I listened, you spoke but did we communicate?

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter F. Drucker

It was January 1990, I was 21 and had just gone into partnership to manage my own business.  Me and my partners were quite excited at the prospect of purchasing the town’s oldest taxi firm. Naturally, we had researched the purchase and had asked all the questions that we thought we had to ask, except one. The council had at some point written a letter to the proprietor of the firm informing him that analogous to the market traders, the taxi firm could pick and drop off its customers, as its goods were its customers. On purchase and subsequent communication between the council and us, the council denied that the letter existed and even on production of the letter could not find any record of it. This meant that a lengthy battle commenced. One that we were destined to win. What it did do was provide me with my first taste of commercial communication and how what may seem simple and common sense communication, can turn into a nightmare.

Armed with this new learnt lesson, in 1992, the decision was taken to explore further the prospect of computerising the fleet. It was my first taste of managing a computer project and I was adamant that this time around, the communication would be perfect. I had no IT or Project qualifications but I ensured that we communicated well enough what we wanted, had discussed with all our drivers and receptionists’ the failings of the manual system, what they thought would be achieved with a computerised system and had agreed the timelines and the cost. As a result, the system procured did everything that we wanted and beyond. We had a few problems but as the consultants and us had a good communication channel open during the project, most were addressed to mutual satisfaction.

Having experienced IT and project management, I became fascinated with IT and how it had the ability to change lives for the better. Naturally, IT qualifications followed including Structured Systems Analysis Design Methods (SSADM) and I soon found myself  having sold the business working within an IT department. This was the age of the IT Manager and what he thought was good for the business. Project management was something that was done in the construction industry and solutions were the ones we could deliver by trial and tribulation. Purchases were made directly by us and commercial was not involved. Users were someone who were a pain and didn’t really understand what we actually did. Nostalgic value, eh!

Time rolled on and many moons have passed. Communication within IT and the business is still a problem. In many businesses, there is still a culture of them and us. Why? Well, there are a number of communication reasons (In no particular order):

  1. The business not communicating well enough a business strategy.
  2. The business not communicating well enough the vision for the future.
  3. CIOs not communicating well enough with stakeholders within the business the IT strategy/vision and alignment to the business strategy.
  4. Absence of a IT Portfolio office that prioritises projects according to business needs and communicates it to the IT department.
  5. No end user involvement and communication at many stages where their input could be invaluable.
  6. IT Projects not delivering tangible results due to the lack of an IT strategy communicated to the Programme office resulting in projects delivering for example many tactical projects that could have been rolled into one strategic project.
  7. Lack of involvement/alignment and communication between business/technology experts.
  8. Unrealistic expectations, lack of research between all required groups, lack of end user thought capture etc. For example, The National programme for IT (NPfIT) was always destined t o fail, as there are 180 PCT’s within the UK and every single one has a Head of IT. Were they consulted at the start of the programme? Were end users, lets pickout GP’s, consulted on what they wanted? The list could go on..

This is not an exhaustive list and what I want to do is to get all the feedback I can by:

  1. Adding to the above list by listing other forms of bad communication by a) The business b) The IT department.
  2. How can we improve this communication?
  3. What we would achieve as a result through better communication.

I will collect all feedback, revise the article and release an updated version.


About mubbisherahmed
I am passionate about IT and its ability to deliver cost effective, value for money solutions that can enhance performance and in many cases provide competitive advantage by using a range of solutions and approaches in innovative ways.

16 Responses to I listened, you spoke but did we communicate?

  1. virk says:

    Mubbisher, enjoyed reading your thoughts.
    I agree that unclear communication is one of the primary reason for any mis-managed project. Yet simple but often not accomplished properly. Here are 3 points
    1. Business providing not enough detailed requirements and then IT assuming business requirements instead of clarifying with business.
    2. Business requesting unrealistic schedule and IT not communicating well enough the risks and what those risks mean to business.
    3. Use of communication tools (i.e. email) that do not give access to all stakeholders the same info (lack of collaboration tools such as SharePoint).

    Jack Welch said – “The secret of running a successful business is to make sure that all key decision makers have access to the same set of facts.”

  2. Mohammad Asaf says:

    This article highlights exactly the critical role of the Business Systems Analyst (BSA). Deeper relationship of the BSA to the business needs to be formed.
    BSA’s job is to reach out to the business. However, while this is done in spirit, sometimes the communication stays only at the level of business manager and information is neither received or communicated to the end user until it is too late.

    Good job on highlighting this issue!

  3. benbree says:

    Great idea! Communications is always a challenge.

    I suggest you look for examples of organizations that communicate well and write about their efforts. Most of the communication issues I encounter exist because of there is poor leadership and weak management. Leadership sets the direction and pushes the teams to get it done. Managers get it done and provide feedback to decision makers have the information needed to handle change and make decisions. This feedback or lack thereof is the reason for most project failures and is an example of poor communication. There are organizations that do this well. Perhaps a few of those folks have stories to share here.

  4. David Atkins says:

    Good article, I think your experience is typical of the communication problems.
    There are several issues when it come s to communication with the business.

