Communication: The Undervalued Essential

Aardvark’s inspectors can work faster and deliver easier-to-understand results thanks to a software upgrade provided by Ventures.

Very often, when things go wrong on an engineering project, postmortem analyses correctly blame “communication breakdowns” or “misunderstandings.”

At Ventures, we know the importance of good communication and strive for the best possible interactions with all of our clients. That’s why we’re highlighting the work of Sean Moseley, a Rose-Hulman associate professor of mechanical engineering and co-author of The Engineering Communication Manual.

Moseley recently spent six months studying client/engineer communications at Ventures, producing a raft of useful pointers and also a step-by-step strategy to improve the communication between novice (and even experienced) engineers, project managers, and their clients.

In a four-part series, beginning with this month’s newsletter, we’re going to present the fruits of Moseley’s research. The series will include

  • Providing the client with weekly project updates
  • Creating useful meeting notes and agendas
  • Running an effective meeting
  • Using a step-by-step communication framework for client communication

We hope you find this information as valuable for improving communication at your organization as we have for ours.

Part I: Updating the Client with Weekly Project Updates

Weekly updates or reports are a useful way to summarize recent progress for the client, getting them up-to-date before a weekly client/team meeting takes place. The update can be presented as a narrative of work recently finished. It can also be a list of items completed or a series of images showing progress on a virtual or physical prototype. The main goal is to document accomplishments for the client, and give them time to review and absorb the information before they join the meeting.

Advantages:

  • Weekly updates keep clients informed of recent progress and challenges.
  • Reports create a chronological record of the project.
  • Written reports allow clients to easily keep others at their company up-to-date.
  • Drafting reports keeps team members focused on the overall strategy of the project.
  • Writing reports provides an opportunity for team members to consider how clients will view their most recent work, instead of focusing solely on what comes next.
  • And, report writing is not only a great experience summarizing work for others, but can also be a reflective tool for organizing and planning.

Challenges:

  • Reports are time-consuming to prepare.
  • They must be updated to reflect client feedback.
  • Novice engineers may struggle with how much detail to include.

As with all client communication, different clients require different approaches. Some clients require only a high-level summary of work completed and general progress. Other clients take a far more active role. For the latter, a report or update may be a precursor to a scheduled interaction or meeting, in which case it might be helpful to include a list of questions or prompts in the report. Client feedback can be recorded using live editing of the weekly report on a shared document or by taking notes to be summarized later.