Using opinion polling techniques to improve communication

Most people don't give opinion polls a second thought, and many have never participated in one. Yet we see them come to the fore when our news media examine key issues of the day, trying to determine the likely outcome of an election or the result of a referendum – or even the impact of a potential change in a policy or product. How many times do you hear reports of leaders or elected officials being “out of touch with the grass roots” or “unaware of the strength of public feeling”? Any enterprise needs leaders and managers. Humans aren't good at functioning in a leadership vacuum, and at the end of the day someone has to take decisions and the responsibility that goes with those decisions, but early warning of issues and problems can allow leaders and managers to take corrective action in a more timely and more effective way. Poor communcations were identified as a cause of project failure by 57% of IT and project managers in the 1998 Bull survey. The 2007 CompTIA survey identified poor communications as their top ranked cause of project failure (almost 28% of 1000 respondents) with insufficient resource planning second (just under 18%) and unrealistic deadlines third (13%). Opinion gathering is an effective way of getting a better understanding of how the participants and stakeholders in a project feel and, if used effectively, can be the 'canary in the coal mine' giving an early warning of problems. The most extreme example of this is a NASA flight director polling the flight controllers for a “go / no-go” decision prior to a significant event, but a recognisable everyday situation would be the Scrum team's daily standup asking what was done yesterday, what's planned for today and what stumbling blocks if any are reported. As the complexity of the environment grows the need for effective communication increases. To take an example from CAI’s Harrisburg Development Center: – 150+ applications, >10% 24x7x365 / critical – 800 technologies – 98.74% of 474 releases on time – 96.62% of 474 releases defect free – 76,500 function points – Additional workload of 1000 function points / year with no staff increase – And that’s just ONE customer of many We had the hard data in place to see what was happening, and expert project managers overseeing individual engagements   Looking across the board, we saw that the best performing teams also used “soft measures” to round out the picture of – Time and integration management – Scope management – Risk management – Quality management – HR management and training / personal development planning – Project cost and communication management These “soft” measures supplement hard, factual data – they don’t replace it. Arbitrary, informal opinion – the kind a leader gets from lunch break or water cooler conversations rather than formal reports. Each project was running well in it’s own world, but there was no way for the leadership team to easily make comparisons across the board. The informal communications are flexible, keep everyone informed, give early warning of issues, problems or things going “off course” and allow people to communicate opinion or feel that might not necessarily be included in a formal report. There are a number of challenges to informal, MBWA style communication – Geographical and organisational boundaries – Cultural differences – Language – Time (“have you a couple of minutes … can easily expand to a half hour or more) – It depends in individual leadership skills Our leadership team asked themselves “what if we could … – Make sure everyone’s voice is heard – Use the same measures across the board – Make sure “hot topics” don’t eclipse others to the long term detriment of delivery and quality – Identify good or best practices AND the places where applying them will help – Communicate effectively but not intrusively?” The answer was the Automated Project Office, an information gathering and presentation/BI environment which uses a series of weekly, lightweight “five minute” questionnaires to key roles on each project – Customer – Delivery Manager – Team members (Architect, DBA, Developer and so on) – Manager – Team Lead – QA / VV&T These questionnaires don’t replace day to day project or team management, and can be applied irrespective of the delivery model (Waterfall, Agile, V-model and so on) but rolled up to a strategic set of KPIs give a much more detailed picture of progress and performance than separate progress reports without the delay of collating and analysing reports. The leadership team have an up-to-date picture of warnings of places where issues might be occurring or are predicted to occur without corrective action: Allowing immediate focus on the specific areas of individual projects where concerns have been raised. Individual projects are tracked in detail without imposing a heavy reporting burden on the project manager and team members. Other benefits are: – Low level problems are highlighted before they become major issues – Web based surveys encourage frank and open reporting without feeling confrontational – All team members know their opinions count, so are encouraged and empowered to communicate – 360 degree ownership and communication Customers looked at results like this And asked if they could have the tool as well. Automated Project Office has been release part of the IT Buzz suite of lightweight, low cost management tools delivering benefit to customers in weeks rather than months or years. Find out more at

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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