In a previous article on planning communications at the outset of the project (“How to Prevent Project Communication Faux Pas”), I emphasized how such early planning helped to avoid some of the communication pitfalls we can encounter on IT projects. I also indicated how early planning contributes to project success.
One example of planning communication from the beginning comes from personal experience on a recent project for which I provided oversight. The major funding stakeholder required a monthly status report of project progress over the previous month, dollars spent against budget, major risks, and other key performance indicators of project health (largely unstated, thus leaving to our discretion what data to report). Oddly enough, for this particular stakeholder, there was no template to follow or specific format for the status report.
In speaking with my client executive, I determined that we had two choices: 1) enter into an endless communication cycle with the stakeholder to determine exactly what was required in the status report, or 2) develop a format that allowed me the ease of presenting the information in a concise format that I could follow month after month.
Electing to go with option 2, I:
- determined who in the stakeholder organization needed the information;
- developed a template that clearly and logically presented the status, including a synopsis of project-to-date information;
- negotiated on what day each month the stakeholder would receive the information, allowing myself sufficient time to compile it;
- prepared a process whereby the various project teams would make their data available to me, allowing time to quickly compile the report; and
- established where in the client’s folder system the document would be stored for easy access by those in the organization who needed to retrieve it.
You may ask, “what’s the big deal?”
Well, let me begin by referring you to my earlier description of the stakeholder: two words: “major” and “funding.” This simple planning of the requested communication early in the project prevented much work and rework over the lifecycle of the project. It pre-answered numerous ad hoc requests that this stakeholder was known for by synthesizing commonly requested data and information into the status report in readily identifiable sections. Additionally, it gave the stakeholder the impression that the project was being managed well (which of course it was!). A few hours of initial planning saved hundreds of hours of time and effort in status reporting over the life of the project.
As the project progressed, a huge bonus from this pre-planning took shape. I had designed the report such that the entire body of reports over the lifecycle of the project created a library of information from which one could compile a detailed, accurate project history.
A second bonus: we had researched the project audit requirements for the project, and included information that was needed for that purpose. When project audits occurred, we pointed the audit team to the library of reports. No scrambling for data. No time spent in responding to auditor requests for information. Reduced time in meetings explaining various data for the auditors’ purposes. Everything the auditors needed was in the repository.
I can’t forget bonus #3. An external regulatory body requested periodic updates. Though this was an unanticipated request that could have potentially added hundreds of hours of additional effort, I suggested to my client executive that we reuse the reports that were already being produced for the major stakeholder. We could edit them with a few minor tweaks and customize the cover letter for the new request.
We did exactly that. Not only did it save additional countless hours of preparing yet another report for yet another organization, but my client executive received compliments as to the thoroughness of the status that was prepared “just for them.” Serendipitous? Absolutely!
Were we lucky in how we were able to reuse a single project communication artifact for multiple purposes, thus saving hundreds of hours in additional reporting and meetings? Perhaps a little. But not really. Past experience, expert judgment, and time spent up front planning all of our communication resulted in huge cost savings and paved the way for a solid project success.
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