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Communicating with Stakeholders

~ By Brad Egeland

Interacting business people

Most of what I like to write about is from the project manager's perspective. And I always maintain that communication is the #1 priority of the project manager. Project success, customer management, team oversight, leadership, budget management, and scope management are all very key responsibilities of the project manager - but each one of those starts with communication. But what about those individuals who aren't part of the immediate project team?

Equating the project management structure to our own familial dynamic…what about our cousins, our nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles…those 'family members' who aren't necessarily part of our daily lives. How do we need to communicate with them? How much do we need to communicate? How often? To what level of detail? And can/should some of them be excluded? I'm talking about our project stakeholders as a whole…and some of those aren't the 'involved daily' type of stakeholders. They're more like the distant cousin or uncle you see once a year. What do they need to know?

Your Immediate 'Family'

There's no question that certain project stakeholders need to know everything. These individuals need access to the latest and greatest project information whenever you can provide it - and that should be weekly for most of them and daily for a small handful. Your team and your project sponsor and their close team/contacts need regular weekly project communication and updates and as needed updates when you or they deem them necessary. Usually the internal weekly team meeting with your project delivery team and the weekly status call/meeting with the project customer and your delivery team will handle most of the communication that needs to happen with these individuals. Of course, the weekly delivery of a project status report, a revised project schedule showing how the project looks 'today' and any revised issues lists, risks status, and budget information that was deemed necessary at project kickoff time needs to also happen as part of this regular communication to this close knit project stakeholder group. Don't worry, if the communication process is in place as it should be, any project stakeholders who are this close to the heart of the project will feel very comfortable reaching out to you for any project status information they need at any given time.

The Distant Relatives

After that you have your 'extended' family. The stakeholders who have an interest in the project and are potentially affected by its success or failure in some way or may have employees involved in the project. These individuals are on more of a 'need to know' basis. They don't need every update and will feel overloaded with information if they are getting a weekly email with a revised project schedule and status of all issues, risks and financials. They don't want that, they don't need that, and won't know what to do with it. They will ignore it and then likely miss something that you would have otherwise liked them to pay attention to. For this group it's better to provide them with a customised, high-level project status report that goes out once a week or maybe even just once a month that greatly summarises what's been accomplished, what's in progress, and what significant tasks are scheduled for the next week or month (depending on the reporting period you've decided on for communication to this group). Be sure to include an 'alerts' section if there is anything significant that you want them to pay close attention to. You will essentially be 'training' them to look there first so they will be sure to see right away what you definitely want them to see.

Summary

Many individuals need access to status updates from our projects - especially the high priority highly visible projects. But not everyone wants or needs the level of detail that you give to those who are heavily involved on a daily or weekly basis. And to give them too much information will cause them to pay little to no attention to your regular 'knowledge dump' of everything important on the project - which is not what you want to happen. Be creative in how you communicate the essential information on the project and you may find that - as I described here - it is best to tailor it a little to different sectors of your project community to make sure that the information has its desired affect.


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