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Project Lessons From Aviation (Part 3): Avoiding Communication Overload in a Crisis With “NITS”

Airplane Seats
Image Credit: © “hxdyl”, #79427647

Whenever I’m travelling by air, I’m always fascinated by the layout of the equipment on the plane. As a fairly regular traveller, I suspect I often notice things that other passengers don’t, and probably end up reading signs and notices that are intended for the crew rather than passengers.


After a couple of hours on a recent short-haul flight, I decided to freshen up and so headed toward the “washroom”. As is fairly normal, there was a queue, so I was standing in line for a few moments. While waiting, I noticed that there was a cabin crew jump-seat next to the WC, and just behind the seat there were a series of (what appeared to be) laminated emergency scenario cards. Now, as much as I would have loved to have a good rifle through these, I didn’t because (a) I suspect the crew would have soon stopped me and I’d have been banned from flying with that airline again and (b) seeing emergency procedures from a crew’s perspective probably would have scared the life out of me!


However, I did see part of one of the cards, and my eye was drawn to an acronym which really stuck with me. So much so, that I wrote it down when I got back to my seat:


Special Circumstances

Now, I can only guess what the relevance of this acronym is in aviation (so if there are any pilots or cabin crew reading, I’d love to know if my interpretation is correct), but I can imagine two potential uses:


  1. Assessing and ensuring a common view of an emergency situation and understanding key constraints
  2. Communicating, precisely, the action that will be taken in an emergency situation


As I returned to my seat, a few things struck me. Firstly, in aviation there are key contingency plans that can be triggered in unlikely emergency scenarios. The key decisions on how to react have already been made, so there should be less hesitation or deliberation if an emergency event occurs.


Secondly, in these circumstances I would imagine that there is a need to communicate concisely and precisely. Time is of the essence and it is crucial that there is a common understanding on the action to be taken.


Clearly, in a project environment our emergency pales into insignificance when compared with some of those dealt with by pilots and crew in the aviation industry. Yet, perhaps we can learn lessons from the robust thinking that has taken place in other industries such as aviation.  And perhaps the NITS acronym could serve us well.


NITS in projects

On a project, when a risk event occurs there can be a tendency to increase communication. People want regular updates, status reports and so forth. In the first article in this series I discussed declaring ‘pan-pan’. Perhaps, when a course of action is known, NITS could be used too.  This could be used to precisely and concisely communicate the course of action, and avoid the snowball of meetings and emails that can bedevil problem situations. It would ensure that everyone is on the same page, and if additional information is known by one of the parties they can quickly bring it to the fore.


Take the following hypothetical example:

Nature: Two severity one bugs have been found. It is unclear as to whether these are new, genuine, or relate to a misunderstanding of requirements.

Intention: A project decision has been made to delay launch pending further investigation.

Time: Half a day will be spent conducting the relevant analysis. A further go/no go decision will be scheduled for 4pm tomorrow.

Special Circumstances: Communication will go to our external partners from the PM. It is envisaged they won’t have an issue with this.


Of course we can adapt and embellish the acronym so it is relevant for our world, but the key is to keep it short and precise.


By communicating in a short-form, prescribed format we help avoid misunderstandings and keep the communication lines clear. We spend less time communicating, and more time doing.  And that can only be a good thing for our projects, organisations and stakeholders!

What are your views on communication during project?  I’d love to hear your experiences and tips.   Please add a comment below, and let’s keep the conversation flowing! 

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About the author:

Adrian ReedAdrian Reed is Principal Consultant at Blackmetric Business Solutions, an organisation that offers Business Analysis consulting and training solutions. Adrian is a keen advocate of the analysis profession, and is constantly looking for ways of promoting the value that good analysis can bring.

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