How do you Communicate in a Project?

One of our Change Management consultants rightly describes Communications as the most powerful tool in the Change Manager’s tool belt. Without effective two-way Communications (meaning that questions and feedback make it back up the chain from a push-out messaging strategy), stakeholders will have little to no confidence that a change initiative is set up for success.

That being said, until there is something to communicate in a project – a material difference that people will perceive or experience soon, it is easy to become complacent and think that we can just wait to say anything at all.

So how do you communicate in a project?  What do you say? When do you say it? Who do you say it to? And how do you get feedback and what are best practices to respond to that in a meaningful way?

At AJC, we have been asked to join projects mid-stream in a Change Management and Communications capacity.  While we are happy that our clients recognize the need for OCM/Comms at all, we would love to know that a Change and Comms plan was considered even at the outset of the project’s implementation.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Sometimes it is justifiable to hold off on initiating a comprehensive Change Management and Communications plan.  For example, with long-term initiatives that will span years, it might make sense to hold off until that last year before developing and executing a Change and Comms plan that considers multiple stakeholders.  Before that, a smaller scale cadence of direct communications with a Core Team and Steering Committee, combined with a solid Project Plan being led by a great Project Manager, is likely sufficient.

At some point, however, a broader audience needs to be taken into consideration.  It is not enough to only talk to individual contributors, or only the Leadership Team, only the customers, or even only the managers.  There needs to be a full Stakeholder Map developed, determination of the Impact for each group and possibly each group by level (i.e. High/Medium/Low impact – which may differ for Leaders, Managers, and Individual Contributors), and a plan to communicate with each group.

The Communication Plan itself, then, considers each type of stakeholder, and develops a plan for communications at what frequency, using which channels, and what information is pertinent to them over time throughout the project. 

Below is a high-level Communications Plan in a straightforward grid format that we use in projects:

Communications Plan Template

The Communications Plan should not end just because the project is “over,” there should be a period of “hypercare” communications as well (hypercare is the period immediately following a change “go live” until a measurable “steady state” is achieved).

Finally, there needs to be feedback loops established for questions or concerns about the plan or project. To whom do people direct these questions? Managers, Champions, Project “Core Team” Members, the Steering Committee, the Project Sponsor, Leadership?

To set yourself up for success, provide confidence to stakeholders by communicating a cohesive and comprehensive plan – and a channel for improvement and questions – from the outset. It is okay to say that you don’t yet have a detailed Training Plan put together when you are 1 quarter into a 2 year project, and that your intent is to develop that when you are 2 quarters out from Go Live, but to admit that you have no Training Plan with 1 quarter left in the same project is not confidence inspiring and will likely lead to delays strictly do to people not being “Ready,” rather than for any technical reason.

Have fun and happy Communicating!