What’s the Number One Thing that Sabotages Your Projects?

  Just when you think you may know something...

If you're thinking lack of clear understanding between parties, difference in expectations, miscommunication, awkward hand-offs, too much (or too little) feedback, no clarity on goals or intent, you'd fit right in. Because communication in one form or another is hard.

    It's hard enough when talking on the phone, or in person ― imagine what it's line online. The gap between what we assume and what others are thinking online fills social media. We have the tools to mute, ignore, and (harder) forget what other people are saying. Or we could look at the evidence.

    Spending any time on an activity should be an investment. How do you learn? Find reputable sources, follow the facts (and double check them), say what you do… rather than inventing a persona. All are good steps in the direction of value.

Use language as a problem solving tool

    At some pointy our communications take a nose dive. Imagine the difference between how you envision a project or conversation, how your team operates, how the outcome (your product) reflects your goal(s), and how your clients and public take it.  

    When work is involved, the value of our ideas won't come across if we can't share them effectively. A brilliant idea falls apart when executed poorly, or when not vetted properly. Nicole Fenton has an interesting parallel between communication and deign# (h/t @AnneLibby#).

    “[Writers] are the fastest designers in the world. They’re amazing at boiling down incredibly abstract concepts into tiny packets of cognition, or language.”

[Matt Jones, Google Creative Labs]

    Writing is a way of practicing thinking ― if you can define your intent and describe the steps that will help people draw value from it, then it's easier for you to see what needs to happen. When you write things down, you start prototyping the idea. Words are evidence. Use them on purpose.

Design the communication

    Communication works best when it's at the core of what you do. A tool of change. The product people work to build something, then eventually they flip it over to the writers to launch and promote it. Or executive teams talk about an outcome they want and never talk through the process.

    A separation between engineers, operation and product people, scientists, and writers doesn't deliver the best work. It's a problem agencies often have ― not enough access to the business, or other groups working on communication. Why I've insisted on providing data and information to partners in my corporate days.

    We can all benefit from clear language (and a transparent process), but it's easier said than done. Because to work for everyone it needs to be an ongoing process and not a one-and-done. Technical people have a harder go at this. They like talking product specs, rather than business intention-specifics.

    It's one of the reasons so many small businesses and startups have a rough go at building a brand that has legs and can scale. Communication makes things possible, it helps navigate relationships and figure out what's going to happen next. No communication, no forward movement.

Close gaps in expectations

    It's hard enough with people saying one thing and doing another. You also need to think about what people don't say. What words are they using / not using? There's your evidence. Where clarity is an issue, writing things out helps us sort thoughts.

    In theory it all sounds great, but the practice is what has value. Some examples of things to watch out for in expectations:

  • are you telling the right story?
  • are you working on the same customer journey?
  • do you have partial information?
  • are you considering situations and feelings you've not experienced yourself?
  • do you look at problem variations and translations?

    If you're working on a product, ask for comparable products your client likes. To find the value proposition, try writing a press announcement for the product or service launch. A few weeks ago I shared Amazon's example# in Learning Habit.

    Or you could write a pitch for a service ― what's the main value, what's the supporting evidence? Then you articulate the key benefits in your story using your client's journey as a guideline. The more feelings involved, the more research ― interviews are a great way to drill down on specifics.

Explore the problem

    Interviews also help you keep the problem in the right perspective ― peel back the onion a little. The key is to step outside our point of view, forget what we know. This is very, very hard to do. As all the people who say you should “just”# do something.

    As Brad Frost says:

The amount of available knowledge in our field (or any field really) is growing larger, more complex, and more segmented all the time. That everyone has downloaded the same fundamental knowledge on any topic is becoming less and less probable. Because of this, we have to be careful not to make too many assumptions in our documentation, blog posts, tutorials, wikis, and communications.

    To file away next time you crowd source your problem on Twitter.

    New things are constantly coming to the fore, especially when communication is involved. Because you're now trading in three dimensions. The product or service and who benefits, the context of how your niche and customers behave (alone and together), and the clarity of purpose to negotiate the two.

You're never done, because feedback can make you more effective, which translates into growth.

    So if you feel on chapter 1 of the thick communication book forget “just” and get to work. Asking better questions is a good start.