Digital transformation is great. The world is being disrupted. All the best companies are cool, they were only founded in the last few years, and don’t sell actual products. Social media equals success. The pace of change will only get faster.

These are the messages coming from the Prime Minister down, and we’re lapping them up. The government is about to deliver simpler, faster and easier to use services left, right, and centre. We all know it is coming, we all know how to do it, and we are falling over ourselves to be at the front of the change. If you’re an SES officer or commercial provider involved in ICT, and you’re not continually spurting out the latest buzzwords and promising the world tomorrow, then you’re a nobody.

So this is all great and exciting right? Well, I’ll let you into a secret: it isn’t.

Digital Deafness

Listening seems to be turning into a lost skill. I mean sitting with someone, face-to-face, paying attention to their words and their expressions. Being curious. Seeking to understand. Not simply waiting for your turn to speak and tell them your view, or fiddling with your mobile phone throughout the conversation.

One-to-one transactions are becoming increasingly infrequent. And when they occur, they are becoming shorter, truncated and interrupted.

What this means is that a great deal is getting lost in translation. Does everyone in the APS really understand what The Hon Angus Taylor MP wants from digital transformation? Do people working on projects really understand the “user stories”? (Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great that public service teams are attempting to get a grasp on what the users of government services want. But my own personal experience – for example as a business owner, father of three, and son of two now-deceased parents – is that there is a long way to go.)

Project management suffers the same malaise. People want to email each other, argue about meaningless labels (“waterfall” “agile”) or talk in jargon, rather than have conversations in plain English about what needs to be done, how, by who, and when, and what practically that will entail.

Digital Dumbness

Having such conversations requires… wait for it… two-way, face-to-face conversation.

Unfortunately, most of us have lost the ability to speak. We now concentrate our communication energy into impressing the world on social media. It seems to be the in-thing to post a daily update on Linked In along the lines of “Proud to… {insert bland activity here}”. If one is unfortunate enough to get trapped in a face-to-face conversation with other humans, it seems best to stand on the side and throw the odd neutral but trendy phrase in.

Whatever happened to speaking our mind? Tuning in to your emotions, your inner dialogue, and trying to express to others what you are really feeling and thinking in that moment? People should be comfortable expressing disagreement in a group, but often they aren’t, especially if new trends are involved, or senior executives are in the room. Who has the courage to sit down quietly with a senior executive and carefully explain to them why what they wish to do might not work?

What has all this got to do with programme and project management?

Everything. Absolutely everything. Listening and speaking clearly are at the heart of programme and project management. You wont be able to transform anything if you are simply deaf, dumb and digital.

Want to get the real conversations happening?

Tanner James is available for short, sharp engagements to help you re-energise the way you manage your programmes and projects – big or small – based on the issues raised in this blog.

If you would like to know more, please call me personally on 0407 404 688 or email me at I would be very happy to come to meet you, answer questions and provide further information.

What do you think?

Please feel free to comment on the blog itself or via LinkedIn.