9.7. Planning Project Communications
If you've gone this far into your project planning and haven't communicated with anyone outside the IT project team yet, you've created a huge information void within your organization. If your definition and planning phases only take a few days or a week, you may not need to communicate before this point. Most IT projects take a bit more planning and if weeks have gone by without a peep from IT about the project, people start making assumptionsmostly negative ("They don't know what they're doing", "This project will never get off the ground"). Even if rumors don't start flying, you've missed a good opportunity to keep people focused on and excited about the project. Remember, a large portion of project success is defined by the perception of success by the people involved. Perception is greatly influenced by communication, so learn to communicate more frequently even if you don't know all the details.
One of the most common reasons given for failing to communicate is that there were just too many unknowns. Most people don't like saying "I don't know" and techies may be some of the most reluctant. The objection is, "If I don't know what's going on yet, what should I communicate?" It's not as difficult as many people make it and there are plenty of ways of saying "I don't know" that don't sound quite so clueless. A simple e-mail letting people know you're in the planning stages of the project and that you expect to have more detailed announcements in the coming weeks might be sufficient. For instance, you could say,"We are in the planning stages of Project XYZ. We expect to have a detailed plan available for review by our executive team by next Friday. In the meantime, you may be hearing from some of our IT project team members as they gather additional data to nail down the details of this project. Thanks for your cooperation and we'll keep you posted as things move forward." What have you really said? Basically that you don't know enough to tell anybody anything but you will by next Friday. That's a long way around "I don't know," but it provides project visibility and lets people know you are moving forward.
There's a saying in project management that "no news is no news" (as opposed to the saying "no news is good news"). No news means you have no information and when you're working on a project that's in the planning stages, it also means your project visibility slowly (or sometimes quickly) fades into the background. This might mean you have difficulty securing promised resources because managers forgot about your project. It might mean that the expenditures are going to be delayed because Purchasing forgot to take the necessary steps to procure needed resources. There are many more reasons to keep your project visible, so communicate regularly during the definition and planning stages because project work is not yet visible to the rest of the organization.
9.7.1. Project Communications Moving Forward
From this point forward, you should have your communication plans in place for your various stakeholders and you should begin implementing those plans. From the planning phase through project completion, you should communicate regularly (at appropriate intervals for each audience) with your stakeholders. This is one area that many IT project managers fail in and it's a huge opportunity to influence the perception of the project. With a bit of planning and practice, you can improve your project communication skills and the payoff is almost always far greater than the investment.
Your communications plans and activities should include the following audiences:
9.7.2. Communication Checkpoints
There are various checkpoints you may want to use for your project communications. Sometimes project phases are good checkpoints, other times you might want to use project milestones. Whatever checkpoints you use, make sure you identify them and use them. Some IT project managers create communication sub-plans so they can roll their communication planning into their project plan. That's a great practice but it's not always required. If you have someone on your IT project team who is a good communicator, you may delegate project communications planning and implementation to this team member. Together decide on your communication checkpoints and have a team member own that schedule. That means updating the schedule as the project schedule changes and communicating some of those changes to project stakeholders as well. If you feel like you're over-communicating, that's probably good since most IT project managers under-communicate outside of their immediate IT environment. An e-mail everyday is probably overkill but an e-mail every week or two may be quite appropriate. Table 9.4 outlines one method of managing communications; you may choose to use other methods suitable to your project and organization. As with any task, if the task doesn't have an owner, it probably won't get done, so make sure you ask for a volunteer or assign these tasks to someone on the IT project team and ensure that person takes ownership of these crucial tasks.
The deliverable from this part of your planning process is a more detailed communications plan that includes communication milestones or checkpoints. Making sure that communications are planned into the project helps you and the project team communicate effectively and regularly with less effort. This document, depicted in Figure 9.13, should be included in the project plan submitted to your project sponsor for final approval.
Figure 9-13. Project Communication Plan with Checkpoints