Previously, we discussed the importance of the "kick off" communication. We also talked about the steps to create a killer kick off letter. In this article, we will discuss how to avoid common pitfalls.
When creating the “kick off” letter, one has to be cognizant of the “big picture” of the communications strategy. If we do not understand this big picture, chances are we will not have a coherent coordinated communications strategy. Every link in this chain, including the “kick off” letter will be less effective as a result.
So, what is the overall communications strategy for a major IT Project such as IT Strategy?
Sequence of communication activities:
- “Kick Off” Letter: This letter informs key stakeholders of the objective of the initiative, planned activities, deliverables and milestones and the role they play in its execution
- Team Selection: The execution team is selected and its composition – with specific responsibilities for each member - communicated to key stakeholders
- The Project Charter: The execution team creates the project charter that contains the objective, scope, assumptions, high-level plan, deliverables, roles and responsibilities etc.and guides the execution of the project. This project charter should be communicated to the stakeholders
- Project “Kick Off”: This is the first meeting of the implementation team. A communication should be sent to the shareholders inviting them to the kick off meeting
- Project Updates: Periodic communications on the progress of the project, including risks and issues faced. This communication should go to the stakeholders not just to inform them and ensure their continued interest and support but also to get their help in resolving vexing issues that might derail the project
- Celebration! Teams that miss celebrating major milestones miss a great opportunity to garner the support of their sponsors. More importantly, they miss the opportunity to motivate the team itself!
We have discussed the importance of the “kick off” letter. And rightfully so. However, this letter is not the “first” step in this journey.
Killer first impressions start before the “kick off” letter!
Unless you have never met your stakeholders the kick off letter is NOT the first impression that you are making on them. (if you haven’t met your stakeholders and starting this relationship with a letter or email, you have bigger problems to deal with than this letter. Please wait for the article on writing killer resumes! )
- The “deal” is done prior to the meeting!
- Get to know your audience
- Get to know their pain points
- Address those pain points
- Follow up the kick off communication with a phone call
- See how they received it?
- What else did they think of when they saw it in writing?
- Keep in touch through personal and informal means throughout the project
- Written communications are intended to communicate the essence. They do not capture the entire communication
- Written communications are not interactive. Your audience has not had the opportunity to seek clarity and might not pick up the phone or respond back with an email to seek clarification. What is not clear to them can and does become a problem for you!
- People act one way in written communications and another in one on one informal interaction.
- Organizational chatter is seldom if ever captured in written communication. This chatter can and does play a role – sometimes more important than written communications
- People – all of us - just like to feel important. Written communications that are mass mailed to not give its audience this sense of importance
Common pitfalls to avoid
Here are some of the common pitfalls to avoid:
- Being vague about the objective – “depends on what “is” is” works well only in politics and law. If you are vague about the objective of the project you are hurting the chances of its success
- All encompassing scope – please get comfortable with the fact that no one person or team can take on world hunger or fundamentally alter the business model or stock price of a corporation. Your team is no exception. Please remember that teams thrive on clarity and meeting their objectives i.e. success. Teams also work best when a big problem is broken into parts. Biting off – or claiming to bite off – more than you can chew, will result in project failure. Guaranteed. Long before the project fails, you would lose your team thereby guaranteeing its failure
- Too verbose – Do not try to tell the whole story with qualification and references and everything in between explained. a) I haven’t seen that done well in my 20 years in this field. b) I haven’t seen the audience grasp an entire document that makes a thud if dropped on the floor!
- Failing to make a connection with an immediate and big business imperative – Your project will be a “good to have” but not a “priority.” Business leaders talk about strategy but live in the world of execution. The latter, by definition, is tactical. They have their eye on the big picture but their focus on the immediate.
- Failure to connect with the stakeholder personally – if they do not see the value to them, they will not sign up
- Over committing (follow up with under delivering and you might as well put a fork in it) - In our quest to get support, sometimes, we over commit. Remember, for everything in life, there is a threshold. Do enough to cross it. What are you gaining crossing it by a mile? The only thing that does is, if you were to fail, your failure would also be by that same mile – more often than not, by a multiple of that mile. No matter how much of this grand objective you achieve, 100% is what your audience is expecting.
Also remember, this communication is the “headline” of your story. People will read the first line with a perception colored by it. Each subsequent line and paragraph will be read with the previous one etched in your audience’s perception. That is why “first impressions” are important.
Can one recover from a first impression disaster?
Is there hope, if you got it wrong the first time? Yes, I believe that most people deserve and get second chances. However, they must not repeat a mistake.
If your communication missed its mark, find out exactly where it went wrong and fix it. Let us say, you failed to connect with the stakeholders. Then it is not obvious that it was your communication. It might have been the medium or the timing. Getting to the root cause is a must before you decide on a course of action.
However, one thing is for sure, if you do not follow up after this communication, you will never know if it worked or not. What one does not know can, and almost always, comes back to hurt you!
About the Author:
Sourabh Hajela is a management consultant and trainer with over 20 years of experience creating shareholder value for his Fortune 50 clients. His consulting practice is focused on IT strategy, alignment and ROI. For more information, please visit www.StartSmartS.com. Or feel free to contact Sourabh at Sourabh.Hajela@StartSmartS.com.