Read any project "lessons learnt" report and it will say "We should have had better communication". Read any book on business change and it will say you have to concentrate on "communication, communication, communication". Listen to any politician and they will always complain that their "message is just not getting across".
The simple fact is that everyone knows that communication is a key element not only in projects, but in our daily lives. Communication is basically "the sharing of information". However, when it comes to actually communicating, very little credence is given to it. It is always something that "someone else does", or "we can send out an e-mail", or "nothing has been agreed yet", or "put it on the SharePoint".
In project terms, it becomes a job, a chore, a nuisance, something that we have not got time for, something that we cannot do yet or something that can wait. However, whilst waiting, those people impacted by any project or change (stakeholders) will always assume the worst, make their own things up and spread rumour and doubt. Thus "not communicating", becomes a communication in its own right.
The first communication hurdle to jump, therefore, is to convince your project or change programme, that communication is a vital element for success. Ah yes, success! Defining success, measuring success, celebrating success and communicating success is also important, but a topic for another time. To convince your project that communication is vital, you can explain that communication is:
The top lesson learnt from any change programme
- One of the top five challenges to change programmes
- Fundamental to business change success
- Fundamental to winning stakeholder heads, hearts and hands
- Used to inform, involve and influence
- Used to get stakeholders to take action
- Used to reduce resistance to change
- Used to set expectations and prepare stakeholders
OK, so now your project is convinced that communication is vital and they have even appointed a communication manager. We now need to deliver on that expectation, so we need to ensure that we communicate properly and that our project lessons learnt report does not say "We should have had better communication". Communicating properly is easier said than done. There are usually many stakeholders, who all have different desires, different questions and different needs. Osmo Wiio (born 1928), a Finnish Researcher of human communication held a number of beliefs on communication, including "The more important the communication, the more likely you are to forget an essential piece of information."
So you can see that there are a number of pitfalls waiting for any communication manager out there. All we can do then is to ensure that we carry out a few basic rules to maximise our chances of "successful communication". Firstly, analyse your stakeholders and your communication vehicles and determine who likes information in what format. Then, when planning communications, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my intended message or outcome?
- Who is my audience?
- How will I communicate?
- When will I communicate?
- What will I do to check the understanding or to get feedback?
Finally, you now need a "congruent" communication plan. This means that communication will be clear, consistent and concord. There you have it then. Communication is vital for the success of change programmes addresses stakeholders needs utilises a range of communication vehicles and channels needs a congruent plan and is supported by senior sponsors/management by both words and deeds.
itSMF UK as the voice for ITIL and service management depends on effective communication to keep its membership informed. A cornerstone is the annual conference where it is expected that more than 1,000 members will converge to discuss and debate issues around people and processes along with the latest innovations in technology - the above article is based on one of the seminars within the "Real people stream: realcommunication, planning for real people, in real world projects", to be presented by John McDermott and Trevor Pullen of Hewlett-Packard who are both actively involved with itSMF UK.
This was first published in October 2008