    1. There is a tendency for the business to “assume” that IT understand the role they need to play. This is often the reason for poor communication from business. IT need to make themselves more available and to make sure that it is not just the BA or the PM that understand the drivers, but everyone involved in the project.

    2. Communication with IT is often an excuse for a new “tool” to be used, I despair with the amount of times I hear “you can find it on sharepoint” or on the intranet, etc, etc. The point is that often sharepoint or the intranet is so badly organised or indexed that it is almost impossible to find the information. Projects need to be accessible and explainable, so I think that PM’s should spend time making sure that all documentation is available with ease, not a game of hide and seek!

  5. mubbisherahmed says:

    Very grateful to everyone for taking the time and providing feedback. All valid points and I must say that I watched Kulveer Virk’s suggested video on you tube – Dr. Deming’s 1984 video – The 5 Deadly Diseases of Management. Excellent video and I strongly suggest that it is a must viewing for anyone working within business. Dr Deming’s demise, in 1993, was a great loss for the business world.

  6. John Hennessy says:

    Too right!

    I’ve seen my share of communications disasters and I have to say that IT departments are often very, very bad in this respect. Almost as bad as hardware engineers, electronic engineers, physicists, accountants…..

    I think the keys are these:

    a. You must take time to define your terms. For example, do you know what “debit” and “credit” mean in accounting? I didn’t even after 20 years in business. I thought I did. I was EXACTLY wrong! Many, many problerms occur simply because one party simply cannot parse the other’s sentences.

    b. You have to keep conversing. Imagine a project that goes ahead, spends the funds and then presents to the user… a totally unusable result that fulfils the letter of the spec, but simply does not work. You may say the spec is faulty. Not so – what happened is that the people executing did so in a vacuum. The guys who wrote the spec were next door – but there was never a question, never a comment, just the resources being consumed. If there is silence – something bad is happening!


  7. BillB says:

    IT folks talk in acronyms and other devices because it facilitates the speed of communicating. Speed is the essence of IT. So conversations by IT folks, with non-IT or non-technical folks, may be superficial, in that there is no real connection between parties. But isn’t that true in most professions? Professionals communicate well enough among themselves, because of common interests and knowledge. What’s needed (and not just in the IT profession) is (1) a re-discovery of the importance of listening to your audiance; (2) an ability to bring a conversation to the common level of the audiance, without patronizing or insulting; and (3) patience, a whole lot of patience.

  8. Ed Kluckowski says:


    Very good piece that identifies an issue that has room for much improvement throughout all organizations – communication and listening between IT and the rest of the organization.

    I agree with an earlier comment made and that being that Leadership within the organization needs to take ownership and set proper expectations for IT and all other Departments. Another thing leaders can do is ensure that company values are lived by in the organization, first starting with the leader emulating what is expected. If not, such as you describe in your article takes place. The leader must address efficiently and effectively.

    One key experience I can share is that when work groups are assembled for various projects in the organization, IT should be involved in the process either from the very beginning or at some critical junction point. As someone said earlier, if a good stratgy is in place, EVERY department should be on board with the direction and directives and communicating effectively as projects “kick-off” at the beginning in order to develop a process that address a strategic plan tactic or objective.

  9. mubbisherahmed says:

    Thank you Ed et al. I must say that I have enjoyed all the input offered by all of you and I have to thank all that have submiitted their thoughts. I have learnt from your replies and it was good to see a problem being acknowledged by others who agreed and have experienced similar problems.

    I agree, very much with the last posting by Ed that the business needs to sync their business strategy with that of IT or at least involve IT. This problem is sometimes exasperated by indirect representation on the board, i.e. Functional Head of IT reporting to a Director. That in itself is a problem and in my opinion such organisations do not take IT seriously enough. IT needs to a be on the board, for the very reason that Ed alluded to. Boards have access and discuss strategy and without direct involvement, the Head of IT will receive filtered information that their line manager wants to pass on. It doesn’t work either, as how can you tell your boss that his function, for example, finance, needs a new ERP system or that a particular change event is required only to be vetoed. That conversation carries much more weight when discussed as a peer!!

  10. mubbisherahmed says:

    Ole Dam Owner, DANA GROUP LLC, after reading this article commented in one of the forums, I am a member of:

    Well. Yes. There is a lot of jargon flying around in all cross-departmental communications. However, that is not the fault of the various geeks whom we need to develop, install, manage, and run the many systems required for our complicated organizations. This is a issue of leadership- or rahter lack of leadership. Boyd Clarke & Ron Crossland wrote an outstanding book on this subject published by Select Books in 2002: “The Leader’s Voice.” This is an outstanding guide to effective communications.

    I replied:

    Yes, I agree and the secret is to start them on that track earlier in their career rather than later. The sooner they realise that they have to speak in a jargon free format, the better. Yep, it is about leadership as well. As whether they arrive in the IT dept through a degree course or through experience, IT leaders need to ensure that the message is given at the outset to start using jargon free language to communicate with the business side.

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  16. Hello, it really interesting, thanks

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