or more automation.

Now the stakeholders have communicated clearly and effectively. The project manager and BPM team understand not only their responsibility, but they know the stakeholders’ expectations.

Project Manager and Team

Effective communication for project managers and team members is also essential. Without it they can’t execute on the stakeholders’ directions. Although expectations have already been set through descriptive metrics, PMs and team members can unwittingly sabotage the project through inattention to the process of effective communication.

How Do We Know When Communication is Effective (successful)?

One party sends the message and another party receives the message. Successful conversations mean that understanding of the message is shared by both parties.

Now “shared understanding” does not address the sender’s or receiver’s emotional state regarding a message. Just because a message was communicated cogently does not mean that the sender or receiver are necessarily happy or unhappy about it. “Shared understanding” is an indication about comprehension only.

How Do We Ensure Communication Effectiveness?

One of the best avenues for ensuring that your communications are effective is to listen, and do it carefully. Listening to the other party(ies) in your conversation is your first line defense, so to speak. In addition to that, you can ask yourself some questions about your communication:

  • Was I specific and descriptive about my communication and the reasons for doing so? (the goal)
  • Did I use words and phrases that were helpful and understood by my listener? (needed to achieve my goal)
  • Did I check for accuracy and clarity of my message? (needed to achieve my goal)
  • Did I allow time for my listener(s) to ask questions, provide feedback, and gain additional clarity? (needed to achieve my goal)
  • Did I achieve a “shared understanding” about my message? (the goal)

The first and last questions are often the most challenging. When thinking about the “what” that you want to communicate, it’s useful to ask yourself, “What does the environment look like when I achieve a ‘shared understanding’ about my message?” or “How will team members behave/act/proceed when I achieve a ‘shared understanding’ about my message?” Just as an architect builds a complete and intricate visual model of a structure before the first shovel moves dirt, you would be well served to build your “visual” model of shared understanding.

Summary

Stakeholders are responsible for providing specific, and measurable, directions for project managers and team members to execute. Project managers should communicate in a way that is focused and clear so that everyone involved has a shared understanding about the goal(s) and how to meet them. Team members are also responsible for descriptive and specific communications with each other and the project manager to ensure that their participation supports the shared understanding necessary for success. Without effective communication BPM efforts are certain to fail from a lack of shared understanding.

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