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Are we talking but not making progress?

Bob Moesta // 01.14.14

Every day, all over the world, people spend time doing things that don’t result in any progress for anyone. It seems like people spend a lot of time trying to fix what they thought was clear. At least that’s how it looks to us.

It looks like people are often being surprised when someone they thought had bought into the project, turns out not to understand it.

It looks like people often use the same words to describe very different things or use different words for the same thing.

It looks to us like we’re wasting a lot of time discussing and re-discussing the same things, but not moving forward. That’s our perspective. How does it look from where you are?

Think back to your last six months of project work. How much time have you spent trying to fix what you thought was clear?

by Bob Moesta
Wally Bock contributed to this post.

  • Ross Belmont


    I’d say I spend 1-4 hours a week re-explaining something previously discussed. It’s awful, because reopening issues is a pet peeve of mine.

    So why is there so much re-explaining? I think it’s because it takes only a few seconds to have an idea, but discussing and explaining it can easily consume an hour-long meeting. So we try to avoid this “communication tax” wherever we can by dashing off a quick email, IM or text message.

    Many times—perhaps even most times—these messages don’t do the job of getting the person on board. The recipient may have missed the message, not devoted much attention to it, not been ready for it, etc. It’s equally likely the sender did a poor job being clear and/or persuasive. In both cases, the person was probably pressed for time.

    I’ve made some progress in this area by learning to draw and visualizing my ideas. I have a much better chance of getting someone on board if I show them a picture. Obviously, this takes time (which isn’t always available), though drawing is easier than most people think. If this interests you, get this book:

    The culture of business also works against clear, shared understanding. We are awash in jargon and buzzwords. I recently picked up this book to sharpen up my written communication:

    That’s my two cents, anyway. 🙂

  • Josh Carter

    We are 3 months into what’s supposed to be a 6-month project, and this week our Lead Engineer came to the Directors & Managers with an idea that was as far away from ideal as you could be. It was about an issue that we;ve already spent months discussing. As the Product Manager, I know exactly what the Directors are wanting. I’ve communicated that several times to the Engineering team. They’ve communicated it back to me…accurately. So when our Lead comes in talking about it being so far away from what we’re requiring, it was increbily frustrating. 2 hours later, we hadn’t made any progress.

    Here is what I realized about the situation:
    1) There has to be a common language. Our Engineer approaches the issue with the language of an Engineer. Our CEO does the same from a business perspective. We finally had to breakdown our language to the most basic understanding. We literally had to ask, “What is our product?”

    2) Collaboration means different perspectives. Which is good, right? That’s what you want. But who is making the call? Who is the one saying, “This is how it should/has to be.” Our Engineer thought that was his role. It’s not. So instead of approaching a problem to understand the high-level solution and then determine how to make that solution possible, he was approaching a problem trying to find the solution, but from a technical perspective, which is too limiting. Which leads me to the third epiphany.

    3) Know your roles. Collaboration is wonderful, if everyone plays their role. An Engineer might have a great business idea, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. It’s important to bring what only you can bring. I can’t tell my engineering team how to build a product. But I can tell them the problem and solution. How they implement the solution is their call.

  • Mike Burnett

    Check out The Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton… These folks have eloquently explained the reasons managers (and organizations) fail to turn knowledge into action and how to avoid those common traps.