Project information flows are crucial to the Project Manager.
Also due to new design methods, pioneering products, technologies and processes, the amount of information within an organization has increased significantly.
However, the increase in the amount of information available for projects is not being exploited effectively and therefore does not add any value to the project.
This is particularly true for complex projects.
What happens to the information?
To better understand how to manage the flow of information, we must try to familiarize with it. The flow of information requires four components:
- a starting point (source),
- an endpoint (receiver),
- a path (interaction)
- a leading force (mutual relevance).
There are two types of actors that can act as a source or recipient of information:
2) documents, i.e. tools such as graphs, reports and other documents that allow communication between groups of people.
The role of a person in the information flow is determined by their contractual role within the project.
This role defines:
- the type of information expected from a person,
- the type of information the person can provide,
- how this information is shared and how it is received by it.
Documents affect the flow of information through their structure, their depth of news and the process of information acquisition and use.
This set, i.e. the characteristics of the people and documentation involved in a project, create the potential flow of information, but this does not mean that the available information will actually be embedded in the project.
Interaction between people and documents as a key element for the Information Flow
It is the interaction between these actors that ultimately determines the fate, and thus the actual flow, of information.
Depending on the type of interaction, information may be accepted, rejected or ignored.
In order for information to add value to a project, three critical steps must be executed:
- The information must be shared by an individual in the project team.
- The information shared must be accepted by other project team members. Information that gets ignored or rejected becomes useless and basically disappears from the project unless it is shared again under other circumstances. The information accepted by others is retained in the project team’s collective memory. However, accepting information does not automatically mean that this information is used and creates value in a project.
- It is only when the information is used in a decision that they are finally able to add value to the project
The “Big Four” of interactions and communication
Several factors moderate and affect the outcome of interactions.
Basically, it is possible to reduce these factors to four main ones: trust, commitment, learning and common understanding.
These key factors then determine what information is shared, how it is shared, how it is received and lay the foundation for future interactions.
Trust implies having positive expectations about another person’s future actions when an individual is vulnerable to such actions.
Commitment is the strength of an individual’s identification in a particular organization or project.
Together, these two factors influence a person’s values in relation to the project, such as:
- how one sees others in the project team,
- how one sees their role,
- how much commitment one is willing to put in,
- one’s sense of association and interest in the project.
Learning occurs when the processing of new information changes – potentially – the behavioral range of an individual.
The common understanding comes from an informal agreement on what is relevant for the other team members and the project in general.
Together, learning and common understanding form the mental model of an individual. Mental patterns determine how one:
- Evaluates new information,
- Links new information to their existing knowledge,
- Ranks and sorts information for the project.
Project information flows: Values, mental models and decision-making process
People are rationally limited, which means that they can understand only a limited amount of information.
Therefore, one relies on one’s own values and mental models to limit the amount of information one needs.
Based on their frame of reference, people are only aware of a subset of the total information available.
From this information, people filter the information even further according to what they think is important.
The remaining information is what they use to interpret the situation and make decisions.
Due to different settings, individuals may be exposed to the same situation and information, but they may come up with very different conclusions and ideas on the subject in question.
As far as the project team interactions are concerned, the main purpose is to share information and make decisions.
Consequently, the effectiveness of the interaction becomes one of the most crucial factors in determining the outcome of a project.
In a project team moreover, the way in which others share information and the way in which a person’s contributions are received affects trust building.
This includes issues concerning how individuals feel:
- How are their contributions weighed up by others?
- Are they treated fairly?
- Is there mutual responsibility in the team?
- Have their expectations been met?
- Do project team members show commitment to team goals above their personal goals?
These considerations affect the quantity, type and quality of information shared in subsequent interactions, interpersonal dynamics among team members and people’s willingness to share and accept information.
Project information flows: complex cases
In more complex cases, the increasing importance of information management and integration requires a project team entity responsible for social integration and communication flow.
The main role of the integrator is to create an environment that facilitates trust and positive learning cycles. This includes:
- Emphasize the value of individual contributions in relation to the objectives of the project,
- Manage expectations while maintaining responsibility, discipline and fairness by setting clear and consistent objectives
- Understanding of existing mental models and positive interaction between them.
This is how a proper management of information flows becomes crucial for the success of a project.
If the information is not managed correctly, some important details could fall into “oblivion” generating a series of problems that could have been easily prevented.