Communications are in essence the project’s marketing materials. It’s the project’s way of getting its message out there to all interested or impacted parties. Like all marketing, there are three aspects to it – market, message and media – and it is critical you address them in that order.
For a project, your markets are your stakeholders. You need to understand each stakeholder group as they will have different communication needs. They will also have different levels of knowledge about the project so your communications need to reflect this.
The message you impart might be different depending on the market or audience. For example, the steering group or project board will be interested in progress and the financial position – actuals verses budget and forecasts to complete. The business areas impacted will be interested in how and when the project will impact them. What steps are bning taken to help them or protect their welfare (especially if job cuts are a consequence). There won’t ne a ‘one size fits all’ communication that can be used un-tailored for everybody.
Most people think of e-mails when they talk about project communications – often with a PowerPoint deck attached. But these days there are rich multi-media alternatives available and many large companies have internal social media tools. These can be ideal for project communications for some audiences.
I worked on one major IT infrastructure programme where they used a doodle animation video to explain the journey through the transformation and some of the benefits it would bring to all areas of the company. It lasted less than 6 minutes but was far more powerful than any e-mail and slide deck combination.
Don’t discount old fashioned face to face meetings. Larger sessions are typically billed as town halls these days and often work well with refreshments being served afterwards and some booths or information stands where people can come up and ask for more detail or get the questions they were reluctant to ask in a big forum answered.
Whichever method of communication is right for your market and message there are some steps you should take to ensure the quality. I plan out each communication using a checklist:
- Objective of the communication
- Assumed level of knowledge
- Position on the project (supporter/neutral/opponent)
- Key interest in the project (e.g. progress, financials, impacts, opportunities etc)
- Does it address the audience need and level of assumed knowledge
- Is it jargon and acronym free
- Is there anything sensitive that needs approval to disclose
- If an audio or video conference is being used are joining instructions clear
- If face to face is the location clear and has it been booked
- Are the recipients included (check e-mail groups etc.)
- If something is hosted, has access been tested
- If a physical meeting, has the venue and associated facilities/refreshments been booked.
I then work on the ‘four eyes’ principle and have everything checked by someone else familiar with the project and communications required..
The communications plan
Done properly, good communications require time to be prepared. So it is essential the work is planned. For all but the smallest projects I recommend maintaining a separate communications plan with somebody on the team directly responsible. It should have links, via dependencies, into the rest of the plan.
What are your experiences of project communications. What works well and have you had any disasters?