Communication on Strategic Projects
Program communication is always an important aspect of getting work done. Large scale programs with multiple contractors just makes that even more relevant. Even small-scale projects that are aligned to strategy and organizationally important require a strong focus on communications. It’s very important to make sure everyone understands the implications of the work and that the message does not get lost while it is being cascaded to multiple teams.
There are 3 main focus areas for communication on strategic projects:
It’s essential to know who the audience is, what the message is, and how the message will reach them.
Let’s look at those focus areas now.
1. Know the audience
The ‘who’ of communication is important because messages should be tailored so that they are relevant to the audience. Let’s take the example of sharing project progress as it relates to dates on the timeline. Your schedulers will need detailed information on tasks and progress that they can translate into updates for Primavera P6. The client will want to know that things are progressing to plan and what that means for their teams. Senior stakeholders will want a summary view that gives them confidence that the work is under control, perhaps with some earned value management metrics as evidence of performance trends.
Each individual or group has different needs. Tailoring your communication to meet those needs gives you more chance that the messages land in the way you expect.
2. Get clarity on the message
Now that you have an idea about the expectations of your audience, think about what you want them to know. This is the second area of focus: What is the topic of the communication?
Large programs and strategically-aligned initiatives often have to share information that is non-tangible, like the vision and goals. Then there might be measurable information to share, like benefits achieved to date. Finally, there might be transactional or tactical data, like training material.
Communication for the ‘what’ has to be tailored to the message. You wouldn’t deliver training material in a town hall meeting.
However, be very conscious about what you are sharing. People receive an overwhelming amount of information on a daily basis, from chat messages to email, newsletters, reports and corporate briefings. Do you really want to add to the noise?
Structure your message clearly, keep it as short as possible and make sure it is relevant. Ideally, communications should be centered around helping someone make a decision or take an action, whether that’s updating the Primavera P6 schedule, issuing the earned value management data or learning how to use the new equipment the project has just installed. If your message is not action-led, think about why you want to share it and if now is the right time.
3. Think about how to share the message
Town hall meetings are one way of reaching your audience, but there are many other methods of communication that might be more relevant. The third focus area is to choose the right mechanism for the information you are sharing.
For example, if you want to communicate the results of a corrective action plan, a formal report to the team that raised the corrective action request is the most appropriate way to do that. It sounds simple, but you might be surprised at how many people default to email as their go-to option for communication!
If you know someone with a tendency to make everything an email, suggest some of these alternatives instead:
- Formal reports
- Video conferences
- Client portals and dashboards built on your enterprise project management software
- Online collaboration tools.
Make sure you know what options are available within your organization and the client organization: there’s no point sending something in a format that your client can’t open. Spreadsheets are pretty difficult to read on a tiny cell phone screen!
There is no right or wrong way to communicate, no single ‘correct’ mechanism to report your project. However, agreeing some ground rules and basic principles will cut down the time it takes to approve communications and make it easier to have a repeatable process.
Here are some ways to do that:
Use templates. Create standard dashboards and reports. Set them up inside your project management tools and use the same format each time you need to communicate project progress.
Automate the communication. Use the workflow features of your software to auto-run reports and distribute them to the correct stakeholders.
Ask for feedback. Talk to people getting the communication and check they are receiving what they need. Be prepared to make change as necessary to tailor the communication vehicle and contents so that it better fits their needs.
Communication on strategic projects is required at all levels, all the time on programs. As a program manager, you’ll be skilled at communicating up, down and across the organization, and out to third parties, government agencies and clients. Keep these three focus areas in mind when you think about communicating and your messages will be clearer and more useful to the recipients.