Every year, organizations around the world review their portfolio and select the projects they deem as strategic. It is usually around this time (early in the first quarter) when the project teams form to hash out the details for the year ahead.
The great news about strategic projects is they are exciting and funding comes from important sponsors who are committed to making real change. You will meet new people, learn new things about people you already know, and gain visibility.
The bad news is you will gain visibility, run into politics, and learn things about people you may wish you never learned.
Having experienced the highs and lows of working on big strategic projects, here are some thoughts as you saddle up for the long ride ahead.
Nail the Scope. Fast.
By nature, strategic projects bring change. Directly or indirectly, your project will affect people. The impacts of this change can vary, but how and when you communicate the change is very important.
If you and your team do not have a solid definition of the project’s scope, consider minimizing communications outside the team. Confusion leads to concern, and concern leads to rumors. Very often, people’s worse fears have nothing to do with reality as highlighted in Figure 1.
As with any large undertaking, a project team will always have its share of detractors. Chances are, these detractors have little or no political ties to the sponsor(s) of the project. The reasons detractors exist are many, but that does not matter. The team’s job is to address the detractor’s concerns head on.
Build a change management and communication plan
Warning: overused consulting term on the way…
With a team in agreement and a solid scope in place, you and your team are now officially knighted as change agents.
A funny thing happens after big team meetings. People talk. They communicate the projects to their managers and peers. Sometimes these talks are of a dark, conspiratorial nature.
The team must communicate the project with a single voice and not deviate from the script. If I go off and say to someone “this project is a mess and no one knows what they are doing”, and then you say “this is the best project I’ve worked on in the history of the company”, guess what? People will think the project is a mess and may avoid getting involved when the team needs them most.
Some of my favorite projects weave change management and communication deliverables directly into their project plans. Here are some examples of proven methods my clients use:
- If the project demands significant cultural or behavioral change, include at least one change management practitioner on the core team.
- The sponsor — with the help of the team — craft a letter that outlines the project. This letter should go out to as wide an audience as is necessary and communicates an open door policy for people to bring any concerns to the table.
- Team members collaborate to build a shared presentation that they will share with their peers and managers. In politics, we refer to this as the stump speech.
- As the project progresses, the team will follow a similar process with a more targeted and specific message.
Any large strategic project requires project management, subject matter expertise, and an expectation of potential returns. None of these things will matter without a highly collaborative team that are all working off the same playbook.
I hope this helps you in your endeavors for the year ahead.
(Editors note: This article was originally posted on LinkedIn and can be found here.)