Re-Thinking Communication on Complex Projects Part 1

Since the initial Chaos studies by the Standish Group in 1995, the industry has been trying to resolve the
high failure rates of projects. Since most organizations trying to address the problem were associated
with project management, improvements were recommended in the entire project environment with a
high-level of emphasis on the project manager to ensure the right conditions exist. In 1995, when I
reviewed the results of the Chaos study and the many lessons learned published from industry sources, I
created a term I called “Informed Misperception.” Today, I still believe that this one factor is the root of
many project problems.

What is Informed Misperception (IM) and what causes it?

Just think about how many messages you interpret from others in a given day. Now recall how many of
these may have had a misinterpretation at first that needed to be clarified and explained. This is a
natural phenomenon of communication. In projects, communication between some parties needs to be
complete and precise. Rarely, however, do individuals feel like they have the time to get to complete
and precise communication on many points that matter. In fact, there are many conditions that worsen
the actual level of completeness or precision each individual delivers.
Consider the following conditions:

 A technology designer is in a meeting to communicate design.

1. The design individual’s supervisor or lead is not in the meeting.
2. Few, if any, peers exist for interpretation of the design.
3. Parties that have to use the design to complete implementation are present.
4. There are many individuals in the meeting.
5. The design individual is remote and the meeting is a virtual session.
6. The meeting is scheduled for an hour.
7. The content of the design took over 3 weeks to define.
8. The documentation for the design is not detailed.
9. The design individual is a contracted staff member of the implementation vendor.
10. The business users are present; they intend to ensure their requirements would be met
with the design.

While the list of conditions could expand from the list above, the intent of this document is to explain
enough of the problem to recommend a solution.
What is the potential impact for each of these conditions?
For the numbered items above, here is a brief explanation of only one or two scenarios with each that
could lead to misperception. Note that in all cases, the design individual is likely not trying to be vague
or uncooperative; however, when time is short and demands are high, the level of stress for an
individual can build to a level that requires a relief valve to open – more on this after the explanations
for each condition.

1. The design individual’s supervisor or lead is not in the meeting: when technical supervision is not
present, there is a chance that the individual’s design is not an internally approved design nor that
the formal process for design has been followed. This may have no bearing on the quality of the
design; however, systemically unsupervised design tends to be less focused on what the end system

needs to do and is more focused on technical accuracy. This means the system could be doing the
wrong thing very well. Lapses in supervision have been known to drive poor design or
implementation since the individuals can mean to do the right thing, but have less incentive to
check their own work.

2. Few, if any, peers exist for interpretation of the design: when individuals available to receive or
interpret design, if their skill level for the kind of design being presented is low, the design individual
should try to alter the presentation to explain not only what the design is, but why the design is like
it is. This is to help participants to understand how the design allows the implementation to achieve
what the business needs. Of course, this takes additional time, and most individuals will have the
pressure of time constraints that would lead to short-cuts in explanations. This is a dangerous
situation if you have less than adequate design resources. Knowing that the participants are not
able to interpret the design, the explanations can be vague and the answers to questions can also be
vague and superficial so that the details will always have to come later (or perhaps never). Even if
the designer is excellent, they might not understand the business enough to consider some aspect
of design that should have been incorporated. Due to time constraints, the details are often left for
later discussions for which there seems never to be enough time.

3. Parties that have to use the design to complete implementation are present: while this is a very
good practice, the more parties in the room can mean that the people who really need to
understand the details of the design might not have enough time to get what they need. Formal
meetings hinder the right kind of progress, at times. When the details are discussed and questioned
(is this what you mean, is that what you mean) someone very familiar with the business needs to
ensure that the business intent is still going to work with the details that are being clarified. This
level of clarification rarely takes place, but is the most essential. If business users review
implementation every two weeks and get to adjust the functionality to their needs, this might not
be a problem. If the design is followed with many months of implementation prior to business
review, there is a lot more risk that the design, as implemented, won’t do what the business needs.
In public, formal meetings, when detailed questions of the design may not have answers, the actual
answer can be vague. Implementers start to make assumptions and add details they believe are
accurate to which an incomplete designer could respond a simple “yes.”

