Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Project Managers: Lessons from a wedding - Communications and Malfunctions

The more we are able to communicate the more we are victims of miscommunications or malfunctions.

Last weekend I was at my eldest daughter’s – stepdaughter actually, and the importance of the distinction will be apparent as the story unfolds – wedding. The wedding was held in the Baltimore area and involved various branches of our family flying in from the UK, Texas, Oregon, and Hawaii, to name the origins of just the main participants.

Well the younger sister of the bride was flying in with her husband and toddler from Oregon on the “red eye” into BWI airport. The sisters had decided that real “Dad”, who lives in the UK and had just flown in for the festivities, would pick up the younger sister and family at the airport. This is when the first episode of miscommunication and malfunction occurred.

The miscommunication was that younger sister usually uses Southwest Airlines and she didn’t inform anyone that this time she’s using US Airways. So “Dad” is dispatched to this large airport in a strange city and land with bad information: Oops - miscommunication!

But that shouldn’t be a major problem because he’s got a mobile phone. Correction he’s got a UK mobile phone which, despite various assurances from the UK company, doesn’t work too well in the US – malfunction!

Result: fuming daughter – who’s a good little fumer when the mood takes her – sorrowful dad, and yours truly driving 20 miles at the last minute to pick up stranded family.

The second event was later the same day– “Dad” did not have a good day – and involved the wedding rehearsal: A momentous event for both Bride and “Dad”. So momentous that the bride decides to loan “Dad” her GPS system and also enter the exact address of the event. He’s also informed that he must follow the instructions and he can’t go wrong! So infallible is this system that there’s no need for an old-fashioned paper map.

Well it might have worked, I’m agnostic on GPS hence the hint of doubt in my comment, had the bride not entered the wrong building number and repeated the injunction to “just follow the directions”, 1100 is not the same as 11000. So now we have miscommunication, allied with the still malfunctioning mobile phone, no paper back up – map- and no actual building address or description. The address was in the GPS.

Result: fuming daughter, sorrowful “Dad”, and nothing your truly could do to fix it. By now “Dad” is being nicknamed “Waldo” after the children’s game “Where in the World is Waldo?” And yet it wasn’t in many regards his fault: Like King Lear he was brought low by his daughters!

So what as this to do with project managers’? Well it has a lot of learning points that are applicable to all of us.

Firstly, that second hand information is subject to distortion. “Dad” hadn’t spoken directly to second daughter so getting the wrong airline was almost guaranteed. Secondly, unless you have direct experience don’t assume that mobile phones, or any technology, will work in other countries or even parts of your own country.

Also don’t rely exclusively on technology that you are unfamiliar with and with people setting it up for you. You should always have a back up – a map or step dad. Nothing should be addressed or viewed in isolation. If you know the lay of the land: major landmarks, key people, and the general situation you can recover from malfunctions and inaccurate information. Absent them and you are lost: You are Waldo!

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