Communication

 

Why, What, How?

Communication addresses two main needs:

There are three main audiences:

Within each audience, there will be many subsets with differing needs.

 

Communication at the start of the project

Communications Strategy Early in the project you should consider what communication needs there will be. There are four dimensions to consider:

Prepare a Communications Plan which categorises the expected messages and information requirements along with the audiences which require those messages. Then consider what the most effective channel or media will be for each message. Finally consider the optimum timing. It is not wise to deliver every message as soon as it is ready. Messages should be timed for maximum impact and effectiveness.

Sources of messages may include:

It is probably easiest to organise the Communications Plan as a matrix. Here is an example showing some possible types of message and audiences.

Example Communications Plan - Click For Larger Version

(Download the Excel version)

Communication at the start of each phase

For each phase, the general approach to communication and the Communications Plan should be reviewed. Detailed plans, actions and responsibilities should be defined and agreed.

It is inevitable that communications needs will have changed since the original Communications Plan for the project. You will need to revise the plan and add detail. Some of the factors are as follows:

 

Communication during the project

Communication should be managed proactively throughout the project. Refer to the Communications Plan. Update it with progress and the changing needs for communication.

Every organisation is likely to have its own preferred methods of communication. Make sure you have identified these. You may be able to discuss your needs with the organisation's communications team. There will also be legal or practical requirements concerning such things as discrimination, data privacy/protection, access for the disabled, languages, employment law, union negotiations etc.

Here are some examples of channels and methods you might use.

Method

Comments

Face-to-Face

  • Word of Mouth
Ordinary conversation can be a very effective way of conveying a message - particularly if it is not seen as a "company message". Good rumours spread quickly in an organisation.

With more specific communications, talking directly with the people concerned will be the best way to get the message across and gauge the reaction. Walk round to see them or get on the phone.

  • Meetings
Meetings need a purpose and should make good use of time. Plan which messages could be conveyed during which meetings.
  • Workshops
A workshop format implies free exchange of ideas. It is a very good way of working in a collaborative style.
  • Training Courses
For the detailed presentation of information to audiences with specific needs, use a training course. Good training has an interactive nature which will allow you to gauge the degree of success.
  • Events
To reach a mass audience, hold special events at which the change messages can be presented by senior sponsors.
  • Social Events
Social events are good at developing team spirit and buy-in. They can also be used to spread the right messages.
Electronic
  • EMail
EMail is often the easiest way to communicate. Set up circulation lists for the various populations that need to receive targeted messages.

A problem with EMail is that many people do not have the time to read everything and will ignore non-urgent or impersonal messages. Try to get important messages sent out by a senior sponsor. Everyone will read a message from their Chief Executive.

  • Web Site
Using the organisation's internal website or creating a micro-site for the project is a good way to provide detailed information for those who wish to know more. Naturally, the rules of good website design should be applied to encourage its take up and make it easy to use. Look for some form of inducement for people to visit the site, for example link it to the front page, have competitions, place it with vital company information.

As well as straightforward information, you might wish to encourage participation by providing interactive features like discussion fora and feedback screens.

  • Within the new IT systems
The most useful place for detailed information is within the computer application to which it relates - either as "help" information or as an electronic knowledge base. This is the most natural place for a user to look when seeking further information. Good design of these facilities should be baked into the system when it is developed.
  • Videos
Videos can be very dramatic. When the Chief Executive addresses the entire organisation from a well-made video it will create a strong impact. The main problems with videos are the time and costs to produce a good quality show, and the difficulty in getting everyone to watch them.
  • CDs
CDs can be created to be played on individuals' PCs. They might include video messages, demonstrations, self-instruction using computer-based training (CBT), and background information.

Distribution and usage of CDs may be an issue. You will need to check that your target audience has access to appropriately configured PCs. CD production can be expensive and time-consuming.

  • Streamed Video
Streamed video (a video available through the organisation's intranet which can be viewed from a PC), has similar characteristics to a normal video except that the practicalities of getting people to view it are simplified. Check out the technical issues. Many organisations do not have the bandwidth in their communications networks to allow everyone to download video streams, and there might not be appropriate software available on all PCs.
Hard Copy
  • Company newspaper / newsletter
General messages can be placed in the organisation's regular news media. Typically this is used for general awareness and promoting a good image. It is not a good vehicle for detailed information unless they are relevant to all readers.

Company publications can also be useful for recognition, either for the team or for specific individuals as an incentive reward or a well-deserved thank-you.

  • External press, specialist magazines, press releases
There may be a need to publicise the changes to customers, suppliers, investors, or the general public. Any external communication should be constructed with the organisation's marketing or communications department.
  • Project newsletter
It may be useful to create a project newsletter that can be circulated to all interested parties. It would provide general background, who's who, achievements, information about what is happening now, future plans, and specific information that people need. It could also be provided in an electronic format through EMail or a web site.
  • Notices / posters
Some change messages might be suitable for notices, for example, "New time clocks are in operation from today".
  • Promotional Gifts
Various types of "gift" can be used to promote the project and/or to convey specific information. For example, all users might be given attractive new mouse mats which remind them how to use the new system. More genuine gifts might be appropriate, eg T-shirts when you complete the training, pens for all the managers in related departments, coasters, hats, etc.
  • Letters
Writing to each individual (particularly if you can do it at their home address) is the way most likely to gain their attention - partly because hard-copy, written business messages are so rare these days. The effect is strongest if the letter is signed by a senior sponsor. Note that internal memos have significantly less impact than letters on headed stationery.

Only use letters for highly important messages otherwise they will rapidly become devalued and the target population may be annoyed.

  • Manuals, procedure documentation etc
Detailed manuals, user guides, code lists etc may be a necessity with most systems. Expect them to become dusty - few people bother to refer to hard-copy documentation. Where possible, make them available electronically and linked to the new applications.

 

Communication at the end of a phase

Always review the success of your communications. You may be surprised how little of your messages has been digested. Consider what remedial activity is required. It might be something to address immediately or it could be dealt with in the Communication Plan for the next phase.

 

Communication at the end of the project

Typically, communication reaches a peak at the end of a project. There is a great need for detailed instructions and information. It is also the time when the Organisational Change Management efforts are at their peak.

 

Case Study

A new integrated accounting and logistics system went live. It was a masterpiece. Against all the odds it was on time and on budget. Huge efforts had been put in to remedy its performance in time for the launch. The team and sponsors were celebrating with Champagne.

Around the world long queues formed at every cash office. Thousands of employees were asking the same question: "what new expense codes?"

 

Communication will be required beyond the go-live date and possibly beyond the life of the project. During the early days of live running there will be needs to:

 

 

 

 

 
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