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 toan article published bythe Project Management Institute,foundhere,half ofunsuccessful projects can bedirectly attributed to lackof 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 theAgileproject 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. 

Effectiveand transparent communication with Stakeholders is paramount to achieving their strategic goals and advancing through the project lifecycle. 

Gathering accurate requirements, understanding business processesand needs,andarticulatingavision for solutionshould be first stepsandalso continuous throughout the project. 

Agile Methodology highlights the need for increased communicationwith Stakeholdersthroughout the lifecycle; there should be a clear linefromwithin the development teamtothe highest stakeholder.

Agile Methodology allows fortheflexibilitythat is needed in a complexIT environmentwherebusiness requirements areevolving. Modernization can be time consumingandthe business needs may change throughout the project lifecycle. Agile adapts by using iterations where feedback is provided by stakeholders after demonstrationsof development progress.  

The first step to communicating in a successful Agile project is elicitingandverifying project requirementsand understandingbusiness processesand strategic objectives.

One technique is RG's LINKProcess, an established and proven method for collecting andestablishing requirements.For more examples of howLINKProcesscan be used, here is a case study on systems modernization

Communicating successfully with Stakeholders is vital to understanding theirdesiresandcreating an articulatedvision of the solution.Identifying all relevant stakeholdersand establishing lines of communication will help frame the project andunderstandthestrategic objectives and processes neededtoobtain strategic outcomes.   

AManagementCommunications Planis a strategy for how communicationwill be executed effectively throughout the project.Asking thestakeholderstheirpreferred method of communication will bethe simplest and mostefficient route to continuouscontact throughout the project.Active listening and asking questions areproductive ways to understand the stakeholder’s messageand create a working relationship. 

Communicating with stakeholders should result in understanding a complete pictureof the problem, requirements, processes, and vision of thesolution. The knowledge learnedfrom communication with stakeholders should then be disseminated throughout theprojectteam. 

In true Agile fashion, retrospectives are a great opportunity for comprehensiveand continuouscommunication with stakeholders as the projectgrows.This way, the development team can understand the changingbusinessneedsand adapt the solutionto better fitstrategicgoals.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 severalbarriersto communication that may impact the effectiveness ofrequirements gathering andstakeholder engagement.Understanding andacknowledging differencesisthefirst step in establishing communication with stakeholders.As the number of stakeholders increases, theobstaclesand potential barriers increases as well. 

According to the PMI, obstacles tosuccessful 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 obstaclesincluding vested interests or power gamesthatmay get in the way of honest and productiveinteraction. It’s important to identify andobtain the commitment ofcompromised persons to the project or product at hand.The project manager should do their best to help resolve these obstacles at the level they originaterather than escalating the situation.   

Cultural obstaclesincludedifferences in an organizations cultureor society’s culturethatinfluencestheircommunication,values, priorities, andtoleranceof change.The PMI highlightsthat it isimportant for a project manager torecognize these and facilitate open communication, allowing for differences in social attitudes or behaviors. 

Linguistic obstacles can occur when specialists from different groups try to communicatebut there are barriers in understanding specificterminology.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 respectfulregarding topicsthat may not be equally understood by everyone is helpful for reducing linguistic obstacles. 

Thegeneralsolution to theseobstacles isopen, honest, andconsideratecommunication that recognizes the differences and similarities between groupsand individuals. Knowledge sharing and active listening are key to creatingworking relationships andtwo-waycommunication avenuesbetween stakeholders and team members. 

From initiation andastheproject lifecycleprogresses, transparency is vital. 

An important avenue for communication in projectdevelopment is the transparency between stakeholder and team.An article in Project Insight, which can be foundhere, describestransparency 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 andtransferringrequirements into the solution while cost and scheduling should be something discussed with stakeholders and updatedas needed. 

Creating and utilizing a CommunicationPlan will establish policies, procedures,strategies, and tools for keepingstakeholders updated onprogress and clarifyingrequirements and desired adjustments.It should also be discussed with stakeholders what information they want and need to know regarding the project.Disseminatinginformation that isirrelevantto them can waste time andresources, harming the working relationship. 

Transparencyshould belasting through all phases of the lifecycle and all knowledge areas involved in project management. Sections likecost, quality,and risk analysis are especially importantdueto the negative impacts they could have on the project.   

Agile methodology presents more opportunity to be transparent than other modernization methods. As phasesand 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, andthe 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 thefeedback given to the team.   

Access to information isamajor key to transparency.Creating a livingdocuments repository will allow stakeholders and users access to the information they need regarding the projectand to enable the successful future use of the system.   

The transparencyutilized throughout the project with help fostera relationship andtrust for future modernization efforts; diplomacyhelpscreateloyaltywhiletransparencyleads to trust.Stakeholders placeresponsibilityon the development team to create a solution thathelpsthe business reach their goalstoimprove business processes or functions.  

The project manager shouldcommunicate and be transparent withrelevant aspects of the project that are important to the stakeholder andto thesuccess 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 outcomesUnderstanding 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

 

If you're interested in learning more about how to transition to a new organizational paradigm with agile, click here to download our "Project Management for Agile" guide.