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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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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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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I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own.
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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 ProjectManager.com 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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