Communicating as an It Professional: Important or Insignificant?
360 degree communications is a must in any IT project. It is the key factor that keeps everyone informed and fosters your credibility and cooperation of others. 360 degree communications does not mean to share every tidbit of information about a project with everyone involved; in fact it is the opposite. An IT Manager should only share the pertinent critical information within particular sections, however using newsletters or websites to share overview project progress or design “can sometimes spur that last elusive piece of critical information needed to ensure a project’s success”,(Lamb 2009).
Using communications successfully an IT manager would create formal methods of getting feedback from the team to gain a perspective of pre-project progress and post-project review. Using 360 degree communications correctly, communicating up, down, left and right, within an organization will help foster an IT project atmosphere of success. Taking this concept to field I was given the opportunity to meet a successful communicator MAJ Anthony Ferijah.
So there I was… flying in the back of a Chinook helicopter 500ft AGL in southern Afghanistan, looking at my laptop wondering how the heck am I going to find a senior IT manager to interview for this assignment. Trust me trying to knock out homework in the back of a Chinook is hard enough, but were I was going there would be limited internet connectivity and limited personnel. Part of the mission was to reconnoiter an area 30 miles off our main base that is looking at getting into our network. Of course we’d have to make a nice microwave shot back to the main hub but what were the expectations of the commander in that area?
Most often their expectations are the same network capabilities they get when their home in the USA; fast, reliable and cheap. We are not Comcast, AT&T or Verizon and there is no way we could provide even some of the same capabilities as any of them here. The infrastructure is non-existent; old technology, old satellites and limited knowledge are the biggest hurdles. After landing in the little forward operating base we were whisked away to the commander’s tactical operations center. I met with the local signal officer and a local Afghan farmer whose land we would need to build the microwave tower on.
Luck was one my side as the local signal officer was a Major Anthony Ferijah and was the perfect candidate for my interview on 360 degree communications. His section has twenty soldiers working in it and was a mix of the lowest enlisted soldier to the most seasoned. He has over 12 years experience as an IT manager working in Tactical Operations Centers (TOC) that all rely completely on his section to operate (Plans, Intelligence, Fire Support, Supply etc). All of the sections within the TOC need to be able to communicate and integrate plans with each other riding on Maj Ferijah’s multiple networks.
The following morning we all met again to cover the working details of the microwave shot, land use agreement and construction details. We also met with Maj Ferijah’s commander and discussed exactly what capabilities I would be bring to his area of operation. I was happily surprised to find that Maj Ferijah had already pre-empted this meeting by explaining the same points of discussion with his commander that I would have, so my meeting was more of a formality than a necessity. After this meeting I sat down with Maj Ferijah to discuss 360 degree communications and how it relates to his experience as an IT manager.
After explaining my need for the “interview” Maj Ferijah was more than happy to mentor this young Captain. Maj Ferijah has multiple IT certificates and his masters in Information Technology Management. I opened up the interview with the definition of 360 degree communication, being communications that “involves being facile in both written and verbal (even non-verbal) communication. 360 degree communication involves communicating up, down and all around with relevant others to help insure increased personal and organizational effectiveness. (Myers, 2009). Maj Ferijah agreed on all aspects of the definition and went on to add that “as a soldier it is very important that you are politically sensitive to the current chain of command”, and that “you must completely understand your audience, especially when your briefing incoming VIP’s or local government officials. You will brief both completely different, you must understand what they expect to see and not surprise them with anything”. Maj Ferijah has a complete understanding of 360 degree communications and his observations were spot on.
When asked about persuasive and influential communications Maj Ferijah explained that, “this is an everyday occurrence for me. Trying to get resources in a very limited environment that I’m working out of is extremely difficult”, and then went on to say “ you must understand that trying to explain upgrades or IT specific stuff to non IT soldiers is very frustrating but you need to influence them by telling them, in laymen’s terms, how it will benefit them. Then you can pretty much get anything you want once you figure out what motivates them. ”
I also asked him what he believed to be good communications practices, both orally and written. Maj Felijah stated that, “they don’t teach everything you need to know at some military school. You have to develop this on your own or through some college somewhere. Absolutely be careful with emails and whenever your communicating with your subordinates be very clear and have them repeat back to you what you asked them to do”. He later went on to add, “we use after action reviews constantly. I have the section make them after every project we do as a team.
I review them and at our weekly meeting we go over them and list the sustains or improves. It really works and I’m proud of the way the guys have come together on this”. The final question was whether he was aware of Occums Theory. He said no and I explained to him that the general idea of the theory is that ‘all other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best’. The least amount of information communicated is the best way to communicate it. Too much information can hinder what the intent of the communication is. Maj Ferijah said he wasn’t aware of that theory but understood the concept.
I asked if he agreed on the principle of the theory and he said ‘yes’ that he had an example. When he was a young lieutenant and was in charge of setting up a Video Teleconference (VTC) for his battalion commander. Out of the six major commands that were supposed to connect only three made the connection. The problem was that they did not have a high enough priority for satellite time. Maj Ferijah, then 2nd Lieutenant Ferijah, sent out an email the following day after the failed VTC. It went to all commands showing them every detail of the connections to each location; bandwidth requirements, location of bridges etc etc…
The email was sent to wrong audience and just confused them. He said, “I learned my lesson quickly from that one, ‘tell them the minimum information needed to get your point across’ and then stop”. Our time was over, but meeting and discussing these issues with Maj Ferijah has given me a new perspective on the importance of good communications. The working relationship I have developed over these two short days with Maj Ferijah will pay me back in dividends as the microwave tower went up without incident and we successfully completed the mission.
The expectations put out at the beginning to his commander were met and everything is moving along smoothly. 360 degree communications really works. Developing the methods and practices to be a good communicator takes time and effort. Ensuring that when you plan a project taking into consideration a well balanced communications plan is a must. Understanding your audience and how to influence or persuade them to help you meet your goals is another critical good communicator tool that will pay you back in success when you perfect these skill sets.
Myers, K. (2007). “The Persuasion Game: One Key to an IT Manager’s Long Term Success!” Myers, K. & Herbert, G. (2007). “Dynamic Listening: An IT manager’s key to success with staff, customers & clients” Charvat, J. P., (2002). Project Communications: A Plan for Getting Your Message Across. Tech Republic. Retrieved February 14, 2010, at: http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878_11-1061894.html