4. There are many individuals in the meeting: again, as the meeting grows in participation, the time
becomes less to address all concerns or clarification needs. The conversation tends to elevate to a
higher level to complete all conversations at one level that would never provide the details
necessary to truly interpret completely. The designer also may not get the feedback required to
ensure the design can be adjusted, where needed. The higher level of individuals in the meeting or
design session can also imply that other organizations are trying to cover their responsibilities
through participation. Coupled with other of these conditions, all individuals will tend to say enough
to ensure their point was heard or documented, yet often is insufficient to convey all of the meaning
since there might be objections individuals do not want to address in this large of a meeting. This
can lead to much more ambiguity.

5. The design individual is remote and the meeting is a virtual session: virtual meetings make
communication much more difficult. It is bad enough with language barriers and then the tendency
to be more vague to avoid questions, and other techniques identified here; but, with virtual
participation, the body language (over 80% of true communication) is missed and participants don’t
feel the connection. Often virtual participants begin to do other work and are truly just “phoning it
in” for that session.

6. The meeting is scheduled for an hour: most meetings are scheduled in a way that often does not
consider what is to be reviewed. An hour can easily be wasted with meaningless, high-level
discussions. For design details, it is best to isolate a particular area and to set a time appropriate for
that area. 20-40 minutes is recommended due to adult attention span issues. Small groups that
understand the area under discussion (from the business and technical perspective).

7. The content of the design took over 3 weeks to define: there could be a lot of information that
needs to be communicated. Since even an hour can be challenging to allow for attention span,
many meetings may be needed to clarify what the design means. If many people are involved, the
time required will increase which indicates a need for limiting detail or taking other short cuts to get
through the reviews. It is better to review in short increments than to try to complete an entire
design and try to get all of it approved at once. At that point, the detail will likely have difficulty to
get the attention needed.

8. The documentation for the design is not detailed: more and more designs are relegated to user
mock-ups or wire frames with little consideration for the detailed handling of states or data behind
the scenes. If the details are not available, those who implement will make up their own mind and
even greater communication with the business will be required. Expect many changes if review and
update cycles are short. Expect an insurmountable set of changes if review cycles are long and
following significant implementation. Talking about design with little detail in writing, diagrams, or
other representations can be very misleading. Discussions could be endless and this actually causes
individuals to start agreeing to everything, whether right or wrong, just to get out of the meeting.

9. The design individual is a contracted staff member of the implementation vendor: some contract
professionals are highly responsible to get everything right. Some tailor their effort to the vendor
oversight and do what is necessary to get paid. The days where all participants were employees and
where employees were really concerned with corporate performance or reputation are gone. If the
people you are dealing with have less than adequate integrity, you might never know it until it is too
late. Test their ability to make things right to see what you are dealing with.
10. The business users are present; they intend to ensure their requirements would be met with the
design: this condition is generally a great step to take to ensure that the end product will meet
expectations. If this level of understanding is possible, it is more likely in smaller increments and
should be immediately followed by implementation since the gap in understanding between design
and implementation could be wide. Still, business needs and designs may seem aligned when they
are not. The explanations to show how the design will result in delivering the business needs should
take place. This level of discussion becomes, again, burdensome and not possible in a single
meeting for a large design.

In all, you may begin to understand that the level of detail required at implementation level needs to be
crystal clear and validated quickly. The Informed Misperception term was coined for all cases where the
details become a little too burdensome to explain. The design individual will claim to have informed all
parties in the sessions; yet, the level of true understanding was never achieved and the greater detail
with understanding might never have even been attempted. I have yet to see a technology
implementation project where this does not happen.

Find us at an event near you!

In the next few months the ECI team will be attending multiple events across the West Coast. From California, Washington to British Columbia!

That’s right you heard it! We are now offering services, hiring developers and attending events in Canada.

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Or meet us in Person at one of the events below! We’re the ones with the biggest smile’s in the room waiting to hear from you!

Make sure to get in touch with us if you have any questions!

