Friday, 04 October 2019 08:58

Stories vs. Status: Large, complex projects call for roles that are defined and aligned from the start

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It’s clear what great communication looks like.

We know it when we see it. But there's almost universal confusion about the critical difference between strategic communication, project management communication, and change management. When this confusion is brought into large, complex projects, it can create waste, ineffective resourcing and dissatisfied stakeholders.

In most organizations, the people who perform these three distinct functions have built their expertise on very different professional backgrounds. Yet how many times has a project manager been asked to produce a strategic communications plan – or a strategic communication manager been asked to handle the "team" communications on a large project?

As business increases in speed, scale and complexity, clearing up this confusion is more important than ever. Just as each function is critical to success, so is learning how to resource, structure and execute each of them effectively – without tripping over each other.

It's all about clarity.

When your organization is clear up front about these three distinct functions – strategic communication, change management and project communication – you have the power to drive your most important strategic work forward.

Who does what?

It's useful to think of these functions in terms of what drives them:

  • Story. Strategic communicators use storytelling to move employees' hearts and minds and get everyone on board to advance broad organizational objectives. They support employee engagement, leadership and growth by sharing timely and meaningful news across the organization. They speak on behalf of the organization and often own the voice of the organization internally and externally.
  • Status. Project managers use communications to deliver project-specific information to relevant parties and ensure that all objectives, plans, risks and time constraints are clear and aligned. They speak on behalf of the project—but not the organization.
  • Transformation. Change management experts help employees make successful transitions to new roles, responsibilities and ways of working. They connect people to the reason for change and move the organization to help assimilate to the needed level of change. When done well, change management increases the business value of what is being delivered. Change management strategies usually accomplish this through tactics using communication, engagement, readiness, training, and enabling strong project sponsorship.

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Build a RACI to define roles and responsibilities

Before developing any project, communication or change management plan, take the time to jointly build a RACI (exercise of identifying stakeholders who will be responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed throughout a project) that clearly defines these overlapping roles and associated responsibilities. Keep your plan and actions aligned with each role; the RACI should only be adjusted to close project gaps or address new discoveries.

Once completed, a RACI can also provide insight on the effort it will take to achieve your project goals and to ensure you're properly staffed for success. Meet with sponsors and key leadership before the project begins to review roles and responsibilities, request additional staffing, or reduce scope as indicated by the RACI.

As part of this effort, decide when and how often to meet – and with whom. Establish a structured meeting cadence to address critical intersections in work deliverables.

Make a plan that aligns roles

Once the RACI is ready to go, how do you ensure that everyone stays in their respective lanes while meeting overall project needs? Project managers, strategic communicators and change managers will each approach planning differently. In order to align them on a project, you need to align how you will manage your deliverables.

  • Format may seem like a minor thing. Yet some programs have struggled for months over how to insert a change management plan into a project management plan. Decide up front which format you'll use, who will manage the plan, and how. If change managers and strategic communicators will be managing their own plans, decide how they will provide project managers with usable updates and core milestones for tracking.
  • Coordinated reporting on progress is essential to staying on track. Project managers, change managers and strategic communicators often report to different people. Make sure all of them are on the same page. Once you've decided on a format for managing your project plan, leverage the same status information into all reports and updates to key stakeholders. This will avoid duplicate and/or uncoordinated reporting, a common source of confusion and wasted effort.

Last but not least, don't let plan management get in the way of work. People need to respect each other's roles and focus on status updates, not the format.

Are people "working at the top of their license?”

In the healthcare world, clinicians are familiar with the term to "work at the top of your license," with each person taking on the work that uses their expertise to the fullest. This should be a rallying cry with every organization that wants be more effective and cost-efficient, while increasing employee satisfaction. Don't waste the valuable skills, dedication and know-how of your internal and/or external resources. When everyone's working at the top of their game, you get the full value of the people you've invested in.

Project management communication, strategic communication, and change management are three very different functions. Organizations that clarify these three distinct roles, and align them before launching a major project, can finesse the integrated structure, message and activities that lead to success.

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Tammy Graves

Tammy Graves is a principal with Point B, an integrated management consulting, venture investment, and real estate development firm. A practical strategist, she has helped organizations bring ideas and goals through chaos, to inception to operations. Her areas of focus include employee engagement and organizational effectiveness, communication and marketing, M&A integration, and strategic planning.

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