I like doing the communication bits of projects, and when I worked on a large software rollout there was plenty of opportunity to create buy in and engagement through communication.
The project was going to fundamentally change the way people did their jobs. We knew this from the beginning, and we also knew that it was going to happen, no matter what, so it was important that people knew what was coming. And if possible, were looking forward to it! That’s a big challenge for any project.
I put a lot communication strands in place. Outside of conference calls and staff briefings the main vehicle for communication was my monthly project newsletter. This was sent out to heads of department to cascade to their teams.
When I visited teams in other offices, I’d often see the newsletter printed out and put on the wall, which was excellent. Some teams went above and beyond that, with their own local change champions managing a display of relevant information on an entire noticeboard.
Beyond Newsletters: The Countdown to Launch
The newsletter and other forms of passive communication were fine for much of the project while work was happening in the background, but less suitable for when we wanted staff to start preparing for the change. When it came to the countdown to go live we knew we needed more.
The project sponsor and I discussed how best to engage everyone – predominantly because what we were asking them to do was difficult. Change is always hard, and we knew this one was going to be a lot to ask. However, the business case was solid and we also knew that it was going to happen. The challenge was bringing people along with us, and communication was going to be critical to driving that level of engagement.
We decided that an in-person presentation would enable us to discuss the impact and answer questions directly from a wide group of stakeholders. We did some planning. We worked out the logistics. And we realised that it would take over two solid months to get round everyone and do the presentation twice at each location to get in front of the most people.
Creating A Video
It wasn’t practical for us to take that much time away from managing the project to solely focus on doing face-to-face presentations.
So we made a video what we would have told them face to face.
It took some creativity to make a video about launching new software interesting but in some respects it was better than a presentation. We included short video interviews with key stakeholders in each area. In short clips they explained why the project was important to them and how they and their teams were supporting it. We wouldn’t have been able to get them to attend each location to do that in person.
We included screenshots and photos too, of everything from what the new servers looked like to panning shots of people hard at work testing code.
Most people who were videoed hadn’t taken part in a professional video shoot before. It was fun for us to get involved so it also had the spinoff benefit of engaging the project team too.
We need to weigh up the results in the round. I don’t think anyone doubted that a face-to-face presentation series would have been as good, if not better, but you can only do what you can with the resources available.
Here are my conclusions about the results.
I can’t share the exact figures with you but making the video was cheaper than a two-month round the country tour.
We published the video as a private video on YouTube so only people with the link could see it. It was watched by key people at all locations and we had excellent feedback on it.
I know that the viewing numbers as reported by YouTube are not reflective of the actual number of people who saw it as many of them watched it in their team meetings so one ‘viewing’ was actually going out to a group of people.
It was a simple way to promote the project, reach a wide audience and give people a consistent message without having to meet them individually.
On the plus side we probably reached more people than town hall style meetings.
On the negative side I had to rely on phone calls, emails and capturing queries via the intranet instead of hearing and responding to questions face-to-face in real time. We lost that level of interaction that being there offers.
There are payoffs and choices in every communication decision. In this case I think we got good results in a consistent, cost-effective way. It allowed the project team to manage communication activities as well as their day job, and keep the project moving forward successfully at the same time.