Communication and Media Richness Assurance in High-performance Projects

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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.

Contents

Abstract

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.

Introduction

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?" [1]

Human Nature

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.

Organisational Psychology

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 [2] which would have never been possible without cooperation through communication.

Colosseum, Rome: an example of a monumental structure crafted in early times (70-80 A.D.) through communication and collaboration[3]


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".[4]

Information Media

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/data transfer capabilities (quality of the data stream, categorised by fidelity[5] and measured in bits per second; bps).

Fidelity Medium Timing Transfer rate (typical) - primary data Transfer rate (typical) - secondary data Primary data type Secondary data type(s) Maximum senses engaged Conversation party size (typical)
High Face-to-face conversation Synchronous 1million?[6] 12000[7] Audio Video 5 2-4
Video conferencing Synchronous 128,000[8] 1,977,000[9] Audio Video 2 4-15
Medium Telephone calling Synchronous a b Audio - 1 2
Audio conferencing Synchronous 128,000[8] - Audio - 1 4-15[10]
Internet messaging/chat Asynchronous a b Text Mixed media 2 2-4
Email correspondence Asynchronous a b Text Mixed media 2 2-5
Multimedia messaging (MMS) Asynchronous a b Text Mixed media 2 2
Low Text messaging (SMS) Asynchronous a b Text - 1 2
Letter/mailing/telefax Asynchronous a b Text - 1 2
Publication (article, report, book etc.) Asynchronous a b Text Mixed media 2 1,000-500,000

As seen in the table, the 10 different communication media vary greatly in their characteristics. Focussing in on the core of the topic, it can be deducted by looking at the various data transfer rates that certain communication media provide more information per time unit than others (here classed as media 'richness'). Adding to the mix the limits for senses engaged, which indicate the resources at the communication recipient's availability, the overall picture starts to form through deduction of two notable trends: 1. Data transmitted (noise-to-signal ration - signal strength vs. noise levels)

2. Data reception points (interfaces/treatment resources - distributed capacity)


1a: The richer the data stream, the better we are able to differentiate noise from signal, focus attention on key parts, and ultimately wholly and successfuly receive the core message. 2a: The larger the total capacity of our data reception points, the more of the data stream we can treat allowing for better quality intermediate data segments and ultimately cleaner signal reception.


The radar chart below details...

All communication media aside from face-to-face conversation have a typical data transfer rate (for ) of above 120 bits. quality of the stream


Worth noting about the above quantitative data analysis is that it is solely concerned with mathematics and the numerical aspect of data streams. Left out entirely of this picture are the sociological and qualitative aspects of communication, which for example are the focus of the 34 different hypotheses found in Deutsch's research paper on cooperation and competitionCite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag

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  3. 3.0 3.1 History.com Editors (2009-2018). Colosseum, [Online], Available at: https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/colosseum [First accessed 26 February 2019]
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dag Ingvar Jacobsen, Jan Thorsvik (2014). Hvordan Organisationer Fungerer. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag, p.314 [First accessed 22 February 2019]
  5. 5.0 5.1 Fidelity definition, [Online], Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fidelity [First accessed 22 February 2019]
  6. 6.0 6.1 Daniel J. Levitin (2014/2015). The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. US and Canada: Dutton Penguin, p.8 [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Alan Wee-Chung Liew, Shilin Wang (2009). Visual Speech Recognition: Lip Segmentation and Mapping:. London: Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global), p.129 [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Micropyramid (2011). Understanding Audio Quality: Bit Rate, Sample Rate, [Online], Available at: https://micropyramid.com/blog/understanding-audio-quality-bit-rate-sample-rate/ [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  9. 9.0 9.1 Anastasia Tsifouti, Sophie Triantaphillidou, Mohamed-Chaker Larabi, Efthimia Bilissi, Aleka Psarrou (2015). A case study in identifying acceptable bitrates for human face recognition tasks. London: University of Westminster, [Online], p. 18 Available at: https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/download/577082039890acf41fc72e02b03ad37d03f7f0896d0cdb0e7fc13cfb55f1b747/674432/Triantaphillidou_etal_SignalProcessing_2015.pdf [First accessed 26 February 2019]
  10. 10.0 10.1 Quora (2018). What is on average the number of participants for a typical audio conferencing call?, [Online], Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-is-on-average-the-number-of-participants-for-a-typical-audio-conferencing-call [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  11. Morton Deutsch (1949). A Theory of Co-operation and Competition. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, [Online], p.138-147 Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/001872674900200204 [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  12. Dubai Aquarium, [Online], Available at: https://www.thedubaiaquarium.com/en/Default.aspx [First accessed 26 February 2019]
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