Often, IT project failures and budget/time overruns can be attributed to a poor communications plan—or to the complete lack of a plan.
IT projects require more agility because of iterations at various stages of the project life cycle (such as requirements and analysis, architecture, design, construction, integration and testing, and implementation). With so many iterations, sparse and infrequent communication between stakeholders (external and internal) can adversely affect project success.
Unlike larger enterprises, small businesses lack detailed processes and structures, which makes communication an even bigger challenge for them. This is a recipe for project failure.
A well-defined communication plan can help IT project managers reduce the risk of project failure. It will ensure that team members are always aware of iterations, eliminate expensive rework, and introduce greater adaptability to the constant and swift technological changes in the project life cycle.
This article aims to help small-business IT project managers build a communication plan for their IT projects. We look at Gartner’s “Effective Communications: How to Develop a Communications Plan” report (content available to Gartner clients) for the essential components of building an effective communication plan.
Components of an effective IT project communication plan
In this section, we discuss each component and how IT project managers can improve each component. Listed below are the eight crucial components of an effective communication plan.
Now, let’s look at these components in detail.
Purpose: Be clear about the intent of the communication
According to Gartner, every communication must have a purpose. Here are some common examples:
- To inform recipients about necessary updates
- To request or encourage people to act
- To position the plan of action in context of the larger vision
- To consult, in order to come up with better ideas
- To be a champion who inspires people to stay engaged during any changes
As an IT project manager, here’s what you can do:
- Be clear about the purpose of your communication. Don’t over- or under-communicate. Make your communication short and crisp.
- Pay attention to soft skills during verbal communication. Use voice modulation, body gestures, and the right tone to discuss different circumstances faced in your IT project.
Communicator: Identify a person to deliver the message
Gartner notes that the person who communicates the information is as important as the information itself. As an IT project manager, you know that communication happens at various levels during a project life cycle between the following people:
- Project team members
- Project teams
- Project managers
- Project managers and team members
- Clients and project managers
IT projects require agility. That’s why the communicator should possess the latest, most accurate information about a project at all times. Consult with your team before any client calls to ensure that you are communicating the right message.
Here are a few things that communicators should remember/do to ensure successful communication in an IT project:
- Set processes to document change for easy reference.
- Foster team communication on a centralized platform and lead these discussions.
- Meet with stakeholders for regular project updates.
- Discuss your team’s challenges, limitations, and capacity before over-committing to the client.
- Know where the project stands and what changes are taking place.
- Form a key group of people who can communicate with clients and address their concerns about any technical and operational challenges.
Stakeholders: Identify the right people to target
You should know which individuals need to get which messages. This ensures that the message being conveyed is appropriate and contextualized, all with the aim of rendering it effective. The parameters of contextualization include various factors that impact the receiver’s perception, such as their culture, language, and technical proficiency.
As an IT project manager, consider creating a database of stakeholders and categorizing them to define their level of engagement and participation in the project. Based on this analysis, you can then filter which emails and communication are sent to them.
Example of a stakeholder info card
|Susan Cliff||Project Lead, Marketing||Internal stakeholder, technically proficient||
||Share project status and have her send customer feedback on the new product feature.|
IT project managers should also have templates for email communication to clients and senior management. These templates will help communicators appropriately draft their messages.
Messages: Communicate only the relevant information
For effective communication, the role of a receiver is as important as the role of a communicator. This component requires you to understand the mind space of the message recipients before communicating with them. In short, anticipate what the receivers expect from the communication.
As an IT project manager, ask yourself the following questions before you send out any information to your team:
- Is the message necessary for the team?
- What does it mean for them at a personal level and organizational level?
- What would you and the receivers achieve from the communication?
Based on these questions, you can decide which messages to send or not send. For small business IT project managers, this can be tougher because of limited resources and having to juggle multiples roles and responsibilities on their own.
Imagine the following scenario in your small business: A team member is handling product development and leading the team as a project manager. You want the person to step up into a new role to boost productivity.
When you communicate with them, cover the whys, hows, and whats. Don’t just inform them about the situation and give orders. This will keep them engaged and help them understand the larger purpose of the business decision.
You should also consider eliminating any information components that aren’t relevant for others on the team (e.g., details about a person’s performance as a product developer or team leader).
Delivery method: Identify the preferred mode of communication
IT project managers should know that different messages need to be conveyed using different communication platforms such as emails, one-on-one meetings, company chat tools, and audio-videoconferencing. They should know which communication platform is the most effective for the team and project stakeholders.
