Talking the talk

A lack of effective communication can herald the death knell of any project.

Guy Jelley
By Guy Jelley, one of the founders of Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution provider, Post Vision Technology, and is the company’s CEO.
Johannesburg, 05 May 2011

As project managers know all too well, poor communications can spell disaster for any project, yet regular project and feedback meetings are also costly and time-consuming.

The Chaos Summary 2009 research report by the Standish Group revealed that only 32% of all projects are successfully delivered on time, within budget and with the required outcomes. The report further stated that 44% of projects were challenged by running over the prescribed timelines, being over budget or resulted in less than the required features and functions.

In addition, 24% failed outright, meaning they were cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used - that's nearly one in four projects, a truly frightening statistic.

Another study by Kathy Schwalbe on IT project successes rated user involvement as the most important success criterion for IT projects. This is echoed by the Standish Group, which states that user involvement is one of three major influences on a project's success, along with executive management support and a clear statement of requirements. It also found that a lack of user input was the greatest challenge in project management.

Stakeholder analysis

In practice, project communication ties back to stakeholder analysis, which is the process of identifying the individuals or groups that are likely to affect or be affected by a proposed change, and understanding them according to their support for the change and the impact the change will have on them. This information is then used to assess how the interests of those stakeholders should be addressed in project planning, communication and change management.

Stakeholder analysis is frequently used during the initiation and planning phases of a project.

Guy Jelley is CEO of Post Vision Technology.

Stakeholder analysis is frequently used during the initiation and planning phases of a project to gauge the attitudes of the stakeholders regarding the potential changes. It can be conducted once or on a regular basis to track changes in stakeholder attitudes over time, and users can generally be identified and graded using most project and portfolio management (PPM) tools.

Therefore, stakeholder analysis has the goal of developing collaboration between the stakeholder and the project team, and ultimately, assuring successful outcomes for the project. Stakeholder analysis is performed when clarification of the consequences of envisaged changes is needed or at the beginning of new projects, and in connection with organisational changes generally. It is critical to identify all stakeholders for the purpose of identifying their success criteria and turning these into quality goals.

Building on this the communication to the identified stakeholders is thus key - ensuring the correct people get the right information at the right time and in the right format based on an understanding of their support and impact. But, while the importance of project communication cannot be denied, the costs involved in achieving user involvement can be prohibitive if project teams do not work smartly.

Time is money

For example, if a project team of 10 people meets weekly for an hour, it takes up 10 work hours per week and 40 hours per month. At an average rate of R500 per person per hour, these meetings can essentially cost R20 000 per month. When managing 10 projects, it can equate to a whopping R200 000 per month for team meetings alone.

In a business environment where time is money, organisations have no choice but to find a balance between improving project communication and user involvement.

The solution to the problem is simple, very practical and cost-efficient. There are common trends among organisations that have managed to attain optimal communications without excessive meetings.

Most of these companies implement a Web-based project collaboration platform accessible from anywhere to everyone involved in the project, not just the project managers. A general requirement is that it must be a user friendly application that can be utilised by the entire project team, irrespective of a team member's project management skills or maturity. The selected tool also addresses specific communication needs and doesn't merely provide a reporting functionality.

Lastly, it ensures that project team members provide real-time updates regarding the status of work items, issues, concerns and risks so that team meetings address matters by exception instead of serving as a status update and information gathering session.

In essence, when selecting a tool to enhance project communication, it must be capable of becoming the single communication portal for an entire organisation, providing access to key information to understand the strategic context, project focus, individual project health and progress made on the project portfolios.