The methods adopted to communicate essential information will largely be dependent on the size and scale of the specific project. Typical methods may include verbal, written, one-way flow or interactive and collaborative.
In projects with large project teams and stakeholder groups, the ability to rely on verbal communication will be reduced and you will need to improve and increase the level and quality of documentation. Written communication provides for a permanent record, which can be essential not only for repeated referral during the project but for audit evidence after the project or during the post project review. There may also be other practical or legal factors to be considered, including such things as data privacy/protection, accessibility, language etc.
As stakeholder groups become even more distributed, the risk of dilution of clarity and interference with the message grows, and the danger of official information being overtaken by gossip, rumour and the informal ‘grapevine’ increases. For larger scale projects, greater use of cross-functional, inter-departmental, and inter-organisational communication channels and methods become an essential part of the communication plan.
Influencing is a key skill that needs to be considered in the planning stages, when carrying out your stakeholder analysis, and needs to be taken forward in the project phases.
Methods of communication you may need to consider include:
Face to face informal communication
Underused in these days of email but invaluable for discerning the message behind the words. Body language can tell you a lot about what a person really thinks regardless of whether they are agreeing with you verbally or not.
Quite often we will email someone who only sits in the next room – or even at the other side of the same room, ‘because an email is recorded’. There is nothing to stop a record of a face to face meeting being created.
Useful to reach a mass audience. Beware though if what you have to say is controversial or bad news for some of the audience then you will engender a lot of resentment and create resistance through using such a vehicle, where delegates feel unable to challenge you or to ask questions because there are so many people present.
Effective where supported by the organisational culture, and where sent by the right person. Emails that look as though they are selling something or that come from people the recipient has never heard of, are at high risk of being deleted without being read as they will be seen as potential spam.
VLE/intranet web pages
Effective for the provision of detailed information for those who need to know and who know where to look. Anyone who might find the information useful but who doesn’t immediately need it is unlikely to find the time to go looking for it.
Newsletter can be good for general awareness, if (and this is a pretty big ‘if’) the newsletter is usually interesting and colourful and therefore well read throughout the organisation. Including detailed information that is not relevant for all readers is unhelpful. Note the huge difference between ‘well read’ and ‘well distributed’…
Effective for change messages or promotion for single issues although notice boards are not always the best place to put a notice that you want read.
Manuals and formal project documents
Good for detailed information eg code lists, user guides etc. These kinds of documents are often essential to the success and continued organisational embedding of a project and can have a significantly higher impact where they are also made available electronically.
We recommend a dedicated area on the organisational intranet for any project. However you cannot rely on this alone for all communications as even the best web pages will never be visited by everyone who should visit or who could benefit from them.
Blogs are a good way of keeping people up-to-date, again, providing that there is a good reason for people to visit. You cannot assume that people with only a passing interest, or those who actively resist the project, will take the time to go looking for positive information.