Here are a few methods of communication to choose from, based on suitability to the stage of your project life cycle:
- Live meeting: Having face-to-face discussions with your team means that you convey the information in real time. Live meetings are great to discuss ideas about your IT project through all its phases—right from the requirements and analysis to implementation.
- Conference audio/video calls: Audio and video calls suit small businesses with interdependent IT teams in different locations. Audio calls work for discussing specific, important updates during the architecture, design, construction, integration and testing, and implementation phases of an IT project.
- Instant messaging and chat/discussion boards: IT projects need continuous discussions, especially during the requirements analysis, design, and construction phases. Your team can discuss feedback and collate ideas using instant messaging and chat or discussion boards. However, you should be able to retrieve chats and discussions for reference at any given time.
- Email: These work best when there are contractual changes in the project budget or time and date of the final product within an IT project life cycle. However, avoid using emails as your core channel of communication as it can lead to missed updates.
- Collaboration apps: These offer functionalities ranging from document sharing and chat to audio-video calling. We recommend investing in a collaboration app for a secure mode of communication, and to centralize project information during your design, construction, integration, and test and implementation stages.
While we’ve compiled several modes and methods of communication here, the final decision should be based on your unique business needs.
Here are our recommendations on deciding which communication method to use:
- Review your past IT projects to understand which mode of communication worked best for your team then.
- Conduct a survey of your team (and any relevant external stakeholders) and listen to their suggestions to understand their preferred mode of communication.
Delivery frequency: Don’t over- or under-communicate
The frequency of communication determines the impact of communication. Over-communication puts the communicator at risk of being ignored, while under-communication results in a lack of information.
Here are a few considerations for IT project managers regarding the frequency of their communication:
- Maintain a record of IT activities and the frequency of updates that you send to your team. If you have automated your updates, then restrict the number of notifications.
- Send out immediate communication during a crisis or emergency and ensure that you communicate frequently.
- Hold frequent face-to-face meetings to inspire and encourage your team members. Keep them engaged with frequent communication, but ensure that you don’t waste their time either.
- Run a survey in your team and with external stakeholders about their preferences on the frequency of your communication.
Feedback: Solicit team feedback about communication strategy
According to the Gartner report cited at the beginning of this piece, “Communication involves soliciting the ideas and opinions of others and then using that feedback to refine your message, identify additional stakeholders, improve your timing and measure your success.”
As an IT project manager, ask your team to provide constructive, consistent, and frequent feedback on the project communication strategy.
Here’s how to do that:
- Have an open discussion forum to encourage your team to report any communication challenges they might have during the project life cycle. They should report it quickly and expect resolutions within hours.
- Deploy frequent online surveys and hold one-on-one discussions often to improve and adapt your strategy. Set a turnaround time for feedback to ensure that you receive it on time.
- Follow-up with your team after implementing any changes regarding their issues.
Measures of success: Record what went right and what went wrong
Measuring the success of your communication strategy is vital, as it tells you if you’re headed in the right direction.
As an IT project manager, do the following to ensure success:
- Analyze employee feedback to understand whether the communication meets the purpose, which is unique for each message. Rule out the daily messages and chats within the teams but focus on the occasional, yet important, events such as team briefings about the project or client calls.
- Review past projects and note the hits and misses that were contingent on communication with stakeholders. Based on those parameters, analyze your current IT project to gauge the success/failure of your communication strategy.
- Share the analysis with your team to keep their productivity and engagement levels high.
Overall benefits of having a communication plan for IT projects
Let’s recap the high-level benefits of having a communication plan:
- Helps your team understand their responsibilities when they receive an update and stay on track with their overall goals.
- Prevents duplicate work or rework that could overrun the project budget.
- Allows you to onboard newcomers or new project members faster as they can refer to past documents and communication at any time.
- Lets your team ideate more and provide feedback to each other for product improvement.
Here’s what you can start doing immediately to boost communication at your small business:
- Develop a communication plan for your IT project. Here’s a sample from Gartner to get you started:
|Measures of Success|
- Have a stakeholder management process. Keep a list of active and inactive stakeholders that you update frequently. Note their preferred communication channels, and keep alternative contacts handy if the key stakeholder is unavailable.
- Avoid difficult or stringent protocols when it comes to your internal stakeholders to maintain idea and iteration fluidity.
- Make document sharing a best practice. Be sure to define the sharing protocols for your team to ensure secure sharing with contractual employees and freelancers.
- Train team members on your communication channel/tools to ensure that they use it productively.
Read on to discover
- Explore IT project management software to create product roadmaps, track team progress, and share reports with your team.
- Explore project management software with communication management features to boost communication.