A Lesson About Communication in Times of Chaos
Project management practitioners know the importance of communication during the project execution, hand-off and operations stages. For each of these, the communication plan should cover all the different forms of communication and the target stakeholders.
The frequency of communication during project execution often has a defined cadence and uses different artifacts to deliver the message to stakeholders, who usually are internal.
During the operations stage, the project is usually in production and practitioners are communicating directly with customers, either internal or external. While the specifics depend on the situation, communication with customers must be regular, concise and delivered in a timely manner through the proper channels.
How Not to Communicate
As you may know from my past posts, I have been running for several years and have often thought about connections to project management. One of my running goals for 2020 is to run the Popular Brooklyn Half, the largest half marathon in the United States.
As I did not meet the pre-registration requirements, the open registration was my only option. On registration day I was ready: My account was available, all my personal information was filled out, and I had my credit card on hand. At the designated time I visited the registration website to compete for a spot with thousands of runners from across the world.
I thought I would be directed to start the registration process, but instead, I was directed to an electronic queue page. After a few minutes, my expected waiting time was listed as 25 minutes. I got a little anxious thinking that the limited number of entries would sell out in less than that time. A few minutes later, the waiting time changed to 40 minutes, then to more than an hour; all of a sudden a message about “experiencing technical difficulties” was displayed.
In the meantime, upset runners from across the world took to social media to vent their frustration and dissatisfaction. But the organizers did not acknowledge the blast of posts until three hours after the designated registration time. That’s when they posted a message stating that they were trying to figure out the problem, and if they were not able to resolve it soon, a new registration date would be announced.
That message ignited the runners, who inundated social media with posts venting their resentment.
By this time, the organizer’s website was down, and the homepage showed the “experiencing technical difficulties” message. I stayed away from the postings on social media and kept refreshing the website persistently.
Finally, five hours after registration began, the website came alive and the new registration time was posted. I checked social media for postings from the organizer but found nothing. Right at the new posted time, I started my registration process while thousands of runners kept venting their frustration. This time it only took me 20 minutes to complete my registration for the Popular Brooklyn Half.
The Project Management Takeaway
As project management professionals, we can face similar situations in the course of a project and need to be prepared with mitigation plans. In the case described above, communication with customers was not regular and sufficient, perhaps because the project team was too focused on solving the problem. This affected the customer experience.
In general, production problems have a resolution time window, which may vary depending on the seriousness of the issue. This is usually unknown for customers, but that does not hinder the communication process. We as project management practitioners need to consider that we are living in times dominated by instant gratification; customers expect that issues will be resolved immediately. At the same time, they expect frequent progress status reports.
As a project management practitioner, have you experienced a similar situation? If so, what did you do to keep your stakeholders/customers informed? What channels of communications did you use? How effective were they? Share your experiences with the community.
Writer: Conrado Morlan