Communication and Media Richness Assurance in High-performance Projects
In Communication, the term media richness (or information richness) refers to the amount of information a medium is capable of transmitting per given time unit.
With a plethora of available communication tools and often high degrees of freedom in their timing, choosing the right tool at the right time is non-trivial. Depending on the choice of tools and timing, results will vary from excellent through acceptable to undesired. However, as no universally successful recipe exists for ensuring positive outcomes, having a good understanding of the various communication options and their attributes will increase chances of making rational decisions accumulated and translating in turn into complex, fit-for-purpose solutions.
This article seeks to help project practitioners gain awareness of different communication tools and timing from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Disciplines covered are human nature, psychology, mathematics, linguistics and culture, with use of case studies and best practice. The diverse angles on the topic come together to bring a unified, in-depth understanding of media richness assurance aiding practitioners to achieve better results in their practical application in project implementations.
A key concept discussed in the article is Media Richness Theory (MRT), or Information Richness Theory. MRT describes how various communication media, such as face-to-face interaction and email correspondence, have different characteristics in terms of their information capacity and transfer rate, notable advantages and disadvantages and situation-based use cases.
Based on MRT, three case studies will be discussed to analyse chosen tools and methods in relation to project outcomes. Conclusions from the case studies will guide the final article recommendations.
Organisations rely on communication to successfully complete tasks (typically organised in projects) and fulfil purposes. Since success is typically measured on a linear scale, any overall project success could be considered the sum of a series of intermediary successes. Project purpose fulfilment thus quite simply relies on good stakeholder communication on a continuous basis throughout the entire project lifecycle.
What separates standard projects from high-performing projects is that in the latter communication effectiveness becomes vital not only regarding accuracy but also for speed. In other words, communication needs to happen both precisely and quickly, allowing superb utilisation of project resources to create outstanding project results.
Given the critical role of communication in high-performance projects, the question is ‘how does one go about designing and executing this complex project system of communication?’. As Daft and Lengel universally put it, "How do organizations perform this miracle?" 
To truly understand later developments and higher-abstraction processes and terminology, one must journey back to the basics at the source and core meanings of the topic: Human beings are born with five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These senses are designed not only for survival (securing life necessities) but also to enable us to communicate with our surroundings to yield better results in numerous respects. In essence, our choice of senses can be considered a toolbox that we make use of in various ways in order to carry out tasks and fulfil purposes. The way in which we relate to and make use of this toolbox sees us entering the domain of psychology: from a number of available options we make a given decision that employs one or more senses and then subsequently take appropriate action. These thought processes started out in history among primates as survival-prioritised ('there is food straight ahead, so I will move in that direction in order to get and eat it'), but have through time evolved substantially to highly complex, human decision-making patterns ('there is food straight ahead, but information tells me there is better food a little further on, so I will go there instead to eat). As evident in both scenarios, human biology is coupled with psychology through decision-making. In the latter, however, richer communication is present resulting in greater overall benefit.
Organisations formed by coalitions of human beings have existed for several thousand years, yielding tremendous benefits on a grand scale. For example, the ancient Greek and Romans erected monumental structures  which would have never been possible without cooperation through communication. (picture of Colosseum)
As with individual human psychological evolution, the psychology employed in traditional organisations evolved over time into a higher-complexity field as seen in modern organisations. Evolution in technology, human and material resources, infrastructure and health collectively caused an explosion in size and resolution of the overall decision-making landscape. There are now many times more key decision-makers in each organisation and an astronomical amount of organisation-level decisions made daily across the global business community. The refined effect of this on psychological factors is that decision-makers have access to an overwhelming amount of information and communication options yet continue to have the same mere five basic human senses. A way that modern organisations deal with this severely infavourable interface misalignment is to employ processes, policies and communication protocols to continually aid decision-making mechanisms. This places emphasis on organisation stakeholders to learn and appropriately interact with the organisational framework, but in return offers reduced levels of uncertainty achieved through somewhat guided focus. As Jacobsen and Thorsvik put it, "organisations are selective in their search for information and shield themselves against different types of information".
In today's digital world an endless array of communication media exists for people to utilise. This immediately poses a threat to both efficiency and effectiveness, since communication is a continuous process and people therefore potentially could invest huge amounts of resources in communication with only an acceptable (or even little) amount of gain. Complimentarily, if communication media are used appropriately this vast selection of tools some of which could be considered extremely powerful could mean historically unprecedented opportunities for achieving world-leading project results.
The list below comprises some key communication media, categorised broadly based on their information transfer richness capabilities (measured by fidelity) per given time unit. This also corresponds to a signal transmission sound/noise scale scenario, where the richer a medium is the higher degree of lossess transmission. Subject to the circumstances around a given situation regarding available and appropriate communication media, securing consistently lossless or low-loss communication transmission is considered beneficial to achieving project success.
Face-to-face interaction: Video conferencing:
Telephone calling: Social media messaging: Internet chat: Email correspondence:
Text messaging: Letter/mailing: Publications (article, report, book etc.):
Having investigated a selection of commonly used communication media, a look at how project communication in industry affects ultimate project success/failure may be interesting. In the following section three case studies are compared and contrasted in terms of their final delivery outcome and the impact in-project communication has had thereupon. The case studies have been selected based on shared project similarities and their varying degree of project success ranging respectively from poor through adequate to good.
(picture) Key points: 2010 flooding of Dubai Mall: critically located and deadly risky structure = Poor design! Project assessment: Failure (This section is unfinished and will be expanded)
(picture) Key points: Top x (7?) floors left unfinished for period: finances not enough to finish entire building! However, building served purpose, and 60 years on in still in (heavy) use Project assessment: Adequate (This section is unfinished and will be expanded)
(picture) Key points: On time? on budget? fully functional/operational as intended? Project assessment: Success (This section is unfinished and will be expanded)
All projects are different, and have different challenges and opportunities. Situation-based opportunities and challenges: A look at which factors to a given degree could either boost or compromise project proceedings. This list could be endless, so the most appropriate few will be selected later as the article continues to take shape.
Richard L. Daft, Robert H. Lengel (1983). Information Richness: A New Approach to Managerial Behavior and Organization Design. The journal focuses on how organisations design their communication in order to best utilise the strengths of the different media.
Dag Ingvar Jacobsen, Jan Thorsvik (2014). Hvordan Organisationer Fungerer. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag. The book contains different perspectives on management and organisation, sub-divided into eleven chapters. The chapter 'Communication in organisations' relates particularly closely to the topic of this article.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Richard L. Daft, Robert H. Lengel (1983). Information Richness: A New Approach to Managerial Behavior and Organization Design. Texas: Department of Management, Texas A&M University, [Online], p.1 Available at: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a128980.pdf [First accessed 20 February 2019]
- ↑ Melvin Kranzberg, Michael T. Hannan (1999). History of the organization of work, [Online], p.3 Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-work-organization-648000/Social-classes [First accessed 22 February 2019]
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Dag Ingvar Jacobsen, Jan Thorsvik (2014). Hvordan Organisationer Fungerer. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag, p.314 [First accessed 22 February 2019]