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Is No News Really Good News?

  • November 01 2004, 1:00am EST

We all know communication is important. We know that we need to keep everyone informed about our progress. Why don't we do a better job? We have good intentions; but in reality, project communications are weak. When starting a project, we discuss who we need involved, and we set up the project team and a schedule for reporting project status. What else do you need to do? I recommend that you develop a communication plan to identify who needs to be kept informed, at what level of detail and the frequency. However, the most important key to successful communication is to do it! Let's take a closer look at the different kinds of communication that you need to address.

Project status meetings and reports. This is the most commonly used and understood communication vehicle. The status meetings should include team members from IT and the business. The purpose is to ensure that everyone knows what is happening with all parts of the project, share successes and identify issues. Meetings should be short and sweet - no more than one hour on a weekly basis. A status report provides a written summary of progress and includes detail that expects the reader to have knowledge about the project.

IT management meetings. You should meet face-to-face with IT management at least once each month. We are typically more comfortable discussing our project with our managers. These should be considered working sessions. Discuss technical, data and systems-related problems and cover business-related issues too. When possible, the team should propose solutions or approaches to address issues. IT managers are there to help you. Tap into their experience for ideas of how to address problems and who else might be able to help.

Target business users. Identify everyone from the business areas who will participate in the requirements gathering process, review data models, define business calculations and support the project. This is the group whose interest you want to cultivate. On a monthly basis, write a brief summary of the progress. This should have a marketing flair to "sell" the project and expected results. The objective is to retain some awareness within the business community of your efforts. Sometimes, the only news is that you are still working hard and the project is still on schedule. Post the project status summary on your data warehousing Web site and e-mail the summary to the group previously identified.

Business sponsors and managers. On a monthly basis, you will also want to meet face-to-face with key business representatives. This may be a steering committee or individual managers of the groups who will be users of the data mart. A presentation should be created to review the project purpose and progress to date, and to highlight concerns. Keep a business perspective. Present problems in business terms and state the cause and effect of the problem. These people rely on you to get into the nitty-gritty details, but they only want to know where we stand at the end of the day.

Executive business sponsors. Key executives set the tone for business participation in your data warehousing initiative. They need to know how the project is going and, more importantly, what we need from the business community to ensure success. Conduct a short briefing approximately every six weeks. Plan to present for 15 minutes and leave another 15 minutes for discussion. This is your opportunity to share insights, air concerns and get help. You gain firsthand knowledge to keep your project in the proper business perspective.

Informal communication. In addition to intentional project-specific actions, each individual team member is a voice to the rest of the organization via discussions with managers, friends and other colleagues. The messages and impressions of a project team that is working well mirror the official project communications. The worst case is if you sugarcoat your project communications - then project team members are likely to spill the beans and tell the truth. The solution is not to threaten team members to keep quiet, but to be honest and open about project status.

The project briefing. The process of developing a briefing provides several benefits. First, it forces you to have a clear, concise message of your project's goals and progress. Second, you must step back and realistically assess progress. Third, you need to articulate the source of challenges, problems or delays. Finally, you must directly address what you plan to do about it. This reflection helps you get your arms around the project and keep things moving.

Lessons from experience. We are typically happy to report our progress when things are going well. If we are facing imminent disaster, we shout for all the help we can get. Sometimes, we think that what we have to say is not important. If you are too silent, your project can get "lost" in the many different priorities facing the business.

One of the most critical times to keep communicating is when you are stalled. You may not have a huge problem yet, but there is something in the way of moving forward. Executive and business sponsors can be invaluable in helping remove these roadblocks. Don't be afraid to brief them and get their help!

Develop your communication plan up front. Identify the participants, the format and frequency of the different types of communication. Then follow through and make it happen! Clear, concise and frequent communication can help your team to be successful in spite of many other hurdles or problems that come your way.

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