Communication Plans are NOT optional!
As an IT person, I recognize that the term "communication plan" makes many of us cringe and want to find a rock to crawl under. Maybe that is because it is the least glamorous/fun part of a project, maybe because we are IT people and don't like to talk, much less write flowery communications, or maybe it's because we know that most people tend to ignore/delete communications from IT so really, what’s the point. Either which way, it is imperative to a successful implementation to have a well thought out communication plan. Awesome IT solutions regularly fall flat on their faces because no one communicated to the user base that things were changing. And let's be honest, if users get angry when you tell them something is changing, they get twice as angry when you don’t warn them that change is coming.
So, rather than hiding under a rock, lets address the BARE MINIMUM of what must be in a project communication plan.
DISCLAIMER: Communications do not need to equate to email messages. Depending on your organization and users, communications can (and should!) take on multiple forms, including emails, Yammer posts, posters in the breakroom, or even life-size cardboard cutouts of superheroes with speech bubbles. The key point is that your communications must attempt to reach the entire user base effected by your project.
Step 1: Determine your Resources
“Resources” are the supporting documents/reference items you'll steer people to in your communications. Pulling the details out of your communications and sticking them in your "resource" materials makes your emails shorter and more succinct. Which (hopefully) reduces your audience’s desire to skim and increases their likelihood of information retention. Below are the minimum resources I recommend for any project:
More information about the project: “More Info” can be anything from a Word document to a SharePoint site that details why the project is happening, technical aspects, FAQs, or any other additional information you think your users might want to know.
Support Contact Info: Support Contact Info should steer your users to how YOU want them to ask for help. Without guidance, you may find them spinning in circles in the breakroom. KEY NOTE: Ensure you work with your support people BEFORE sending out communications so they are trained/prepared to answer questions.
Training: Training should be tailored to your organization – if a Word document with instructions suffices, great! If online training or virtual sessions resonate best with your audience, then go with those options and let people know how to find them!
Step 2: Build communication templates
At a minimum, three communication templates should be created. The overall purpose of these templates are as follows:
Communication 1: Something is going to happen in the future!
Communication 2: Something is happening now!
Communication 3: Something just happened, go check it out!
Generally speaking, Communication 1 should be sent out well in advanced of your planned go live. “Well in advance” doesn't mean a week, that usually means a month in advance. Depending on your company's size, and your users’ propensity to ignore emails, you might want to send out Communication 1 multiple times in hopes that they read at least one of them.
Communication 2 should be sent out 1 week to 1 day before your planned go live.
Communication 3 should be sent out immediately after go-live is complete and you are ready for people to start using whatever it is you built.
Try to keep these communications short and to the point. Include additional details in your "resource materials” so those who want to know more can find it. Below are the headings I recommend using in communications. I also recommend using bulleted or numbered lists whenever you can and if they are appropriate.
What is happening? <<Include go-live date if appropriate>>
What do I need to do? <<Include due date if appropriate. Also, call out if the user does NOT have to do anything>>
Where do I find more information? <<Include links to resources from Step 1>>
Step 3: Put it all together in a timeline
The final step is plugging your templates into a timeline for publication. Don’t let the task intimidate you! Here are the key points to work back from:
Start with go-live date and work backwards, selecting desired dates you wish to send communications, taking into account major holidays, key organizational dates, etc
Based on dates when communications will be sent, determine when communication templates need to be completed
- Based on communication template dates, determine when resource materials need to be completed
Once your plan is all laid out, you’re ready to build the content! If you have the luxury of pulling in others to assist with the communication work, don’t forget to plan some status check-in meetings to make sure stuff is getting done.