 

BIZFILE – California Secretary of State Filing Services

California Business Connect

(CBC) is an IT project that aims to automate paper–based processes; allowing businesses to file and request copies of records online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Furthermore, it will provide access to Secretary of State business records allowing the public and government agencies to perform functions in a more efficient manner and allow fee payments to be processed within one business day.

The project was approved in 2011 and is set to go public in Mid 2019. 

California BizFile was commissioned by the California Secretary of State Department which processes close to 2 million business filings and other customer orders each year. The business functions such as registering business entities and registering trademarks and service marks are handled by the Business Programs Division of the Secretary of State’s office

The Business Programs Division performs the “Filing Process” in which information submitted by businesses are reviewed for filing. The filing information is available upon request to California businesses, government agencies and other customers; some specific information is made available publicly online.

Business filings delivers numerous benefits to individuals and private and public agencies by providing information such as:

  • Evidence of the formation, registration, modification of domestic and foreign business entities.
  • Evidence of the key persons or entities operating business entities
  • Evidence of the registration and modification of trademarks and business marks.
  • Evidence for court cases and law enforcement investigations.
  • Information to government agencies for taxing, licensing, and regulatory purposes.
  • Proof of existence or good standing to open bank accounts, obtain financing, obtain licenses, enter into contracts, and conduct other official business in California.

For more information, visit www.sos.ca.gov/business-programs/cbc.

Project Overview:

The Business Programs Division performs a variety of activities in support of the core functions of the Secretary of State. The previous Filing Processes were various and based on older information technology systems and paper processes that supported the different types of filings and orders.

The Business Programs Division goal is to have all the filing and order types supported by a single set of common processes using similar systems with similar architecture.

For example, The Trademark Registration pilot has been developed and implemented based on the desired process model and using cloud-based services such as “Government Online Forms & Workflow Automation” electronic workflow (www.simpligov.com) and inhouse development of web services.

To support the desired business process and the electronic workflow, CBC Provides a cloud-based DevOps solution based on Microsoft Azure platform and .NET technologies to design, develop, and implement integrated web applications and web services to facilitate real time bi-directional transmission of data between public facing systems and internal systems of record.

On January 17, 2018, it was launched, and the Trademark Registration Online, allows you to submit online trademark and service mark registrations including required supporting documentation; allowing faster processing of both electronic and paper submissions, provides filing tips and samples to help you get your filing right the first time.

The highly successful ECI team was brought on to the project and achieved multiple milestones: 

  • Collaborated with cross-functional teams, stakeholders and sponsors to develop the business requirements
  • Incorporated an Agile mindset to help the team focus on delivering the shippable products in incremental development iterations.
  • Facilitated and collaborated across teams involved in delivering integrated modules and Led Intranet/Extranet applications, workflows, and web services.
  • Supported assigned development team when encountered problems beyond their expertise buy performing the following tasks:
    • Apply best practices in software development using Microsoft IDE, Azure DevOps, and .NET technologies
    • Design and develop web services, dynamic libraries, and web applications, using the appropriate programming techniques and languages
    • Develop and maintain cloud-based SQL Server databases and advanced SQL scripts
    • Create logic, system, and program flows
    • Write and execute unit test plans
    • Track and resolve processing issues
    • Participate in the review of code/systems for proper design standards, content and functionality.
    • Participate in all aspects of the Systems Development Life Cycle.
    • Adhere to established source control versioning policies and procedures
  • Performed Agile planning and project management using Azure DevOps
  • Developed data migration plan and led the development team in selecting, preparing, extracting, and transforming data and permanently transferring it from legacy systems to the new designed database in a cloud-based platform.
  • Acted as servant leader in establishing a continuous plan of action to improve the team’s success toward commitments and goals.
  • Applied Continuous Integration (CI) process to automating the build and testing
  • Used Azure BLOB Storage to organize and maintain the documents and attachments associated to Filing Process.
  • Designed and developed self-installing service to automate and support integration and database management back-end services

While this project is still ongoing; ECI’s part has been successfully completed. We are greatly looking forward to the tools we helped create being fully utilized by the general public.