Keys to a Successful Project: Relentless Stakeholder Communication
I have led projects in several different capacities for over 20 years and have learned much about what works and what doesn’t. One thing that is a must is strong communication to all stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders? Anyone that in anyway is affected by the outcome of the project. Executive leaders, managers, process owners, outside contractors, users of the new system or process, vendors, customers, and everyone working directly or indirectly on the project.
As a project sponsor you need your project to be visible to all. If its not visible to your employees, they will think that the project is not very important. This could spell disaster to the project if the end users don’t buy-in to using the new system or process.
Tailored Communication Plan
Every project should have a well thought out communication plan, preferably hammered out before project initiation. The plan must be agreed to by the project sponsors and key stakeholders and suit the culture of the organization.
Here are methods to achieve robust communication and visibility to your project:
A simple one page Project Newsletter is always a good way to update your employees on the new things that are coming their way as a result of the project. Content could include:
- Key dates such as the testing schedule, training session dates and system launch dates
- Accolades and success stories for those involved in the hard work of the project
- Email and phone numbers for users to ask questions
- Identify the project team members and their role on the project
- Alerts for things that will be new to the users
Identify a project activity that is big and involves lots of people. Book a conference room full time or book large blocks of time on certain days. Staff the room with trained project personnel that can assist users with assigned tasks. I set up a war room for users to get help writing their ad hoc reports in the new Hyperion Financial Management system. The hustle and bustle environment generated a lot of excitement for the new system.
Published issue lists
All project managers use issue lists to manage their projects. The key point is that all issue lists are kept current and are visible on-line to all project stakeholders. This provides peace of mind to stakeholders in that they can see that issues are identified, assigned and cleared.
A lot of people complain that they sit in too many meetings and that may be true. But for a project to be successful, status meetings are critical. It’s important to tailor frequency and content of status meetings depending on the audience. I have used the following structure for a large Financial Management system implementation:
- Sponsor meeting: Monthly meeting to review high-level dashboard (green, yellow, red for each project workstream) and get direction on key issues.
- Stakeholder meeting: Weekly meeting to inform stakeholders of progress toward milestones, road blocks, contentious issues, and get input for solutions to problems that arise. It’s often tempting to cancel the Stakeholder meeting if there is not much content. My advice is to hold the meeting anyway. It’s the forum that is important. A stakeholder may have identified a critical issue and was ready to share.
- End user update: These status meetings are designed to keep the end users informed of project timelines and what is expected of them as the go-live approaches.
It is vital to recognize the hard work of the project team frequently and not only at the end of the project. Going out for drinks goes along way to motivate the team as the project moves forward. It’s important for the Project Sponsor to call out success stories and say thank you throughout the life of the project.
Project closing/Lessons learned meeting
It happens all the time. The system is in, it works, and the project team is disbanded without holding a Project Closing Meeting. Powerful information can be gained by bringing the stakeholders together and reviewing what went well and, more importantly, what didn’t. The outcomes of this meeting are critically important to ensure success of your company’s future projects.
Stakeholder communication is critical to the success of any project. As a project sponsor you must ensure that your project manager is relentless on this front.
Bob Meyer is a Partner with Oak Hill Business Partners and a seasoned finance professional. Bob has over 25 years of accounting, financial system implementation, and program management experience in organizations including: KPMG, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Manpower, Case New Holland, and Johnson Controls. Bob has focused on improving effectiveness of financial processes and implementing long-term business growth strategies. His deep base of experience includes bringing creative solutions to business problems and fostering change where required.
Oak Hill Business Partners is a Milwaukee, WI-based firm focused on growth initiatives for small and mid-sized firms needing expertise in finance, sales, marketing, operations, or mergers and acquisitions. In addition, the firm conducts field exams for banks. Most recently, Oak Hill has expanded its line of services to include comprehensive enterprise project management for large organizations. Oak Hill serves the Upper Midwest with partners based in Milwaukee, Madison, and Indianapolis. In 2012 and again in 2013, Oak Hill was named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s List of Top 25 Management Consulting Firms Serving Milwaukee.