Business transformation involves an integration of multiple systems. These integrations look to change a user’s interaction with information, with the expectation of improving internal and external processes in order to derive a superior business outcome. In simple terms, you must connect people with essential information to improve business outcomes.
Integration projects, regardless of their complexity or scope, require implementation teams to perform in increasingly complex and codependent environments. These type of projects, also require the application of technology and management best practices in order to minimize risks, optimize resources and address known issues in a proactive manner.
A project’s evolving and changing complexity requires the role of the Project Manager (PM) to continue to adjust to ensure its success. How does this increased complexity change the PM role? How does the PM not only survive, but also remain effective? In this article we will discuss how we have adjusted our PM practices to focus on project communication management, helping our PMs lead successful integration projects around the world.
Understanding What has to Change: The Communication Method
PMs still spend most of their day communicating. The change from the past is in the method of this communication. Previously, PMs moved from conference room to conference room, obtaining updates and syncing up “the plan”. Today, time is spent moving from conference bridge to conference bridge. The convenience these virtual meetings has created is great for teams in general, but presents incredible challenges from a management perspective. Scheduling meetings with team members on different continents and keeping track of the numerous different communication channels that often change from client to client can be daunting. Keeping the project on track requires a change in communication methods.
The Solution: Internal Communication Plan, Project Communication Plan and Project Charter
One of the most important components of an organization’s strategy is to have a clear Internal Communication Plan that all team members must be aware of. The first step is to determine what are the formal and informal communication channels, what is the decision making process, who is empowered to make the final decision, how and where the information will be disseminated, and what tools will be used for the type of information gathered, among others.
At MC+A we use several tools to keep our team aligned across multiple projects. We use Slack for Instant Messaging, Google Drive to work collaboratively in documents, Atlassian JIRA to track feature implementation and bug fixing, JIRA Confluence to share project knowledge, and Google Hangouts for daily scrums and project internal checkpoints. These are just examples of solutions that may help your company’s internal communications be more proficient.
The second step is integrating the Internal Communication Plan and the Project Communication Plan. The communication landscape changes for every project and with every client’s stakeholder, so this integration must be always under review.
At MC+A we manage project risk and delivery through Project Communication Plans. Successfully engaging in good communication planning helps guarantee timely and efficient generation, gathering, storage, and dissemination of project information. Project communication planning is straightforward and simple. Our PMs define the appropriate communication objectives and channels for each stakeholder and team.
The last step would be for the PMs to set the rules for communication and get the team to buy in through an upfront contract in the form of our Project Charter.
Here is a quick example:
- During our Sales-to-Service handoff, the PM and Sales team define stakeholders. We classify stakeholders into two categories: (1) directly or (2) indirectly impacted by project outcomes. We then create a plan for communication, identifying any deltas between stakeholders. It is a simple exercise of who, what, when and how.
- The Project Charter is then distributed during project initiation. Stakeholders are directly engaged and informed as to the communication management plan (note: a key is to make this and all project artifacts available to the stakeholders where they need it).
- Take the time to go through the artifacts and directly push for feedback and signoff.
- Wash, rinse and repeat for each project artifact.
At MC+A our typical Project Communication Plan includes several checkpoints to keep the client’s stakeholders and internal team members on top of project activities. According to the project size, we determine the necessity of periodical project status (daily or weekly) apart from specific technical meetings to work in determined project issues. The project plan is always updated to keep the latest picture of the activities. For every project, we also have a RAID Log artifact to register and manage all the Risks, Assumptions, Issues, and Dependencies discovered during the project life. These are just some examples of the assets we are continuously improving to deliver a premium service to our customers and end users.
“By seeking and blundering we learn.” – Goethe
The tools and techniques mentioned in this blog are a summary of our experience working on our countless projects, and we keep iterating on the same concept. Communication is the art of nurturing our personal, work, and community relationships. When working on a project we should all keep in mind at least the following:
- Have clarity on who is our project champion on the client side. A “C” level sponsor would be the key to open those jammed doors at critical points during the project and also help you to keep client’s team aligned to the project objectives.
- Understand the problem the client wants to solve and the role of the solution in the internal process. If you have clarity on how the solution integrates to the current client’s landscape, then you will be able to show the value your solution has for the organization.
- Bring value in short iterations. At MC+A our work is based in short sprints to deliver tangible project assets to the customer from early stages of the project until the final delivery date. This helps you to track project progress and rapidly identify issues that can risk any project dimension.
- Play safe, don’t try to be the hero consultant. Most of the clients want the definitive solution, and they want it now. It is your responsibility to show the project’s safest path to success. Nobody wants to become the road blocker in the client’s critical path.
- Always ask the security questions. No matter how sure the client is about your proposal complying their security standards, have a separate meeting with the security team, explain your solution architecture, and work collaboratively to overcome any gaps between the proposed solution and their internal security policies.
- Use tested technology. Believe me; no client likes to be the guinea pig. Choose your technology stack with prudence and be always on top of reliable new releases and new market players.
- Implement reports monitoring the solution performance. When integrating with existing systems, your solution will be exposed to failure due to its interdependence and coexistence with other software. Your support engineers will appreciate having detailed information about system usage to determine if a failure is caused by internal or external bugs.
- Learn from your and others mistakes. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel in every new project. Document your past experiences and always refer to them when starting a new project. Your future will appreciate it.
Nobody has the magical recipe, but at least give a try to these quick tips. I’m sure they will help you perform your projects better, and your customers will be happier.