Reinventing Communication [Book review]

Mark Phillips, author of Reinventing Communication, writes that communication accounts for 90 percent of our time. He suggests that we have a method to determine if we’re spending our time wisely and if not, how we can improve communication. This sounds very sensible. I was eager to learn more.
Reinventing Communication doesn’t teach soft skills. It’s not fluffy, as it follows a scientific approach. Phillips claims it can be used to manage performance, which is an interesting concept for something that was traditionally viewed as a project management soft skills.
The new language for project communication
The book is very technical and contains a lot of new vocabulary. He discusses Planned Communication, Actual Communication (ACOM), and Communication Variances (COM V). The COM V plus schedule performance indicate that a project is running as planned, but with less communication than planned. The team is efficient. Phillips, as you can see, places a high importance on EVM for communicating status. This fits in with his analytical, data-based approach.
This is so practical!
Although some of these ideas may sound great in theory, they are not practical for practitioners. For example, I don’t know how I would do in an environment where I was limited to sending a maximum number of emails per week by the project communications plan. What happens if there is a major problem and I need to take action? Phillips writes:
“We can also use simple math to see if the amount of communication leads us to a certain pattern of behavior. Is it possible to send 10 emails to my customer and get a response faster? Advanced analytical methods, such as studying word choice and the emotional tone of an artifact, can be used to determine if these affect how people behave.
We could, or else we could just manage the project. It is unlikely that project managers have the time to conduct a controlled experiment on tone of voice in email. Send two versions of the same email and see which group responds faster. How would you know if there were other factors?
The book contains a checklist that outlines the steps you need to take to implement communication as a performance management system for your project. It is easy to follow and includes a reminder that each step should be translated into actions. Although I can see the benefits of this system, which helps to identify problems early on, based upon observable and quantifiable phenomena, the whole thing seems very clinical.
Phillips acknowledges that every project is unique. There is no one right answer because project management is influenced by people and their environment. He writes, “We must recognize that a project can only be managed in a social environment.” You must adapt project communications to reflect the environment.
I must admit that I struggled to stay awake reading Reinventing Communication. This is partly due to the fact that I am sleep-deprived and have two small children. It is also because the book’s theoretical style was difficult for me.
It’s fascinating in an academic manner, but is it useful for practitioners? To see if it works, I would like to see how someone else implements communications as a performance management tool in their project. Let me know if you try it!
Right to reply
Mark replied to my question about the review by saying:
“One of the reasons for the book was to challenge existing perceptions about communication as a soft skills so I was very happy to read that it did. I tried to bridge the gap between those who can communicate effectively as a soft skill (like you) and those who could benefit from improved communication, such engineers who are project managers or KPI/metrics-focused managers. The idea is simple.