I recently had the opportunity to put into practice some crisis communication principles and I thought I'd share my experience with you.
"Crisis" communication is not just limited to big corporations facing a major incident, such as the recent Dell product recall
or the Enron bankruptcy
. These basic communication principles can be applied to any situation of any scale. Here, they are applied to project management in the IT sector.Context
Complex fixed-price IT integration project; the timeline is very tight and delivery an imperative. Delay or mis-management of costs will directly impact the project's profitability.
Half way through a project phase, financial imperatives cause our client to review the overall project timeline and postpone many activities we are currently working on to 2007. The team management and myself learn this news during a conference call.Situation one hour after client's announcement
The news has already spread amongst our teams by word of mouth. Many are talking of an immediate halt to all activities.Communication objectives
Impact analysis for the different populations concerned
- Correct and prevent rumours and false information from spreading.
- Reassure the teams and maintain focus and motivation on activities underway and upcoming delivery priorities.
- Inform of client's new strategy
Communication needs are not the same across the team. Teams located in the central project offices will be heavily impacted by the changes. An uncertain number will need to leave the project. Those in remote locations are less impacted as they are in the final phase of their work.Immediate action planned
Meeting with all team members as soon as possible. Conference call for managers not in central locations. Key messages (communication brief) provided to those managers for relaying locally.Summary of key messages1. "The facts" Factual elements relating to the client's change of strategy
- Strategy change for budgetary reasons: Capex / cash flow
- Completion of roll-outs currently underway
- Roll-out of next version (currently status: development finished, tests underway) postponed to July 2007
- Deployment next version +1 postponed to January 2008
Decision taken for budgetary reasons, not unhappy with our services. Read client feedback received by email.2. "What is going to happen for me?" The impact of this change for the teams.
The team members are looking for some clear information about their personal future. For me, this is the most important part of the communication. It is currently too soon to communicate on what will change as a result of this decision. There is much uncertainty. Announce that the situation is very complex and not yet clear. We have contractual commitments that are still valid and require discussion and modification with client.
Be precise about what the Team management expects from the team members. This can be summarised as: "Do not change anything for the moment. Continue to work on what is underway. We will share more information as soon as the appropriate decisions have been taken."
- Much uncertainty.
- Any change to planned activities will depend on the modification of our contract.
- Prepare yourself for change but do not pack your bags to go home tomorrow.
- We will keep you informed.
(Translated from French.)
- Associate key team members in workshops taking place (defining the change).
- Accelerate communication: make available decisions as their are taken.
- Make messages very simple and very clear.