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Communications Channels: How to De-risk Your Project | Video

Communications Channels: How to De risk Your Project | Video

There’s more to the concept of communication channels than just communication. Your whole project may depend on this simple idea.

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This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy

A Small Number of Communication Channels

Two people can talk to each other.

And three people can have three conversations: A-B, B-C, and C-A.

This all seems very simple.

But it’s when we get to four that we get our first inkling of trouble. 

Four Communication Channels

Draw four points on a pad.

Connect every pair of points you can. Now you haven’t got four lines, as you may have expected. You have six.

Five Communication Channels

How many do you get with five points?

It’s a simple exercise to see you get 10. That’s twice five. And for six points, it’s 15; more than double your six.

The Math of Communication Channels is Simple

If you want to work out a general formula, it’s not too hard. 

This is sometimes known as the Communication Channels or complexity equation: 

N = n x (n-1) / 2

Let’s take double the numbers of points we’ve looked at…

  • for 8 points, there are 28 connections (over triple the number of points)
  • for 10 points, there are 45 connections (over four times the number of points)
  • for 12 points, there are 66 connections (over six times the number of points)

These are only the simplest conversations

The number of pairs we’ve found represents just two-way conversations. What if we add in the number of three-way or four-way conversations?

The numbers explode

And we got our first indicator that this may happen at four points. Those four points start to point to the complexity implications of big projects. With just 12 interacting people or parts, there are over 4,000 possible interactions.

So, what do we learn from those four points?

Complexity creates risk. And size creates complexity. So, one way to reduce risk is to reduce size. One project with 12 interacting parts or people has over 4,000 interactions.

But each of two projects with 6 components has fewer than 60 interactions. Add on one for the two project managers to co-ordinate those projects. Now you still have fewer than 120 interactions. That’s an order of magnitude less complex!

So, my message is simple

Break big projects into small ones.

That’s the argument for Program Management, by the way. Or, at the least, semi-autonomous workstreams.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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