What I Learned About Communications From A Multi-Million Dollar Software Program

Communications can be daunting for large, complex programs and projects. Project managers live or die with communications.

How can we ensure stakeholders get the right information, at the right time, and in the right manner?

Grab a cup of coffee or tea. Allow me to share a story and the lessons learned.

It Takes A Village To Deliver A Program

Once upon a time, I helped managed a program to implement several new software applications and build interfaces to third parties. The program was comprised of 45 project teams with more than 150 people. Many individuals worked on two to four projects concurrently.

Company and vendor resources included program managers, project managers, business analysts, developers, testers, mainframe resources, network resources, and many department resources. The vendor resources rotated on site a week and off site a week.

Why Communicating Is More Challenging With Larger Teams

For every person added to a program or project, the complexity of communications increases exponentially. For 125 people, there are 7,750 communication channels. For 150 people, there are 11,175 communication channels.

The number of communication channels can be calculated as: [N (N–1)] / 2 where N equals the number of people. (Tweet This!)

For this reason, wise program and project managers keep their teams small and ramp up communications when larger teams are necessary. Let’s look at some ways to improve communications and our chance for success.

What Did I Learn From The Software Program?

  • Knight a Communications Manager. We assigned a Communications Manager early in the program. This was not a full time position, but there was one person who consistently focused on communications.
  • Develop and Maintain a Communication Plan. The Program Manager worked with the Communications Manager to define and maintain a Communication Plan.
  • Communicate Through Multiple Channels. In our program, we needed to communicate to more than 1,000 people in our home office and remote offices. We delivered the message through multiple channels: meetings, newsletters, emails, internal blog, and recorded video – you get the idea.
  • Focus on Interdependent Relationships. Project Managers and their teams tend to live in silos. We must be intentional to ask how our work will impact others. During our enterprise program, we had a weekly meeting for this purpose. The Program Manager asked the Project Managers to help identify dependencies, discuss related risks, and develop plans.
  • Maintain Risks and Issues Registers. The Program Manager and the Project Managers should maintain their Issues and Risks Registers. When possible, make these registers available to all Project Managers. The transparency aids with communication.
  • Enhance Virtual Communications. Program and Project Managers should utilize appropriate tools such as web conferencing, teleconferencing, and project management information systems to facilitate virtual communications.

Question: What are the top two to three things you have seen work when it comes to improving communications for large projects or programs? Share your constructive comments below!