Communication – BAR SOAP

Posted on January 26, 2011 by

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Bar Soap

Freshly scrubbed and nice smelling communication is always appreciated by team members

Lack of communication can be the kiss of death for information technology projects. Industry data often points to a breakdown in communication as one of the primary reasons for project failure.

Reluctance to share information regarding barriers to a project’s success is the nail in the coffin. This absence of information sharing is known as “going dark.” Signs that a team has gone dark include:

The hoarding of key information by individual team members;
A “silo mentality” around functional groups (development, testing, network, release management);
Bad news reaches everyone within the organization except the team and the project manager.

So, how do you keep a team in the light? While good news needs to be heard, bad news needs to be heard immediately. Problems and conflict are resolved by bringing issues out in a predictable, systematic manner. Sometimes a little cleaning is needed to make this happen.

The principles listed below make up what I call the BARSOAP method. They have been derived from a mixture of best practice in project management and my experience within law enforcement communication–specifically, my experience with 911 and police dispatch systems that require direct communication in 10 seconds or less. The BARSOAP method helps to ensure that all project news is shared–good and bad.

  • Brief – communication is respectful of competing time demands and the need for brevity.
  • Affirming – communication focuses on success, issues and events. It does not personalize issues. It respects a person’s intelligence and desire to learn.
  • Reliable – communication is accurate and trustworthy.
  • Secure – communication lends itself to the type of environment in which team members feel safe speaking their opinions without the fear of being penalized.
  • Open – communication is inclusive and available to the project team, stakeholders and members of the organization.
  • Accessible – communication is available in multiple ways and venues that support all learning styles.
  • Persistent – communication is available for immediate project use and archived for future project use.

There are two places where BARSOAP can be practically used.

  • The first place is in daily communication. Brief face-to-face meetings and electronic communication, done at predictable intervals, builds an open and accessible environment. The challenge is keeping these communications predictable and brief. Use this rule of thumb: Your communication overhead should be no more than 5% of work time allotted in a day. Try using stand-up meetings, 10-line e-mails and consistent progress-reporting templates to shave off unnecessary time. If your communications plan calls for a weekly intranet update, keep to that schedule. Missing an update sends the wrong message, even when anticipated progress is minimal. The perception will be that something is amiss.
  • The second place is the hallowed ground of a weekly project meeting. Have you ever sat through a two-hour discussion that really only warranted five minutes of your attention? During one of those meetings, have you questioned what became of all those meeting management courses of the 1980s? Have you ever had call or text you during the meeting with an “urgent message”? I’ll confess to each of those.

Project management expert Carl Pritchard using a variation of the BARSOAP method, suggests that a one-hour meeting follow this succinct schedule:

  • In the first 15 minutes, a piece of poster or butcher paper is provided for each activity in the project and:
    – Team members record their progress on the poster
    – Other team members post questions or issues on the poster
    – Team members responsible for each issue write responses
  • The remaining 45 minutes are spent on questions or issues that span the entire project. Only team members that perceive a need for the information remain in the meeting.
  • Following the meeting, results from all activity and issues are recorded and entered into project scheduling software and appropriate intranet or messaging software.

Left untreated, poor communication will rot a team. Projects and project teams sometimes need a good cleaning to maintain efficient communication. Consider using the BARSOAP communication approach for your next project.