How often are communications an afterthought, or a box you have to check, on your projects? Your project’s success may be more dependent on them than you think!
In my recent blogs, I’ve been focusing on the importance of answering and communicating a project’s “why” factor. I firmly believe that this is the single most important element for an effective Change Management program and ultimately project success.
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There’s more to Change Management, though, than just the why. Two other extremely important components are the “what” (communications) and the “how” (enablement). Let’s dive into the “what” for a few minutes.
When we think about project communications, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a project’s Communication Plan. This is the most used and revisited deliverable in the Change Management arsenal. Proficient change managers literally live in this document. The Communication Plan captures what communications and key messages need to be delivered to whom, when, and how. It also lays out the steps to creating each communication artifact, whether it be an email, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster, or something else even more creative. (Those things don’t create themselves, do they? Nor do we get them exactly right the first time.)
Effective communication plans are iterative. The reason Change Managers spend so much time in them is because the projects themselves are dynamic. Projects are constantly changing (scope, timelines, issues and workaround, etc.), and as Change Managers, we must react to quickly and appropriately prepare our users for what is actually to come and when it is coming, which may be slightly or very different from what we believed at the outset of the project. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had all of the answers at the beginning of the project? In over twenty years of consulting, I’ve yet to find that project.
Related to this, a common mistake projects make is not having a dedicated resource that is able to focus on theses dynamic Change activities. I frequently see projects that leverage the project manager for the Change Management tasks. Unfortunately, these activities are often relegated to a few communications to the masses. While I won’t digress and talk about the likelihood of omitting the “why” and the downstream effects in this scenario, project managers often don’t have the time (or often the right skillsets, especially the technically-inclined project managers) to focus on the dynamic nature of the Change activities. Project technical or process issues will arise and take priority (and the PM’s time) over the change-related activities. For right or wrong, it happens.
The tough part about this is that when communications do not get the full attention they deserve, the Change Management activities suffer as a whole. When Change activities are cut, then users suffer, and at the end of the day, adoption and engagement is much lower than desired. When we don’t get the adoption and engagement, not only that we desire but are banking on from a business case perspective (our projected returns are usually assuming people actually use the new system or process), the overall project’s success is in jeopardy.
At the end of the day, we’ll spend the most Change Management project time on communications-related activities. Isn’t it worth getting them right?