8.5 Communication strategy


8.5 Communication strategy

One cannot underestimate the importance of communications in the deployment of the PO. As in any other change process, there is a need to explain the change, calm the fears of those who could be adversely affected, and get people to buy into the proposed changes.

The communication strategy must do the following:

  • Identify the different audiences, their information needs, their interests, and their backgrounds in order to provide them with a relevant and understandable message;

  • Decide how the information will be disseminated (i.e., meetings, presentations, Web sites, newsletters, external speakers, etc.).

People must understand why the organization needs to change. If the need for change and its purpose is not understood or intuited, people will at best temporarily comply; they will not engage in the intellectual and psychological effort required to change established routines and preconceptions. Whatever the strategy chosen, it should address the following questions[14]:

  • What is wrong with the status quo?

  • What is being proposed?

  • How the proposed changes solve the problems associated with the current situation?

  • Why employees should care?

  • When employees will be affected, immediately or some time in the future?

The need for change can be conveyed by selling the pain of the status quo, or by resorting to the promise of the desired state. Different audiences respond to different arguments. In my experience what works best is a combination of glimpses of the golden future with flashbacks of well-known in-house episodes to which people can easily relate. Table 8.2 shows the typical content of a communications plan.

Table 8.2: What Information Needs To Be Provided to Whom

Audience

Message/
Information
Need

Media

Frequency of
Communication

Responsible

Status

Feedback


Senior
management
Line managers
Sponsors
Project managers
Other employees
Customers

An important, and often forgotten, aspect of any communication strategy is to check that the message is getting across and properly interpreted. It is important to solicit feedback and measure the impact of PO communications to determine what is being understood and recalled, how messages are received, how receivers feel about them, and what receivers do with the information.



8.6 Limiting bureaucracy

The PO must not be seen as a heavy, bureaucratic apparatus that exists in opposition to agile methodologies and skunk work approaches—quite the contrary. The PO creates the environment for those approaches to work efficiently and consistently across many projects. The PO is there to support the projects with specialized knowledge, to guarantee that the funding and resources are in place when needed, that the project priorities remain current and their scope under control. The PO is not there to bog down the system with requests for progress reports or to be involved in the day-to-day affairs of the projects.

By the clever use of information technology and the empowerment of project managers, the PO should be able to function with very few personnel.



8.7 The need for the line function: How much project management is enough?

Many project management advocates herald the level of "projectization", the extent to which the organization's business is carried out through projects, as one of the attributes of an efficient organization.

This idea is largely based on the integrative and focused nature of project work, which makes it a superior form of organization when it comes to delivering concrete results in a short time. However, as T. Allen [15] notes in his book Managing the Flow of Technology, the structure of an R&D organization must meet two conflicting goals:

  1. The coordination of the various disciplines and specialties in order to accomplish the goals of the multidisciplinary project;

  2. The need to innovate and to acquire and sustain knowledge about the technologies on which the projects rely to achieve their goals.

These two goals conflict because the first one is better served by colocating all people working in a common objective and putting them under the control of a single-minded person, while the second one is fostered by keeping the project members within their functional units to facilitate the exchange of technical information and the development of new ideas.

But this is not the only problem of working through projects. By their own nature—limited duration and resources—projects cannot afford to tinker long with alternatives, nor are project managers inclined to do so. In their study of risk-taking behavior [16], Shapira and Berndt found that managers would only take risks (see Figure 8.5), if they felt that they were not going to meet their target. Therefore, once an approach has come along that seems good enough, in all likeliness the project team will run with it and not continue to search for a better, but unknown, solution that could result in project delays or overspending. Furthermore, as the project is disbanded after conclusion, for better or for worse, the members of the team do not have to live with the consequences of whatever it is that they have developed, so sometimes they might feel tempted to take shortcuts that will come back to haunt the organization later.

click to expand
Figure 8.5: Risk behavior. (Source: [16].)

For the reasons expressed above, it is necessary to supplement the transient, risk-averse, and insular nature of the projects with a line function that gives continuity to the organization and that has as a mandate not to deliver specific results by a given date, but to innovate and promote learning, tasks for which the projects are not well equipped.