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System Integration Success Through Effective Communication

Dan Williams | 17 February 2021

Synchronizing complex automation systems and technologies is no easy feat. You’re not only coordinating controls and software but also ensuring that components, technologies, and processes work well together to achieve project goals. To make processes better.

As unique as each system is, so too is design, installation and project management. The last thing you want is to have complications or hamper creativity that may give you the competitive edge you seek for your company.

Research shows that ineffective communication is often the main contributor to project failure one-third of the time. In my experience integrating various supply chain and material handling systems, I can’t count how many times a conflict, issue, disagreement, misunderstanding, or problem, occurred from the core reason of communication.

It generally looks like this:

Message Sent >  Message Received > Message interpreted differently than intended > Executed as interpreted

> Realization of problem from sender

Now take this already common problem you experience no matter how well and how often you communicate with someone and put it into a project team. This team has 20 team members from four different companies, three different countries and seven different areas of expertise. Many of them may even be working with each other for the first time.

When laid out like that, you can easily see how prevalent of a problem simple miscommunication can be. But, during a project this can be difficult to spot and superseded by immediate project deliverables and deadlines.

Communication Challenges

When communication challenges come to mind, immediately you might think of language. You might not actually speak the same native language thus making translation that much more difficult. However, communication stretches beyond language. Some lesser considered challenges include:

Lingo – What you, your company, or country mean by a word may have a different meaning than someone else from a different perspective.  

  • Acronyms, for example, may be interpreted differently by others or be completely unknown.
  • Company jargon, like casual slang, regularly changes and varies from region, demographic, and over time.

Communication format -- Things are received differently in person, over the phone, via email, in an group email where accountability or direction can become blurred.

Tone and body language – The way you move, sound, or react when talking or listening can impact the way somebody perceives prioritization or importance.

Expertise and skill level – Know your audience. Are you communicating with somebody familiar with processes and related acronyms? You may be able to jump straight into complex detailed information or provide a general overview. Or, should you go into detail on concepts with somebody unfamiliar with the work? You might want to instead prioritize explaining concepts or explaining more in a step by step fashion.

Setting Up A Project for Success

It’s well understood that solid communication can positively impact the success of a project – staying on budget, achieving metrics and ROI expectations, timelines, and more.

Some common tools I have utilized to help mitigate communication issues through projects are:

  1. A glossary review. A simple review of the language and terms to ensure you have the same understanding of terms and the various steps.
  2. Know your audience and know yourself. Are you like experts on a topic and can talk in an extremely technical manner, or are you new to the topic and ask for it to be explained as you would explain to a novice?
  3. Clearly define expectations and responsibility. Who is going to do what when and where?
  4. Communicate as often in possible in person or verbally to allow for instant feedback, confirmation and understanding where critical.
  5. Ask to follow up questions to gauge understanding, whether you are the sender or receiver of a message.
  6. Ask to have the information repeated back as they understood it so you can confirm or clarify.
  7. Humble myself. I try to put myself in their shoes and ask or answer questions to areas of ambiguity.

Maximizing Operation Benefits

No matter how much you work on the skillset of being an effective communicator, you will still experience miscommunications. Just like automation technology and processes must be carefully integrated to establish a smooth operating system, it’s imperative to work with your team members to ensure you are on the same page of the same book and realize when maybe you are not. This can mean the difference between adding a new automation technology for a task today and adding a new automation technology that is designed for scalability and future growth.

Whether you are working with a well-established, existing setup or designing an automation system that is entirely new, Bastian Solutions know these challenges well. Our experts work to ask the questions, create a plan, and open communication for a successful distribution center system operation.

Author: Dan Williams

Dan is a Systems Operations Manager at Bastian Solutions based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University. Since 2007, Dan works closely with clients on material handling solutions; including concept development, design, integration, site, and project management.

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