Companies are facing increasing market pressure to modernize their processes and systems. Organizations are realizing the benefits of improving their business by undertaking projects that will deliver benefits incrementally and they can realize functions in a short amount of time. The Agile Method is becoming more popular due to its ability to mitigate risks and increase project control in a constantly changing technological environment. Even projects using Agile methods are not immune to obstacles like cost, scheduling, or personnel issues.
Stakeholders place trust and responsibility in the contractor to understand them and create a product that meets their needs and helps achieve strategic outcomes. Contractors need to be communicating with stakeholders from project kickoff past solution delivery to avoid unnecessary rework and preserve a positive working relationship. The idea of communication is something that can be easily taken for granted but a project can fail, be stalled, or given to another contractor if communication is inadequate and needs of the organization are not met.
According to an article published by the Project Management Institute, found here, half of unsuccessful projects can be directly attributed to lack of effective communication causing wasted resources, soured relationships, and inability of an organization to achieve their strategic objectives and compete in the marketplace. The contractor’s transparency of their understanding of requirements and project progress are key to project success.
How can a contractor increase project control and decrease unnecessary risks in the Agile project lifecycle?
Communication is the best way to increase transparency, understand an organization, and provide clarity regarding all aspects of the project lifecycle, especially in an agile environment. According to the PMI, the project manager should spend 90% of their time communicating, creating the foundation for teamwork and an ongoing relationship with stakeholders.
Effective and transparent communication with Stakeholders is paramount to achieving their strategic goals and advancing through the project lifecycle.
Gathering accurate requirements, understanding business processes and needs, and articulating a vision for solution should be first steps and also continuous throughout the project.
Agile Methodology highlights the need for increased communication with Stakeholders throughout the lifecycle; there should be a clear line from within the development team to the highest stakeholder.
Agile Methodology allows for the flexibility that is needed in a complex IT environment where business requirements are evolving. Modernization can be time consuming and the business needs may change throughout the project lifecycle. Agile adapts by using iterations where feedback is provided by stakeholders after demonstrations of development progress.
The first step to communicating in a successful Agile project is eliciting and verifying project requirements and understanding business processes and strategic objectives.
One technique is RG's LINKProcess™, an established and proven method for collecting and establishing requirements. For more examples of how LINKProcess™ can be used, here is a case study on systems modernization.
Communicating successfully with Stakeholders is vital to understanding their desires and creating an articulated vision of the solution. Identifying all relevant stakeholders and establishing lines of communication will help frame the project and understand the strategic objectives and processes needed to obtain strategic outcomes.
A Management Communications Plan is a strategy for how communication will be executed effectively throughout the project. Asking the stakeholders their preferred method of communication will be the simplest and most efficient route to continuous contact throughout the project. Active listening and asking questions are productive ways to understand the stakeholder’s message and create a working relationship.
Communicating with stakeholders should result in understanding a complete picture of the problem, requirements, processes, and vision of the solution. The knowledge learned from communication with stakeholders should then be disseminated throughout the project team.
In true Agile fashion, retrospectives are a great opportunity for comprehensive and continuous communication with stakeholders as the project grows. This way, the development team can understand the changing business needs and adapt the solution to better fit strategic goals. The only the team can adapt the solution to the needs of the organization is if the communicate with stakeholders to elicit these changing requirements and design feedback from demonstrations.
Obstacles to communication with stakeholders.
There are several barriers to communication that may impact the effectiveness of requirements gathering and stakeholder engagement. Understanding and acknowledging differences is the first step in establishing communication with stakeholders. As the number of stakeholders increases, the obstacles and potential barriers increases as well.
According to the PMI, obstacles to successful communication can be placed in three broad categories, each with their own implications: political, cultural, and linguistic. The first step to overcoming barriers is to identify and analyze the obstacles that may prevent clear lines of communication and cause personal and professional issues within the project.
Political obstacles including vested interests or power games that may get in the way of honest and productive interaction. It’s important to identify and obtain the commitment of compromised persons to the project or product at hand. The project manager should do their best to help resolve these obstacles at the level they originate rather than escalating the situation.
Cultural obstacles include differences in an organizations culture or society’s culture that influences their communication, values, priorities, and tolerance of change. The PMI highlights that it is important for a project manager to recognize these and facilitate open communication, allowing for differences in social attitudes or behaviors.
Linguistic obstacles can occur when specialists from different groups try to communicate but there are barriers in understanding specific terminology. The PMI discusses the tendency to make assumptions about what concepts mean or infer meaning behind words that may be inaccurate. Being clear, concise, and respectful regarding topics that may not be equally understood by everyone is helpful for reducing linguistic obstacles.
The general solution to these obstacles is open, honest, and considerate communication that recognizes the differences and similarities between groups and individuals. Knowledge sharing and active listening are key to creating working relationships and two-way communication avenues between stakeholders and team members.
From initiation and as the project lifecycle progresses, transparency is vital.
An important avenue for communication in project development is the transparency between stakeholder and team. An article in Project Insight, which can be found here, describes transparency as “exposing the process and information used to make decisions as well as the use of cost, schedule, and earned value compared to expectations.” Decision making should be open within the team and discussed with stakeholders. To be transparent, it’s important to have clear communication with how the team is interpreting business needs and transferring requirements into the solution while cost and scheduling should be something discussed with stakeholders and updated as needed.
Creating and utilizing a Communication Plan will establish policies, procedures, strategies, and tools for keeping stakeholders updated on progress and clarifying requirements and desired adjustments. It should also be discussed with stakeholders what information they want and need to know regarding the project. Disseminating information that is irrelevant to them can waste time and resources, harming the working relationship.
Transparency should be lasting through all phases of the lifecycle and all knowledge areas involved in project management. Sections like cost, quality, and risk analysis are especially important due to the negative impacts they could have on the project.
Agile methodology presents more opportunity to be transparent than other modernization methods. As phases and sprints are being completed and more of the solution is presented to stakeholders, the team is constantly transparent with what the system looks like, how it works, and the progress that has been made. The relationship with stakeholders should be developed to where they can be honest and transparent with their vision of requirements and the feedback given to the team.
Access to information is a major key to transparency. Creating a living documents repository will allow stakeholders and users access to the information they need regarding the project and to enable the successful future use of the system.
The transparency utilized throughout the project with help foster a relationship and trust for future modernization efforts; diplomacy helps create loyalty while transparency leads to trust. Stakeholders place responsibility on the development team to create a solution that helps the business reach their goals to improve business processes or functions.
The project manager should communicate and be transparent with relevant aspects of the project that are important to the stakeholder and to the success of the modernization effort. A trusting, respectful, and transparent relationship built on communication will lead to a satisfied customer that can more readily achieve their strategic objectives
In a constantly changing and improving marketplace modernizing business systems can be risky and expensive. Agile Methodology is becoming more popular by providing incremental benefits and increasing flexibility.
Communication is key to a successful project and is vital to understanding an organization’s needs and providing them with the best most functional solution to help them achieve strategic outcomes. Understanding the potential obstacles to communication with stakeholders throughout the lifecycle will help the contractor the proactive and transparent, reducing setbacks and building a solid working relationship.