Completing a large-scale project on time and on budget is a challenge. It requires that staff from a variety of departments who have a wide range of talents, responsibilities and perspectives work in sync with each other, despite the demands of their work outside the project. It is no wonder that one of the biggest challenges for successful implementation of a project is project plan communication..
Three distinct chains or types of communication are critical within projects: 1) communication the project team, 2) communication from the project team to leadership and 3) communication on the project out to the organization as a whole. Let’s look at each of these three “chains” of communication one at a time.
Communication within the team
Why is good communication within the team critical? It facilitates productivity. Status updates, make needed corrections in the work of the project, and adjustments to the project plan itself are identified through honest, consistent communication within the team. When a project team consists of individuals from various departments or locations, project team communication grows even more essential.
The primary tool for communication on a project plan is an effective project team meeting, either physically or virtually. These meetings take two general forms. The first is a short daily update meeting or check-in. This type of meeting is not always a necessary part of a project team, but can be a critical success factor for teams on a sensitive or volatile project, or a team that is widely scattered within an organization.
The second type of project team meeting is critical regardless of the project scope or size – a regularly scheduled weekly team meeting. The keys for successful team meetings: maintain a regular agenda, hat a facilitator to run the meeting and keep it moving, record action items and important notes from the meeting. Meetings need to be purposeful, not just a time to “hang out”. The team meeting agenda should address the elements that need to be discussed as a team to keep the project moving forward.
Electronic methods of communication can be effective for team members to stay in touch in between meetings. Email, instant messaging or texts, and internet based communication tools (a popular one we have seen is Slack), all facilitate communication while team members are back in their various departments and locations. One caveat on electronic communications: electronic is good for facts and status updates, but one-on-one communication in person or via phone is needed to resolve upsets and frustrations.
Communication from the team to leadership
This is a critical chain of communication, and one that is often missed. Typically, a front-line team is coordinating the work and implementing a project, which means the front-line is driving the bus. That is a shift from the way organizations are normally run. Therefore, the project team needs to update management regularly on their progress and problems with project implementation. Consistent communication not only keeps management informed, it facilitates their support when needed while avoiding micromanagement. Most projects are about change, and 2/3 of change initiatives fail. One of the major reasons behind the failure is that upper management doesn’t provide needed support for the change to succeed. For management to maintain their support, they need to know the progress being made on the project.
How best to communicate from the team to leadership? For small projects, a simple weekly email will usually suffice. Break the email into 3 sections: 1) current project status, 2) successes and challenges, and 3) needs from leadership. When/if there are needs listed, a follow-up phone call or short meeting is necessary to confirm support.
What we have found helpful on large, complex projects, is a leadership steering committee. The steering committee has the authority to spend money and approve policy that the project team usually does not. Every 2 weeks, the project team updates the steering committee using a standardized template that includes a summary of successes, problems and requests (email us for a sample). The report is printed, but presented by a team member in order to answer questions and gather feedback to bring back to the team. The steering committee is made up of members of leadership and forms the bridge into the C-suite that the project team must have for the project’s success.
Communication out to the organization
Last, let’s address communication on the project to the organization as a whole Ideally this communication comes from the project team, via leadership. Regular, formal communications that come from leadership to all staff, particularly staff members impacted by the project, do three things.
- Strengthen credibility of leadership because staff can see they are ensuring successful execution on a large, important project.
- Create “heroes” within the implementation team and raise morale of team members, particularly important when the team is doing the work of the project on top of their normal responsibilities and without additional compensation.
- Reduce uncertainty. Any project, especially one that is large scale impacts and involves change somewhere within the organization. And the threat of change – even positive change – mushrooms into uncertainty. Consistent communication can reduce or even eliminate this uncertainty.
How to communicate with all staff? A standardized tool is the easiest for leadership both to remember and to maintain. Whether in the form of a weekly printed update, an online repository or a company email, leadership should communicate with employees consistently so that staff knows where to go for information..
Project communication is both essential and, really, fairly simple. It is a matter of outlining who to communicate with, the method to use and the frequency, then setting up the systems and tools to communicate effectively at the project start. Regardless of which group is doing/receiving the communication and which method is chosen, the biggest key to maintaining good project plan communication is consistency.
Interested in more information on sound project planning and implementation? Check out How to Fix Three Common Problems with Project Communication or Project Management Tools and Methodology.