440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111-2496
415 781 5700

February 22, 2000

03 00050 61 00022201

Mr. Ray Levitt, Ph.D.
Construction Engineering & Management Program
Civil Engineering Department
Terman Engineering Center, M50
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305 4020

Subject:   Advanced PM Certificate

Dear Ray,

Good to hear from you. A few weeks ago Elisabeth Pate-Cornell indicated you are contributing to the integrated discipline group within the new Management Science department. Earlier, on January 7 I wrote to you about Doug Engelbart's Colloquium at Stanford aiming to develop an open source knowledge management capability, which could benefit from your work with VDT in order to grasp the magnitude of the challenge summarized by the proposition that...

Communication is the biggest risk in enterprise!

Every call, every meeting, every email sows the seeds of meaning drift, explained in POIMS, that leads to continual error, rework, delay and escalation of cost. However, near-term success (i.e., sunshine profits) blinds people in all sectors -- business, education, government -- causing denial that communication is the primary cause of problems. People refuse to believe the magnitude of the risk, because they feel that "communication" is their strongest talent. Andy Grove explains this dilemma on page 128 of his book, Only the Paranoid Survive, warning against "Strategic Dissonance," but he offers no solution. However, if memory serves, your VDT program calculates extra cost due to compressed communications, and so helps overcome denial that information overload needs a proactive solution.

Our meeting on July 23, 1996 indicated that your work helps explain findings reported at Cal Tech in 1992 that reviewed the Columbia Space Shuttle failure. A follow on class in 1997 presented a detailed study of JPL, NASA and contractor communications, which confirmed prior findings that the Columbia Shuttle failed because minor, innocuous communication was not aligned with requirements. In another example, a $500M oil tanker sank at sea, because of an initial communication snafu.

More recently, NASA reported on October 1, 1999 that a space probe crashed into Mars, rather than enter the planned orbit, because communication was not aligned with requirements. $125M loss. On December 7, 1999 President Clinton announced a national initiative to reduce the high cost of medical mistakes. Earlier on June 25, 1999 doctors do not have time to follow their published communication procedures. Projects to fix your foot, eye, heart... are governed by the same processes being taught in your advanced PM program. Yet a study reported on December 21, 1999 found that patients are not adequately informed in nine out of 10 decisions. Where is the call for doctors to learn the secrets of project management? Also, on June 25, 1999 Forbes magazine reported that CEOs don't execute good practices either. The practice found to have the most impact was not strategic vision, nor lofty pursuits of team building, arranging the organization chart, sending email and riding the corporate jet. Forbes reports that accelerated failure is occurring because, like all of us, CEOs don't like to align communication. Forbes chalks this up to psyche -- it's boring; it's hard work; it's not fun! So, from the boardroom to the operating room, no one aligns communication. Still it is a hidden problem, and so easy to deny, due to the character of human thinking, which is at once powerful, yet weak in handling the new environment of continual information overload. What can no longer be hidden, is the high cost of ignoring the fact that a stronger method is needed to align communication while hurrying from meeting to call to fax to email to Japan, New York, New Guinea, Modesto and then home. Right now a strong economy is buying off mistakes with sunshine profits, except in the medical field, where we want the doctor to somehow do a better job than we are doing, because those mistakes don't just cost money, they hurt.

Julia's syllabus for the new PM course says participants will learn to align strategy with priorities and resources. So, I was asking if your VDT work would be presented to help focus on the bigger problem of aligning daily communication, since that has the biggest chance of improving project success, as well as advancing knowledge management needed to reduce medical mistakes, and improve every facet of enterprise.

Your work is vital to a wide range of improvement efforts people are struggling to accomplish. Once people grasp the risk of overloading the mind with information, then a good discussion can commence on process, roles and tools for adding "intelligence" to management. I'm not a big fan of Stephen Covey, but his formula to first diagnose, then prescribe, encapsules the goal of my letter to Julia, and the earlier discussion with Elisabeth on the Management Science curriculum.



Rod Welch