For some old school Project Managers,
'Communication' is more stuff for the tree huggers. To others, it is old news -
to the point of being an overused and hackneyed term. We all know how to
communicate don't we? Well, don't we?
Sure we do, but communicating at this level is a
little more complex than calling the troops in for a rally. At this level, a plan
of attack is required. A communication strategy helps to ensure a thorough
approach. Consideration needs to be given to:
Who are the stakeholders
What are the messages
Who delivers the messages
Different approaches for different audiences
A two way process
Who are the stakeholders? Often (but not always) project stakeholders would
have been identified early in the project lifecycle. Obvious stakeholders are the
project team, management and executive. Depending on the project, consider the
impact on your retail channel, clients / customers, suppliers, business
partners, regulatory bodies, government agencies, and the community. What about
printers, legal firms, advertising agencies etc?
What messages need to get out? The list of potential topics for your
communications plan is almost endless, but it helps once you have identified
your stakeholders. Ask 'if the project went live tomorrow, what would
stakeholder X need to know?' The organisational executive team will need formal, written reports on project
plans, progress, costs etc. Operational management and staff need to know
what impact the project will have on them, how the project is progressing, what
training is being organised, and when they will be receiving it.
Each group of stakeholders will have specific
requirements, although overlap is likely. It is essential that there
be a person or work unit coordinating the communications effort to ensure a consistent
Timing Timing is critical if every stakeholder is to
have the information they need in time for them to make any necessary
preparation. Stakeholders have their own priorities, and your project may not be
high on their list. Yet their cooperation may be crucial to your success.
Clients, customers, channel partners and suppliers may not be willing or able to
cooperate if not given enough notice.
Repetition is important in many instances.
Perhaps face-to-face presentations can be backed up with newsletters. Never
assume that because the message has gone out, people will understand and
remember it. If it is important, it is worth repeating over and over until
you can be reasonably sure that you have 'saturated' your audience.
Who delivers the message?
Another critical issue! The content and
timing of the communications will most often make it impossible for one person,
or even one small group, to deliver all communications. Nor is this always
appropriate. Depending on the audience and nature of the communication, the
presenter may be different. It may be appropriate for the CEO to deliver high
level staff presentations, whereas the marketing manager may be the best person
to deal with the retail channel. Local managers may be best suited to hold local
group discussions about impacts on work practices. This aspect of communication
requires analysis, and can require a heavy investment to complete the logistics
Different strokes.. The communications strategy should identify all
of the communication options open to you. This may include such things as:
Road shows (large scale presentations
delivered at different locations)
Video tapes of the CEO or Sponsor's
Intranet / Internet facilities
Focus / Discussion Groups
The options will depend on the facilities
appropriate to the organisation, the makeup of the stakeholder groups, and the
type of information being communicated. It is obviously not appropriate for
example, to wait for the quarterly report to send out urgent information!
There are also many variations on each theme. In
one large project we were involved in, we found that the 'Cascading Information
Flow' was a useful model. The information was prepared by the
communications team, and delivered by the CEO to the senior management team.
These in turn met with their direct reports, who then spoke to their assembled
staff in work units. We found that this worked provided that each manager
in turn was given a 'script' to ensure a consistent message. However, we also
found in another large project that this approach was not successful. It
just didn't fit with the culture of the business. As we said, different
Communication is a two way
The basic level of communication is a simple
discussion between two people. My Old Dad used to say 'remember that you have
two ears, but just one mouth.' It is important when devising a
communication strategy to develop a two way process.
It will help the effectiveness of your
communications if you set up effective processes to listen to the concerns and
requirements of your stakeholders. It can be a big mistake to assume you can
guess what there concerns will be.