Or, we try to tell them but they don’t quite understand. Or we just talk to senior stakeholders and ignore the rest.
Here are five ways communications can go wrong.
1. Treating communications like a luxury
The change manager – or dedicated communications officer on big programmes – is often the first to be cut, if indeed the investment has been made in hiring one to start with. The logic here is that running a good communications operation is secondary to delivery activities and, in one memorable case, I’ve heard clients refer to such roles as ‘walking headcount’, meaning their days are numbered.
However, as many teams quickly find out, there is very little on a project that does not fall within a communications officer’s remit: obvious work such as keeping end users informed of a project’s progress and probable impact but also vital but more subtle work like managing different types of stakeholder, creating alignment in messaging, getting buy-in and support. Without this, most BAs managers quickly find themselves sinking and having to dedicate much of their time to this work – taking it away from ‘delivery’.
2. Failing to manage tricky customers effectively
As every contractor, consultant or internal BA knows, stakeholders can be a difficult crowd. Personalities vary, irrespective of seniority: one likes detail and weekly updates, one just wants the headlines and a quarterly steer co; another refuses to read emails but claims to have not been informed; others vie for political advantage over their colleagues at the expense of all other agendas.
Ineffective strategies for dealing with these situations include ignoring difference, trying to pander to everyone or taking the situation personally rather than seeing it as a communications challenge. Through this lens, all inter-personal friction can be mitigated and every stakeholder can be managed; indeed, the only failure is to give up and stop trying new approaches.
3. Creating an information vacuum, allowing gossip
Many projects become their own worlds, often seeing the multitudes of stakeholders who will ultimately be affected by the project’s outcome as an afterthought. Well, people talk and a lack of information will be addressed through gossip. Before you know it, stakeholders will believe your project has nefarious goals or – perhaps worse – that you are going to make all of the organisation’s problems go away.
Clear communications are the only way to manage this, ideally presented by a client stakeholder with good rapport with the affected groups.
4. Being boring
We go to work and – for whatever reason – we think everyone else suddenly wants to be bored out of their minds. So we fill our emails with tired jargon or we inflict long PowerPoint presentations on our colleagues or we feign enthusiasm in the hope our project team will feel motivated. But, our brains in the office are the same as they are outside the office: same attention span, same interests, same intelligence. Not using this fact and communicating in a similar way to how we are accustomed outside the office is a mistake that is sure to see your message being lost or ignored.
Business analysts are particularly culpable. Sometimes, we manage to be both dull and over-bearing to our stakeholders – or try to inject ‘fun’ that numbs the mind of on-lookers. The best approach here tends to be to deliver simple messages, ideally with no more than one or two slides in support. With so many free third party tools available, many of us could also consider playing with well-formatted html emails, infographics, video presentations; but it is rare such media replace the strength of a solid and impactful presentation.
5. Being slow
Many projects that do have a dedicated change officer responsible for communications spend a long time devising a strategy, defining which communications go to which people at which times. This is useful in principle but often they are encumbered by having to get approval for the plan – or individual communications - from unavailable stakeholders or of over-ambitious and costly strategies that end up either never being implemented or rushed at the last minute. Communications are, by their nature, newsworthy – and news must be delivered while it is still new.
Business analysts on projects of all sizes need fixes for these issues to allow them to focus more on the day-to-day running of their projects. If you want to explore ways to address these issues and manage your communications allowing more time for higher-value project activities, please feel free to reach out to the writer of this article.