Communication is an important part of any project, but it seems to me that strategic initiatives need even more of a focus on engaging stakeholders and communicating effectively. With a strategic project there is far more to lose if the message doesn’t get across in a way that creates commitment and action.
Having said that, I don’t think that the core principles of communication are that different between strategic projects and other types of work like smaller projects. There are, however, some considerations that are worth calling out so that you can make your strategic project communications as effective as possible.
There are 3 questions to answer when carrying out the communications activity on your strategic project:
- Who are you communicating with?
- What are you communicating about?
- How are you communicating?
Let’s look at each of those in a bit more detail.
1. Who Are You Communicating With?
There are different levels of communication on a project – and strategic initiatives are no different. I can explain by showing you how one of my strategic projects dealt with communications to different audiences. We had a number of stakeholder groups:
- Core project team
- Wider project team
- Internal users
- External users
Each of these needed different types and frequency of communications.
The core project team got weekly meeting minutes from our team meeting, with the actions, tasks and deliverables. The day-to-day stuff that they needed to do their jobs.
The wider project team comprised people who were subject matter experts and interested in the project but not to the level that they needed to attend a weekly meeting. These people got a weekly round up email covering the progress, challenges and key news from the week.
Internal users is a broad group, and they were segmented into change management champions, who were supporting their departments during the delivery phase, and their colleagues. These two different audiences needed slightly different communications to reflect their level of knowledge about the project and what needed to be done.
External users received communications as and when we had something relevant to say to them. They were very much part of the comms plan, but not privy to the internal workings of the project team – it wasn’t relevant to them and wouldn’t have been appropriate to share this information with them.
The general rule is: tell people what they need to know at the time they need to know it. So the different groups on your projects will receive communications in a timely manner. This is particularly important for strategic projects because there is often a lot to say, over a long period of time.
2. What Are You Communicating About?
Strategic projects often need communication about the vision and mission, the overall goals. This can be more important than the day-to-day information or the ‘how to’ information because when you are delivering something important and transformative, you need to bring people along with you.
Think about the types of message you need to get out there:
- Sharing the vision and creating a roadmap to the future state
- Practical guidance on what the changes mean for individuals
- ‘Next steps’ and ‘things to do now’ communication at a very transactional or tactical level that helps teams take action to step them closer to reaching the strategic goals.
All of these need to be combined to create the full message for your strategic delivery. However, be careful about over-communicating too. Space out your messages so that people don’t suffer from overwhelm.
Top Tip: Make sure there are feedback loops built into how you communicate so that you get to hear if the messages aren’t having the desired effect. Then you can quickly move to do something about it to ensure you get the results you need.
3. How Are You Communicating?
There is a range of new-ish technology that can help you deliver communications effectively. You could look at:
- Slack-type social networks
- Intranets and microsites
- Chat bots
- Video on demand or live videos
And more. This is on top of the ‘normal’ project emails and newsletters. I think that for strategic projects it’s more incumbent on us to come up with innovative ways to get the message across. There is more requirement for the messages to ‘stick’ and make an impact, and technology can help achieve that.
Think about the tools available to do that and how you could make the best use of what you have.
Creating A Repeatable Communication Process
Many strategic projects feel like one-off initiatives – the kind of work where processes couldn’t be repeated because the deliverable is unique or transformative. But there are plenty of benefits to creating a repeatable communication structure within your project, even if you are sure that the processes couldn’t be reused elsewhere (and you might be surprised at how much could be reused on other strategic projects).
- Having a process for your communications has huge advantages including:
- Everyone knows what they have to do to get a comms drafted, approved and issued
- Stakeholders know what to expect in relation to the format and frequency of communications
- You stop thinking about how to do the comms and are free to spend more time thinking about the messages within it.
This last one is huge, and the main reason for me that processes and repeatability is so important in projects. I have so much work to do that involves critical thinking, analysis, conflict resolution and the like that I don’t want to spend much time thinking about the transactional steps involved in getting a comms out.
I want a simple checklist or process that says what I do, who needs to read it (which will differ depending on what is in it) and how it gets distributed. Every time a communication is required, I can go back to the same steps and use my brain power for something else instead.
Answering these three questions and constantly considering your communications in relation to your deliverables, will help you manage strategic project communications effectively.
How do you plan and manage communications on your strategic projects? Tweet us @2080StrategyEx. We’d love to hear about how you get the message out about your key initiatives.