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20 de enero de 2013

"Informivore" Stakeholders


We human beings are different from animals in many aspects, of course. Maybe one of the most differential is our need to communicate, especially when something concerns us deeply and we see it as a threat, or a substantial change. We are information consumers. 
We eat information. As a species, we could be called informivore.

When we are hungry of information, we expect the worst, especially in projects. We think something is going wrong. Apart from gossips and misunderstandings, we have plenty of own past experiences to feed our worst fears and negative expectations

Information is power, but is not ethical (nor effective) to hide information to avoid problems. We should not be afraid to deliver bad news. We will be judged as ineffective if our communication is not clear, concise, complete, timely, relevant, compelling, predictable, reliable, confidential, etc. 

Especially, we will be heavily criticized if our communication is not clear and concise:

  • If information is concise but confusing (like some emails of two lapidary phrases) then stakeholders will panic. They will distrust us, asking directly to our bosses.
  • If information is clear but cumbersome, then stakeholders won’t read. They will respond endless emails asking what they need to know again and again. When they get the information through other channels, they will see us as replaceable.
  • If cumbersome and confusing, then we look inept and will cause much frustration among stakeholders.

Therefore, effective communication should be clear and concise. It’s worth more time writing so that stakeholders spend less time reading. Nevertheless, we can communicate that way and not being effective yet. Effective Project Managers have the habit of adapting their communication to stakeholders.

In my projects, I'm used to seeing stakeholders as “mouths to be fed”. Until you deliver the product, or a part of it, the only thing stakeholders can see is communication.

If we applied methods from the industrial age to manage projects, then communication would be another area to optimize. In culinary terms: “We would serve the same cheeseburger for everyone”.

Regarding projects, I like to think that all stakeholders need “to eat information” but their diets may vary: PMOs eat weekly complete status reports; steering committee eats biweekly risk reports, CFO eats actual costs, variances and forecasting reports, etc.

When we have “informivores” (a.k.a. stakeholders) sitting at our restaurant (a.k.a. project) we have to get them satisfied:
  • You have to ask them what shall they have to dinner —they may order a cheeseburger, but you don’t decide this. In regard to projects, this means agreeing on their communication requirements, what they need to be informed on what format, etc.
  • You have to tell them how long it will take to get served, and take this as a promise to keep. In projects, this is a communication plan indicating for instance that there will be a weekly status report by email. There is nothing more frustrating for stakeholders than sporadic unpredictable communication. Sticking to the plan is effective: You spare a lot of questions from stakeholders —they know that answers are coming when promised.
  • You want them to become regular customers. You have to ask them if everything was to their liking. That is asking for stakeholder feedback on our communication management process.

Click here to read the Spanish version of this article. 
Click the label English to see the other articles written in English.