As an IT project manager, you live closer than you’d like to the edge of insanity. Your world is dominated by impossible deadlines, constant delays, predictable C-level involvement (a.k.a., top-down interference), endless hardware and software challenges, and―let’s not forget that old favorite―poor communications.
Having a great communications plan for each project can help you achieve success with the minimum of hassle. Basically, you have to create and send the right message to the right people at the right time and keep all project stakeholders informed at all times.
That’s the advice of Jason Westland, CEO of Method123, a New Zealand company that specializes in project management and has staff in 10 countries, including the United States. Method123’s clients include Cisco, Dell, HP and Siemens. Westland said the majority of IT projects around the globe come in either over budget or over time.
“The most common reason we hear is that the team didn’t know it was behind schedule until the last minute, when the sponsor was breathing down their necks,” he says.
To keep a project on track, Westland says a project manager must communicate slippage as early as possible in the project lifecycle. “That way, the team knows it’s behind the mark and can put in extra effort early to get back on track.”
Westland reckons about 50% of his firm’s 500,000 customers could improve their project communications. To help companies struggling with communications, Westland recently distilled his advice into 10 generic steps in a recent blog http://www.projectmanagers.net/profiles/blogs/how-to-create-a-communications. Here’s what he had to say:
Step 1: Analyze your existing communications environment. Single out strengths and weaknesses, and learn from past mistakes.
Step 2: Define communications objectives.Identify the top three objectives you want to achieve from your project communications. For example, you might want to inform stakeholders of the project progress; boost management buy-in; and improve your team productivity.
Step 3: Set communications guidelines.Guidelines might include: distributing all messages through pre-defined channels; obtaining management approval of all critical communications; and ensuring all communications will be tailored to different stakeholder needs.
Step 4: Focus on your target audience.Determine all the people your team will communicate with, and craft a single consistent view of your project.
Step 5: Address stakeholder needs.Remember that each group will need information pertinent to its needs. For instance, a project sponsor will need to be informed of risks and issues, while a quality reviewer will need to be notified about the status of project deliverables.
Step 6: Create key messages for each stakeholder.Messages might include project status, project issues, project risks, project deliverables or project resources.
Step 7: Identify delivery channels.As there are many ways to communicate with stakeholders, identify the channel/s you will use to deliver your key messages.
Step 8: Draft a communications schedule.Now, you are ready to create a detailed schedule of events, activities and actions needed to deliver the right messages to the right people at the right time throughout the project. Westland recommends specifying the time frames for the completion of each item, noting any dependencies on other events in the schedule.
Step 9: Incorporate communications events.Describe each event in depth, ensuring you define the purpose of the event, how it will take place, and when it should occur.
Step 10: Map your communications matrix.Finally, you’re ready to put it all together in a matrix that lists each event, who is accountable for the event, who will take part, and who will review its success. Before you send your matrix to all concerned, get your manager to approve the entire communications plan.
Westland’s “final, final” piece of advice is the old chestnut of seeking honest feedback on your team’s performance. Reliable feedback measures include questionnaires and surveys―measures that should help you and your team to learn how to improve your current communications plan, and to be better prepared for the next project and the next plan.
“By communicating the project status to your team openly, honestly and regularly throughout the project, you can keep people motivated and ensure their buy-in when you need it,” he said. Failure to do so can be disastrous.
As proof, Westland cites a recent project his firm rescued at a large U.S. consulting company. “The company simply failed to communicate,” he said. “No one knew what was going on until the last minute, but by then it was too late to do anything except call us for help.”
Herman Mehling has written about IT for 25 years. He has written hundreds of articles for leading computer publications and websites. Currently, Mehling contributes regularly to www.enterprisestorageforum.com and www.projectmanagerplanet.com.