Communicating Your Project To The Organization

When I joined my current client, they said “If you can effectively communicate the progress, issues, etc of this project then you will have earned your keep.”  In my last organization, there was a massive project underway with several ‘issues’ and when asked what they saw as the root cause…’poor communication’.  I have also seen a few job postings for “Project Manager – Communications” which confuses me, because any project manager worth their weight in salt should be an effective communicator.  I want to share a few tips that will hopefully help you in your efforts.

I would like to point out a few things that stem from poor communication:

      • If people don’t know, they create their own assumptions and it is amazing how they seem to thrive on sharing those as fact.  This results in a lot of noise in the system, which usually turns out to be a lot of wasted time in meetings to fix the collateral damage that spawned from the ill-informed, self-appointed project evangelist.
      • Lack of communication often leads to duplicate efforts.  As PMs, we are all well aware of the matrix org…team members assigned by the functional manager to represent their specific interests on the project.  Well, John Doe from Marketing was assigned to Project A and Jane Doe was assigned to Project B and both just told the respective PMs that Marketing needs Requirement X. In turn, you have 2 separate IT consultants working on the same requirement.
      • Poor communication can lead to missed opportunities.  Many organizations follow release calendars and require that you ‘submit’ your effort to them for inclusion in the package/release.  if you miss the window you could be waiting another month for that go-live date you have been keeping in a bubble.  Many orgs freeze all production releases in December, so you could win a 2-month hold on your project.
      • Lastly, poor communication is indicative of the project managers capabilities to coordinate, lead, and effectively manage the project.  While it may be a poor perception, it is all folks have to go by.  A strong communicator (even when communicating bad news) is seen as in control and maintains the confidence of the organization.  Even if you have everything together from a project standpoint, you can raise concerns if you do not communicate well.

So what are some of those things you can do to be an effective communicator.

    1. Know Your Audience and tailor your communication accordingly.  Executives often don’t care about the tasks of a project.  They want to know the key items….why are we doing this, what is the problem or opportunity?  What are the benefits ($$$)? What are the key dates/milestones?  Will you make it?  If not, why not?  However, Sales Operations Analysts or Field Marketing Reps want to know the why?  But they also want to know how it directly impacts them and whether or not you have taken their specific role into consideration when you thought about the latest and greatest process.  For these folks, you may want to include the resource from their team that has participated and represented them in the effort.  Sales will want to know how it speeds their efforts and gets them off the systems so they can be in front of their clients.  Legal wants to know how this reduces the organization risk and so and so.  If you think you can get that in a single, broad brush email you are wrong!
    2. Speaking of audience…make sure you have the right folks!  This goes for the discovery/requirements gathering phases as well.  The quickest way to failure is not including the right folks.  Think about the org beyond just your project.  All because they are not a function represented on the team, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive an announce communication.
    3. Recognize that the org is burdened with email and even corporate messages are being ignored by employees.  Keep the following in mind when you want to tell folks something…Cadence, content and relationship.
      1. Cadence – If you send an email everyday, you will be set to auto-delete fast!  If you send an email today with a “I will follow-up tomorrow” then think about waiting until tomorrow with the comprehensive message.  Also, when communicating to the org, you should be able to setup a consistent cadence…i.e. – a monthly project newsletter.
      2. Content – Make it brief and valuable.  Remember, do not try and impress the org with project management terminology.  Speak their language and tell them what matters to them.  If you are asking something of them, than it better be clear as day what is you need and by when.  REQUESTED ACTION: Sign-Up for mandatory Training no later then October 10, 2011 by following this link http://www.training.comnetorg
      3. Relationship – As mentioned, there is so much email that often people simply delete or ignore them…even those from Sr. Management.  If you want your message read, you either need to have a relationship with your audience or leverage someone that does.  Recently, I needed a few sales reps to participate in UAT and knew if I sent the email, it wouldn’t have had time for preview pane to open it before hitting the trash.  So, I leveraged the regional sales manager (direct) to send the message.  Remember, this isn’t the time for ego’s and getting your name out there.  If you aren’t the one with the influence, let someone else deliver the message.  Of course, this should never be the case with your core team, key stakeholders, and your sponsor.  My assumption is that you have the appropriate relationship.
    4. Timing – A common complaint I hear, aside from I didn’t know, is that people didn’t have enough time to respond, question, support, etc.  I don’t think there is a magic number and it depends on the communication, but if you are asking for feedback, for managers to talk with their respective teams in support of the coming launch, or for folks to sign-up for training…you better make sure you provide them enough time to do so, as well as enough time for that reminder email a few days prior to deadline.
    5. Global Orgs – Personalize It!  I have extensive experience with global projects and no not a US firm with three or four developers overseas.  Lenovo claimed to be the first truly global company with no single headquarter location (4 of them).  I have worked with teams in which core team members lived in a dozen countries.  Outside of the US you will often hear…”Well, North America can’t assume….” and in APAC you will hear “We operate very different here.  The US may have many states, but is one country with one language and currency.  Here in APAC, India is different than Australia and Japan different from both of them and so on.”  With that said, when you speak of sales projections, competitive analysis and so on; don’t show US or UK numbers to the APAC team.  If you want to paint a global picture, that is fine but quickly drill down to information that is relevant to them.
    6. Leverage the appropriate medium – In today’s globalized economy, virtual teams are extremely common.  Even in smaller orgs, you have significant efforts by firms to implement work-life balance options and virtual office solutions.  Keep that in mind when you schedule meetings or updates.  General guidelines:
      1. Email should be kept to announcements along the way.  Keep the project in-front of the org…actions since last message, upcoming actions, tracking towards key milestones
      2. Town Hall/Slideshow – Kick-Off meeting or Go-Live announcement.  This is more of an open forum to the entire organization in which you need to explain in your words, passion, etc
      3. Webinar – Concept, Demo, etc.  Most people don’t get Visio diagrams or simply don’t want to read them.  If you want to show the new tool, interface, process then it is best to do this through a webinar like GoTo Meeting, WebEx, illuminate or something else.
      4. In-Person Meetings – If possible, you should try to get in front of the key stakeholders.  I often refer to this as a roadshow in which I host a meeting or get a short time slot on their management team meetings.  This is often reserved for upcoming launch or if there is a major delay/change that will effect them, upset them, or simply damage their confidence.

Specific thoughts when you have to communicate a change or a delay, you must be timely, thorough and concise…

  1. What was the original plan
  2. What is the issue or change
  3. Root Cause of the issue or change
  4. Impact of the issue or change (money, time, etc)
  5. Actions to correct or implement
  6. Offer to hear concerns and thank them for continued support

In my experience, most PM are okay with the project communications (internal team items…meeting minutes, agendas, etc) but fail big when it comes to the organizational comms.
What have I missed?  How do you ensure your well planned and executed project isn’t received with a defensive stiff-arm because they didn’t know or weren’t’ included?

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10 thoughts on “Communicating Your Project To The Organization

  1. Skip and Ty, thank you so much for visiting and taking the time to provide some feedback.

    I think project managers are getting to deep into the methodology and tools, which is pulling them from one of the core reasons project management came about….communication, translating technical jargon into a relevant message for the business.

    We rant about that a bit more over at http://kellyprojectsolutions.com/project-management/simple/

  2. I like specific advice like this. Great insight into situations from a different perspective.
    To help everyone know the health of the project, I look for current status about the “expected” completion date relative to the baseline commitment date.
    Thanks

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