Feedback: a powerful tool to reduce risk by improving project communication

It has been known for decades that communication is the biggest risk in projects. It has caused major catastrophes such as decimal vs imperial measurements in space travel and millions of other project issues which go unreported. Despite having had good project management methods available for more than 25 years projects regularly still fail.

Failure of communication contributes to the very slow improvement in project success rates. This can be a minor miscommunication causing a slight delay through to a major misunderstanding causing significant re-work. I remember CUPE being asked to provide project recovery on a project which was due to deliver to the customer within a month, where the project team had totally missed a major customer requirement. We had to advise the unhappy client that it was not possible to deliver on time given the requirement which had been missed. This meant not only did they deliver late they also suffered financial penalties.

Feedback is a fantastic, simple approach to improve communication. Try this:

– Ask someone to listen to you talking for 3 – 4 minutes on a topic with which they are not familiar e.g. a hobby, location or work related area.

– At the end of your talk, ask them to feedback to you what they understood from what you said.

– Did they 1. Totally miss the point, 2. Miss some aspects, 3. Understand what you said or 4. Understand what you said and the meaning behind it?

– If you did not get an accurate understanding i.e. 3 or 4 then you need to discuss what you could do to improve their understanding of what you said. Often it is simple things like avoid using jargon or acronyms.

Feedback - levels of understanding

You can use feedback to check your understanding of what someone else has said or you can use it by asking for feedback from others on what you have said. Avoid using yes or no questions such as “Do you understand?” or “Is that clear?”.  Instead ask, “Would you please let me know what you understand me to have said?”

The feedback model, with other tools and techniques are part of the Facilitation course taught by CUPE and which can help your project success rates improve. Talk to a member of the CUPE team about how to improve your project communication or to book a place on our next Facilitation course in October.