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Communicating Projects Is About More Than Disseminating Information
By Jo Ann Sweeney

Communication is and should be more than a tool to track progress and manage information flows within the project team.

At their heart projects are all about people, just as companies are all about people. The systems, processes and procedures we create via projects are only enablers.

They’re designed to help people be more productive or improve performance. Just delivering them is not enough; we have to persuade people to use them as well.

The critical role communications can play in projects is in moving people along a spectrum from awareness through to support and commitment – especially the project’s sponsor, senior executives and end users.

Too often I have worked with project teams that focused on delivering technology. Usually team members are passionate about the change they are going to make, but they’ve forgotten about its impact on people.

At rollout the message comes back ‘forget it, we’ll pay lip service but we’re not going to put in the effort you need from us to make your project a success’.

The project team’s first response is to ask their sponsor for help. But invariably they’ve forgotten to communicate with her or him as well. Rollout goes on hold while the team puts all its effort into fire fighting communications.

The best managers recognise their projects will only be successful when sponsors, senior executives and end users are positive and involved. They dedicate significant chunks of their resources to winning the support of key stakeholders from the initial planning stages.

They focus on identifying the key individuals who can make their project a success, then communicate regularly with these people. This includes:

  • Building relationships based on trust and respect
  • Listening to their views and the levels of information and involvement they want
  • Explaining the rationale behind the project, plus the benefits to individuals and the organisation
  • Tailoring messages to different audiences
  • Structuring communication activities to improve both knowledge of the project and perceptions about its value
  • Developing clear objectives for each activity to monitor outcomes as well as outputs.

If communications was not part of your initial project planning don’t despair. You can begin at any stage during your project – just start as soon as you recognise the need.

Start by brainstorming who your key audiences are, how much they know and their feelings towards your project. Then prioritise them according to their impact on your project’s success.

Next decide what you want to achieve with your communication activities and the key messages you want to get across to your audiences.

Now you are ready to choose the channels – such as meetings, websites and articles, develop a schedule of activities, create content and start implementing.

Good luck!

Jo Ann Sweeney is a communications consultant [www.sweeneycomms.com] who helps project teams develop activities that win the support of their sponsors, senior executives and end users. She blogs regularly at CommsAbilities [www.commsabilities.com] and is interested in connecting with project managers on Twitter [twitter.com/commsabilities].

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