Residents of Hawaii were notified by an alert on January 13, 2018 that ballistic missiles were heading for them.
“Seek IMMEDIATE SHELTER. This is not a drill,” the message read, pointing out the dire consequences for the recipients.
It turned out that there weren’t any missiles heading for Hawaii. However, the people who received the alert didn’t realize that the message was an error until nearly 40 minutes later. They could only wait for unavoidable doom, and that was all they could do during that time.
The false alarm was not just caused by operator error and miscommunication. An employee mistakenly thought an internal drill was an emergency. However, the actions taken or failed to take by authorities made this incident one of the most prominent communication failures in recent history. It’s a lesson that everyone can take away.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency could have used a better communication plan for their project, but then again, who wouldn’t?
Why you need a project communications plan
Even if you have the best people and the best equipment, your entire project can still be ruined by a simple breakdown of communication.
If an important message isn’t communicated clearly or is sent to the wrong audience, the follow-up message doesn’t get sent in a timely fashion or via the right channel… suddenly millions of people believe that nuclear missiles are heading toward Hawaii.
Even if you aren’t faced with a disaster, a project communications plan is essential. You can make sure that your team communicates well by following this plan.
Although it’s possible for your team to avoid dealing with potential incoming nukes, you never know what unexpected changes may occur during a project. It will save you a lot of time and confusion if you know how your team will respond.
Here’s a checklist to help you create a project communication plan
This checklist will guide you through the steps required to deliver any message. Although it’s flexible enough to handle most situations, you’ll need your own judgment as a project manager to fill out the gaps.
Don’t worry, I have included the question or questions that you should answer before moving on to the next step.
1. Determine the desired outcome for your communication
THE QUESTION: What action or outcome do I want from my recipients after I have sent my message? You shouldn’t start crafting your message before you know what your message is about. Is your message intended to be received immediately by a recipient following an unexpected setback or a weekly status report that informs stakeholders that everything is going according plan?
The first scenario should provide clear instructions to the recipients about what they need to do and details regarding a follow up meeting. The second scenario might not require any response.
2. Choose the right communication channel
THE QUESTION: Which communication channel(s), if any, will get my message across to the intended audience as quickly as possible? Are you sending an internal memo or status update to your customer? Each scenario calls for a different channel.
Your development team might use your collaboration tool to get messages from you, while your project management software may have a secure channel for communicating external stakeholders.
These expectations should be set during the project kickoff and maintained throughout the project.
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