The success of a project often comes down to one thing: communications. In our experience, far too many projects fail to meet milestones, miss objectives and goals, or end up costing far more than originally anticipated, simply because clear communications weren’t established right from the start of the project and carried through.
When an investment in IT solutions doesn’t live up to expectations, this can often be attributed to lack of effective communications and the establishment of a formalized communication plan. If the project is pushed through the various phases before the teams discuss shared expectations, what each phase includes, and the potential issues and anomalies that could potentially arise during each phase, the project has a high probability that it will go off the rails at some point.
To ensure successful project outcomes, project leaders must be good communicators. In fact, the Project Management Institute says the biggest part of any project manager’s job, consuming 90 percent of their time, is communicating.
- Set clear objectives
A successful communication plan should begin with clear objectives, milestones, expectations and even escalation paths should something go wrong. The rules of the road should be discussed and agreed to with the key stakeholders on both the client and vendor partner side. While it may seem obvious, it’s important to set up a clear and regular line of communication so team members can report project progress.
- Develop lines of communication
Project leaders can’t be responsible for every aspect of the project, so it’s important to delegate tasks and set up clear lines of communication so team members can quickly and easily report back on what has been accomplished, what’s outstanding, and where problems have arisen. And always share changes to any part of the project with all team members..
- Establish a regular cadence for meetings
Regular meetings are important to allow project risks to be identified and talked about. But since projects and teams are often dispersed across departments and even geographies, it’s of paramount importance to find a variety of ways to communicate effectively and to establish effective lines of communication that can help the project move along fluidly.
A Closer Look: Client Learnings
Let’s take a closer look at what can happen when communications are not part of the project plan from the start.
In a recent client project, we were moving swiftly from phase to phase in implementing a new system. The client’s project team had an aggressive timetable, and while we were aligned on the tasks for each phase, inevitably stakeholders would be asking questions at the end of each development cycle that indicated to us the proper communications was not established from the onset. It was clear that some key decisions or clarifications were taken by functional leads that didn’t take into account other regions or users of the future system.
Were they made aware how the schedule impacted them? Did they understand changes in processes? It was clear they weren’t.
We were able to leverage our experience and lead the client through an exercise to understand the impact on other regions/sites and the broader implications for their processes. While solidifying needs and requirements at the midway point of the project would impact the timeline and overall budget, the client understood the criticality in getting regional leads involved in the decision-making process and fully aligned on the complexity of the project and its potential impact to their functions.
This one decision allowed us to get back on track and guarantee all users’ needs were addressed while ensuring the broader goals and objectives of the organization were being met as well. Having clear communications and more inclusive processes helped them avoid further unexpected starts and stops to the project, but more importantly, ensured greater success for user acceptance post implementation. The client appreciated fme’s expert guidance, ultimately helping them avoid any further costly changes and delays.
fme’s 8 communication tips for a successful project
- At the start of the project, develop a communication plan that maps to the overall project plan and incorporates triggers on when and how to communicate with stakeholders.
- Reach understanding, agreement or consensus about pivotal decisions that could impact processes, schedule or stakeholders’ day-to-day job.
- Manage stakeholder and project team expectations. A key part of communications is understanding the requirements and expectations of stakeholders so they’re “on board” with the changes that need to happen.
- Ensure there is a smooth delegation or handoff of tasks by documenting roles, responsibilities and accountability.
- Identify potential project risks and the communication channels and escalation required to minimize those risks.
- Develop effective methods to report project progress, looking for opportunities to communicate in person or via regular virtual meetings so there is regular and ongoing communication about the project.
- Track progress and let all stakeholders know where the project stands, particularly important as project deliverables or milestones shift.
- Create communication channels to quickly share changes with team members as they arise. For example > SharePoint is one of many tools to store weekly status reports as well as meeting minutes and action items.
When good and ongoing communication is built into a project, problems can quickly be addressed and the stress of failure can be alleviated.