By Brian Shaw, Program Manager, Managed Services Solutions
Crisis management and change management begins long before an incident occurs with the creation of a collaboration and decision making framework prior to project implementation.
A collaboration strategy needs to address the types of change to be communicated (perhaps based on thresholds for schedule and cost impact), who change needs to be communicated to, and what actions may result from that change. Actions resulting from change collaboration may be as simple as accepting the impact to the project schedule or as complex as allocating additional budgets and personnel. Follow the below steps prior to project implementation and your project team will be ready for change when it occurs. [Note: the method of applying these concepts should scale to the complexity and duration of the project.]
Could it be coincidental that “preparation” and “Project Manager” both begin with a “p?” I think not. It is the responsibility of the Project Manager and the project team to create an environment for project success. A communication plan is a key component of project preparation. The plan should take into consideration the multiple audiences for project related information. All too often a single communication method is selected (such as emailing weekly status updates); however, this strategy doesn’t take into consideration that each audience has its’ own needs. A project engineer will require information regarding architecture and device level access that would be extraneous noise to an executive audience.
Additionally, most projects have a threshold for which change can be quickly accepted versus change or crisis that requires escalation. Define these thresholds as early as possible. If the duration of the work effort changes by less that x% or the cost changes by less than $x, can the project team quickly move forward without engaging an executive for approval? Prior to project initiation determine what types of change need to be escalated and who those changes need to be escalated to.
Control Sheet/Project Dashboard
Believe it or not, some audiences of project information don’t like reading MS Project plans and Ghantt charts…go figure. Both executive and client audiences often prefer a succinct format which quickly identifies task families that are on track, those at risk and those that have failed. This type of shorthand project metrics update is often referred to as a project dashboard or control sheet.
A project dashboard should quickly communicate project budget to actuals, project timeline and the status of milestones and/or important tasks. A popular method of sharing the status is the red, yellow, green light methodology. The critical benefit of this communication strategy is that audiences of this information can move quickly to problem areas and work towards resolution actions. If you are using a risk register then the yellow and red lights may kick out to the risk management work stream.
Knowing what you are going to communicate and when you are going to communicate is only part of the collaboration strategy. It is critical that the project team determine how to collaborate and share types of information. Collaboration tools such as SharePoint, Drop Box and Huddle are commonplace, and I highly recommend your project team adopt a collaboration tool if you haven’t already done so.
The collaboration tool you use should allow the storage of multiple types of information along with selective access to information. The best tools allow access control at both the folder and file level. This level of information control allows sensitive information such as access credentials to be locked down to those that need access only.
The control sheet should be maintained within your collaboration tool so appropriate consumers can pull up a live project status at any time. Additionally, the collaboration tool should not replace individual action. If an important change or crisis occurs an update to the control sheet should not suffice as engaging decision makers. Those changes should be escalated in an active way to decision makers.
Creating a communications plan around change is only the beginning. Once you’ve determined how you are going to communicate change, what changes will be communicated and how crises will be handled, it is then the responsibility of the Project Manager to ensure that consumers of this plan are informed and clearly understand the expectations. The plan is actionable and when change occurs the project team should be familiar enough with the plan to easily put it in motion.