Intellectual Disintegration

The following entry is a part of the Pattern Library. The Pattern Library records the common patterns of events that have the potential to lead to project failure.

Name : Intellectual Disintegration
Scope : Event pattern (patterns that shape the sequence or flow of events)

In brief :
Breakdown of communications between individuals and groups results in errors and omissions.

Description :
Technology projects are large scale, complex, decentralised decision making activities.  The decentralised nature of the work places a requirement on everyone involved to communicate effectively.  Where groups or individuals fail to interact and communicate effectively the opportunity for invalid assumptions, errors and omissions and duplication of effort rises sharply.

The expression “Intellectual Disintegration” comes from the failure of the team to ensure that the decisions made by the different people involved are properly aligned and integrated.

Typical sequence of events :

  1. Individuals or groups fail to collaborate or communicate effectively with each other
  2. Communication failures allows groups to head off in different directions and develop different understandings of critical issues
  3. Differing understandings result in “incompatibilities”, errors, omissions, invalid assumptions and other related problems
  4. Failure to communicate results in problems going undetected until late in the project (typically when the project is under integration and test)
  5. High levels of rework as problems are addressed.

Negative effects :

  1. High rework costs due to the late breaking identification of problems
  2. Finger pointing and defensiveness as misunderstandings surface.

Common Root Causes :

  1. Gravitation – some in the technology sector are more comfortable with the hard core technical aspects of the work than they are with communicating
  2. Schedule pressure leads to people skipping critical meetings or interacting with each other
  3. Leadership failures (i.e. the failure to monitor the effectiveness of team communications).

Suggested Actions :

  1. Ensure regular team meetings are held or other forums that encourage communication
  2. Look for places where individuals or groups who should be communicating are not and address accordingly
  3. Us smaller iterations to allow misunderstandings to be surfaced more quickly
  4. Co-locate individuals and groups.