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Is Communications a Lecture or a Conversation?

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Over the years, I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – a deep respect for communication professionals in all aspects of business. I recently came across a report from the Project Management Institute (PMI) which quantifies the impact of communications on project effectiveness. This is important reinforcement for the role of communications. However, after looking at the results and recommendations, I find myself wondering if some of our own IT-based assumptions, reflected in the PMI report, cause us to miss half the value of the communications world.

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

The high cost of low communications

According to the 2013 PMI report, The High Cost of Low Performance:The Essential Role of Communications, “In the context of organizational project and program management, communications is a core competency that, when properly executed, connects every member of a project team to a common set of strategies, goals and actions.”

And the PMI goes to some length to quantify how critical this core competency is in mitigating project risk and ensuring effective project results. The report is rich with data points, including:

  • 56% of project risk costs are due to communications issues.
  • Executives report that effective communications is “associated with a 17 percent increase in finishing projects within budget.”(Based on a PwC survey)
  • an “average of four out of five projects that are communicated with sufficient clarity and detail—communicated in the language of the audience—meet their original business goals and intent, compared to just over half of projects when communications are not sufficiently clear and detailed.”
  • “highly-effective communicators are five times more likely to be high performers than minimally-effective communicators.”

The way forward

The PMI report authors are clear about recommending four steps “to improve their communications and become high performers,”

  1. Close the communications gap around business benefits.
  2. Tailor communications to different stakeholder groups.
  3. Acknowledge the value of project management, including project management communications.
  4. Use standardized project communications practices, and use them effectively.

The report’s conclusion is straightforward: “Project success is dependent upon communicating the right information to the appropriate stakeholders using clear and relevant language that resonates with the audience.”

 Are we missing something here?

This is all very neat and tidy.  IT professionals do things like that. The report and its recommendations contain phrases like “standardized practices”, “formal communications plan”, “communications tasks”, “communicate benefits to“,etc.

Nothing wrong there, but it all sounds very uni-directional.  It sounds like we (IT/Project Managers) develop the plan, create the required tasks, do the alignment and then let Communication folks tell the others.

When taken to an extreme, this can reinforce the impression some users (including senior executives) have that IT professionals are inherently arrogant.  We know what is right and we will tell you what it is.

Communications – the Rx for Arrogant Symptoms

The vast majority of IT professionals I know are not arrogant.  We do like things in tight packages that can ultimately be reduced to ones and zeros, but we are willing to listen and talk.

And that’s where a good communication professional can help.  The same way that we have tools to distill vague aspirations into real requirements, Communications pros can facilitate discussions where everyone with an interest can provide input, and the enterprise can emerge with a plan that best serves all stakeholders.

Going forward from that, the Communications pros can facilitate dissemination of information and get feedback from impacted users.  Communications folks call these ‘conversations’.

The takeaway .. look for intersections of interest

What I’ve learned is that it never hurts and, more often than not, helps to have an on-going relationship with whomever is responsible for Communications.  I want to know what challenges she/he is facing , what he/she is seeing as opportunities.  And then I want her/him to know what I see on the horizon, and begin dialogue where there are intersections of interest.

When projects become formal, and when crises occur (stuff happens, afterall), Communications and IT can leverage the work – and relationships – that have been put in place to move forward in a natural fashion.

So, … Let’s talk …

What do you think?  Do you see a partnerships between IT and Communications part of the routine in the industry, or is it an exception?  What are the benefits of closer collaboration?  What are the down sides?

Communications folks … What are the good points in your relationship with IT?  What could be improved?

Inquiring minds want to know …..

 

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