A gorilla at the zoo makes perfect sense. A gorilla in your living room, looming ominously over your poodle, is another story entirely. Rich Maltzman points out that context can take something we think we understand and reintroduce it in a completely different light, especially in project and portfolio management.
Where is the Gorilla?
Maltzman finds that while email, active listening, and frequent status updates are all important cornerstones of project communication, none of them are as important as providing good context. This is because context is the only anchor that guarantees what you are saying will not be misconstrued. Maltzman elaborates:
This means thinking about the format and media of the message. This means providing orientation for your audience (after first absolutely knowing who that audience is). This means balancing the amount of context and background with a competing need to be concise and clear and to avoid being condescending…it means balancing your project’s needs with the enterprise’s portfolio needs, which are likely much longer-term in nature and holistic in their viewpoint than your project’s handover of its deliverable.
He goes on to offer several points of advice about thinking about the product as it exists in the steady state, as opposed to when you are handing off the product to operations. Start by of course knowing your stakeholders. Next, front-load your message so that it appears early, and bolster it with support. Recognize that some mediums of communication will inherently be more beneficial or harmful to a specific type of information that needs to be shared. When using written communication, always give it a second read before sending, to ensure that every person who lays eyes on it will understand it. You can even hyperlink text as an incredibly simple way of providing yet additional context.
If you need some context on this context (get it?!), you can read the original post here: http://www.earthpm.com/2014/11/we-put-the-x-in-context/