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Ann Pilkington’s book Communicating Projects was a surprise to me. It’s not about creating a communication plan. Although it is generally aligned with the APM Body of Knowledge (6th edition), it isn’t a guide for how to do things according to any particular standard or method.
The book provides practical guidance and support to the person who is responsible for communicating. She assumes this is not always the project manager. You may have a project communicator on a large project team. However, the book could also be useful to people in non-project roles who are being dragged into preparing communication materials about a project. For example, your corporate PR or Marketing team.
Agree on what ‘communications’ means
Pilkington’s first piece of advice is to not communicate. At the very least, don’t communicate too soon. First, agree on the roles of the communication workstream. Who will do what? What is it that you want to communicate?
Communications have two goals:
To share the output (the output).
To share the outcome (what has been accomplished)
Outputs can be things like creating newsletters or updating intranet pages for the project. Outcomes can be things like making sure employees understand the meaning of the project. These objectives should be included in your communication plans. This doesn’t just mean issuing briefings. Pilkington writes:
Despite the fact that project communication is now possible in a world with sophisticated media and advertising, it is still common for communication to be viewed as a linear process. That is, someone is given something, they interpret it in accordance with the sender’s instructions, and that is all that is required. This’send stuff stuff’ approach to projects is still prevalent. It is no surprise that stakeholders are skeptical or disengaged and projects don’t realize their benefits.
It is not for everyone.
Pilkington states that there are limits to the communication capabilities of projects. She claims that communication is not essential.
Good project governance can be replaced by good planning
Eliminate the responsibility of line managers to communicate directly with their teams
Manage project documentation
Make bad decisions look good by massaging the message
You must take the ego of the project manager or sponsor.
Communication is not required to fix problems that aren’t caused by communication.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what the project communication function should be doing, how can you accomplish it?
Strategy, content, and execution
Chapter 2 includes a template and covers communication strategies. Most chapters end with a template, sometimes with a vignette that explains a theory or gives an example. Although the templates are excellent, I found the vignettes distracting. I don’t understand why they haven’t been integrated into the text’s main body.
Your strategy should include defining your stakeholders. The book also contains a stakeholder analysis model that goes into great detail.
Pilkington continues to discuss the content and structure of your communications plan in Chapter 4. She suggests that you avoid calling a project a “brand” because it can look sloppy and unprofessional. This is something I hadn’t thought of before, but I have seen many bad brands for projects and worked on branding myself – something I will now stop!
However, she does recommend that you have a house style for communication. This will ensure that your project looks cohesive. For content, she recommends that each item sent or used should be signed off in writing. This is a great idea. As part of your communication strategy and plans, you should define who gets to approve what.
Manage your message