On a course recently a participant offered a throw-away comment during a discussion on stakeholder engagement: “I find there is so much stuff I have to do that I don’t have the time for communications”. This seemed to sum up for me the way projects and change teams deal with communications and why a lot of change initiatives fail for a lack of good communication! The question is: what can we do about it?
I can see two things that need to be done to address this problem:
- A basic time management approach in projects and change teams based on separating urgent tasks from important tasks.
- Better planning for communications and recognition of the huge amount of resource that effective communications requires.
Important versus Urgent
It is really easy in a fast moving project and change environment to be faced with an overwhelming tide of urgent issues that need attention. Project managers are famous for their fire fighting skills. However, a project manager that spends all their time fire fighting is not in control and is suffering from a serious lack of planning and preparation!
Project managers in particular, and change team team members (who are mostly experienced line managers), need to be able to separate urgent from important tasks and be ready to focus on the important. There is plenty of advice and tools to help with doing this and acquiring good habits.
Communications is particularly easy to put off in the face of urgent tasks which have an immediate impact. Communications takes a lot of time and intellectual effort to do, especially to do well. And when its done there is often no immediate impact; just a small ratcheting of change in some people’s mindset. If the communications activity is late, or missed altogether, then who is to know? The missed communications effect is cumulative until suddenly the project or change is way behind schedule and costs are escalating. Here is a little story to illustrate the idea.
Planning for communications
Effective communications starts with effective planning in the design stage of a project or change initiative. The planning starts with stakeholder identification and analysis. See our course on stakeholder engagement for more.
As the various communications activities are identified and put into a plan a crucial step is to allocate resources to the activities. Then you can be sure that there is resource in the project to do communications. The project manager or change team leader now need to see that ring-fencing that resource for communications is important. They must not fritter the resource on urgent tasks. Hopefully they will also have put in resource for such tasks as well!
Complaining about not having enough time to do communications, in any project or change, is a sign of poor planning and poor management. It is a signal to a sponsor or third party assessor that a number of problems are not being well managed and that this change is probably not going to succeed. Where do you see yourself here?