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 9,216,000,000[6] 99,500,000,000+[7](limited to 1080p quality) Audio Video 5 2-4
Video conferencing Synchronous 128,000[8] 1,977,000[9] Audio Video 2 4-15
Medium Telephone calling Synchronous 12,200[10] (3G connection) - Audio - 1 2
Audio conferencing Synchronous 128,000[8] - Audio - 1 4-15[11]
Internet messaging/chat Asynchronous 1[12] (based on 4 characters typed per second) 500,000[13] (min. recommended rate for most demanding medium: video) Text Mixed media 2 2-4
Email correspondence Asynchronous 1[12] (based on 4 characters typed per second) 500,000[13] (min. recommended rate for most demanding medium: video) Text Mixed media 2 2-5
Low Multimedia messaging (MMS) Asynchronous 1[12] (based on 4 characters typed per second) 12,200[10] (3G connection) Text Mixed media 2 2
Text messaging (SMS) Asynchronous 1[12] (based on 4 characters typed per second) - Text - 1 2

Data Flow

As seen in the table, the 8 different communication media vary greatly in their characteristics. By looking at the various data transfer rates, it appears that certain communication media provide significantly more information per time unit than others (in this article classed as media 'richness'). Adding to the mix the limits for senses engaged, which indicate the resources at the communication recipient's availability, an overall conceptual picture starts to form about data flow: 1. There are vastly differing caps for different communication media on how much information is transmittable (noise-to-signal ration - signal strength vs. noise levels) 2. Dependent on chosen media type, there is great disparity in employable reception points (senses engaged) to which information is receivable.

Data Quality

Whereas data flow tells us how much information is mathematically possible to send/receive, data quality relates to the clarity of the transmitted message. A key measurable for assessing quality is Signal-to-noise ratio.


Considering the table data

to truly allow understanding of the advantages and pitfalls of various information media.




Another crucial aspect of communication is data stream quality. A typical measure for this is , two further points can be made:

1a: The richer the data stream, the more defined signal and noise curves

information is available better we are able to differentiate signal from noise, focus attention on key parts, and ultimately wholly and successfuly receive the core message. 2a: The larger the cumulative 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.


processing capacity our minds is a mere 120 bits per second[14]



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. Other resource theories/models go in depth with these areas, such as the 34 different hypotheses found in Deutsch's research paper on cooperation and competition[15] and the cost-versus-efficiency model for determining the best group size in Casari and Tagliapietra's article Group Size in Social-ecological Systems[16].




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.


Case Studies

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.


Dubai Aquarium

Dubai Aquarium[17], Dubai. The aquarium with glass-walled water tunnel is located inside the Dubai Mall; one of the World's largest shopping centres[18].

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)

Herlev Hospital

Herlev hospital, Greater Copenhagen. The hospital each year treats around 3/4 million emergency patients[19].

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)

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa[20], Dubai. The 828-metre high structure holding the title of the World's tallest building for a decade (2010-2020) is literally both a mega project and proof that communication and teamwork is capable of reaching sky-high results.

Key points: On time? on budget? fully functional/operational as intended? Project assessment: Success (This section is unfinished and will be expanded)

Media Richness Strategy

As seen, different communications media have different characteristics. To make best use of the strengths of each medium while steering clear of individual weaknesses, it may be advantageous to keep in mind some general trends in communications management strategy:

graph for high-low criticality vs high-low response time

choose media based on...

For high Use face-to-face whenever



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.


Project-specific Characteristics

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.

Key Points

(This section is unfinished and will be expanded) Through the article we have learned that...

This means that we with great benefits can employ high-fidelity communicaiton media in areas where (signal loss) is undesirable, whereas we can use low-fidelity media in low-risk tasks with few links to ultimate key project success....

The key concept derived is that we as project practitioners need to think carefully about our selected organisational communication design (media, timing, recipients) in order to improve on the standard of project results achieved. For high-performance projects in particular, (x) and (y) are vital as these (instruments) will help secure ... and thereby yield much more advantageous outcomes.

Annotated Bibliography

Richard L. Daft, Robert H. Lengel (1983). Information Richness: A New Approach to Managerial Behavior and Organization Design.[1] 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.[4] 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.

Daniel J. Levitin (2014/2015). The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.[14] The book is divided into three main parts. Part 1 (chapters 1-2, pages 3-76) explains the science and basic concepts of information and paints a picture of how we in modern times face too much information. Part 2 (chapters 3-7, pages 77-328) gives advice on ways in which we can get more organised. Part 3 (chapters 8-9, pages 329-384), classifies organisation concepts that have not already been covered in part 2 and is focused on giving key practical recommendations for the future.

References

  1. 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]
  2. 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. 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. Fidelity definition, [Online], Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fidelity [First accessed 22 February 2019]
  6. Quora (2013). Digital Audio: What file type has the highest bit rate?, [Online], Available at: https://www.quora.com/Digital-Audio-What-file-type-has-the-highest-bit-rate [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  7. Toolstud.io (2006-2018). Video Bitrate Calculator, [Online], Available at: https://toolstud.io/video/bitrate.php?imagewidth=1920&imageheight=1080&colordepth=16&framerate=24 [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  8. 8.0 8.1 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. 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 (2017). What is the data transfer rate in a phone call??, [Online], Available at: https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-data-transfer-rate-in-a-phone-call [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  11. 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]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Pinngle.me (2018). The Data Usage of Messengers for Voice Calls and Chat Messages, [Online], Available at: https://pinngle.me/blog/how-much-data-do-messengers-spend-for-voice-calls-and-chat-messages/ [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  13. 13.0 13.1 Doug Bonderud (2014). Internet Speed for Facebook Chat: What’s Ideal?, [Online], Available at: https://www.bandwidthplace.com/internet-speed-facebook-chat-whats-ideal-article/ [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  14. 14.0 14.1 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]
  15. 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]
  16. Marco Casari, Claudio Tagliapietra (2018). Group Size in Social-ecological Systems (PNAS journal, vol. 115 no. 11). Florida: PNAS, [Online], p.2729 Available at: https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/115/11/2728.full.pdf [First accessed 27 February 2019]
  17. Dubai Aquarium, [Online], Available at: https://www.thedubaiaquarium.com/en/Default.aspx [First accessed 26 February 2019]
  18. The Dubai Mall, [Online], Available at: https://thedubaimall.com/ [First accessed 26 February 2019]
  19. Tina Folkmann (2017). Nøgletal, [Online], Available at: https://www.herlevhospital.dk/om-hospitalet/Organisation/Sider/Noegletal.aspx [First accessed 26 February 2019]
  20. Burj Khalifa: Facts & Figures, [Online], Available at: https://www.burjkhalifa.ae/en/the-tower/facts-figures/ [First accessed 26 February 2019]
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