Projects can send even the most seasoned comms pro a bit gaga.
The vast amount of terminology can make a communicator want to break free. But there's no time for losers in this crazy little thing called comms.
Our A-Z of project terms is here to help you become the comms Queen, or King, of project lingo.
Whatever is happening in our organisations, plans, programmes and projects will progress all around us. That we can be sure of. And the glossary of terms that relate to what we know as normal are a world away from current conversations. Ranging from the small-scale to front page worthy, communicators can be anything from short-term advisors to full-time leads.
It tends to be a technical, jargon-filled, time-pressured journey, guaranteed to blow your mind. And for most, it's part of their already busy and demanding role, rather than their sole task. But alongside the tough stuff, there's a world of opportunity.
Working on a project allows you to enter a specialised part of the business.
You learn about something outside your normal role, and you suddenly have an in-depth understanding of it. It can be a game-changing development opportunity. Projects can range from IT implementations, to real estate changes like relocations or office closures, strategic moves such as mergers, acquisitions or outsourcing, and people change, like redundancy or restructures. They require meticulous stakeholder management, a planned approach, and top teamwork.
When it comes to projects, announcements are huge. Timings and channels are critical, and for people change they have to be pitched just right. They need to align to milestones (see M), and there are embargoes (see E) and non-disclosure agreements (see N) to consider.
Yes, you read it right, that's plural. On top of your line manager, you're likely to have a project manager to report to, and a senior sponsor, probably at C-Level too. And those internal communicators who are working on multiple projects, can multiply those. It's all about stakeholder management (see S).
It allows a project team to work out the longest time that the project could take to complete. It documents the activities that need to be completed successfully, in sequence, within a specified time period. The word ‘float’ gets talked about alongside the critical path. Float is the time that one of those tasks on the path can be delayed by, without it having an effect on the end date. And for a communicator, that means the dreaded “oh actually, we're not going live now like we said we were” announcements! (see A)
A snazzy name given to the things you're providing. They need to be tangible and measurable. They're usually aligned to a milestone (see M) or have a defined due date. For a communicator, deliverables can include things like go-live announcements (see A and G), FAQ documents (see F), intranet or SharePoint sites, presentations, and events.
When you release an embargoed communication, you're sharing it with your distributors (that's likely to be leaders or a communications network for cascading internally) with a clear release time and date on. Until that point it's confidential. It's a good way to manage a message across multiple locations or countries.
Questions are the one thing you can always be certain of on a project. Regardless of the topic, employees will always have things they want to ask, and information they're desperate for. That's where an in-depth and regularly updated frequently asked questions document comes in, teamed with lots of opportunities and avenues for people to ask more, such as mailboxes or social networks like Yammer (see Y).
That's the big date the team's counting down to - the end. It's likely to include things like announcements (see A) or events to mark the occasion. And for many projects, particularly those with multiple countries, or IT implementations, there's more than one go-live. Before a go-live, you can expect the team to have a go/no go meeting, and find out whether it's a project doomed to live forever (see Z). It's usually a meeting where the status of the project and any risks and issues are discussed with key stakeholders, and a decision is made whether it's ready to go-live, or whether going live poses too much of a risk to the business. And if you don't go live when you've told employees you would, well, the show must go on… and potentially on, and on, and on…
For big people change, such as redundancy (see R) and organisational redesign (see O), you need to be aligned with HR, or the project's HR lead. Your plans need to line up, your milestones (see M) are going to be similar, and you need to have an input on some of the more sensitive things they're communicating. If you're working on a project outside the UK, HR will take on a slightly different tack. For example, if you're working in Europe, particularly countries like Germany and Belgium, Workers Councils are immensely important. Without their go-ahead, you can't say a word to employees.
This is the bit where all the planning becomes reality. It tends to be used more in IT projects, where new systems are being launched; but not always. In IT projects implementation is likely to happen in a sequence, with certain tasks needing to be completed before the main implementation - go live (see G) - can happen. You can have phased implementations, or one big bang. Phased puts a system in slowly, group by group, or through a pilot. Big bang moves everyone onto it on the same day, turning off the old system in the process.
The Kubler Ross Change Curve model shows the journey people go on during times of change - check out our infographic on it . They tend to move from initial shock and denial, through information searching, and then eventually onto acceptance. It's important for a communicator to understand their employee's likely journey, and assess which information, through which channels, they need at which point.
Storytelling during times of change can help people feel better about what's happening - if they understand why they have to change, they're more likely to want to. Key messages are your story. People need to hear something multiple times before they start to listen properly, and remember, so keep repeating them.
This is a vital element in making sure your project isn't another to bite the dust. The PMO (see P) will be a great source in helping you discover what's worked in the past, what's not, and for keeping hold of your lessons learned when your project finishes.
Arguably the most important letter in our A-Z. Your communications plan relies on them. They're the big moments in the project. There could be many, there could be just a few. They're likely to mark things like go-lives (see G), system releases in IT projects, HR consultation stages in people change, or legal processes like contract signings for mergers and acquisitions.
In bigger companies, most projects have non-disclosure agreements, and you'll need to sign one. It's a legally binding document, which can sometimes be called a confidentiality agreement. It commits you to keeping what you know to yourself, at all times. That even includes an informal natter with your mum over a cuppa.
Way more than just shifting boxes on an organisation chart, it's the integration or reshuffle of structure, processes, and people to support the company's strategy. It usually involves lots of change, and a big need for storytelling and bringing people on board.
A project management office is the function that makes sure the show goes on. Every company's PMO will offer a slightly different service, but at its heart will always be defining the standards for the way the business ‘does’ project management and makes sure that projects are delivered in a controlled way. They're likely to want you to understand your communications strategy, report how you're doing against your plan, and highlight any issues or risks.
A way of testing the quality of the project's deliverables (see D), there' a variety of tools and techniques for it, including a cost-benefit analysis which compares the cost to the expected benefit, benchmarking which compares the project to similar ones, and Six Sigma, which is a quality control programme designed to reduce defects.
As a communicator you can guarantee this is the one that has employees hanging on the edge of their seat. It's emotive, life-changing, and complex. And it's no bed of roses for a communicator, whether personally affected or not. There are lots of legalities, processes and procedures. There's the initial announcement, the process of putting people ‘at risk’, communicating redundancy ‘pools’, voluntary redundancy, redeployment opportunities, and going through the consultation process (which tends to be 30 to 90 days). It's a communicator's role to make sure employees have access to all the information they need, and support the company provides.
An important step in your project communications strategy, it's the process of identifying, analysing, and prioritising who your stakeholders are. You can use that map to help formulate a comms plan, as well as work out who you need to get on side, and who needs to sign off your communications.
That's a Target Operating Model, not a person. When working on an organisational re-design (see O), or a transformation project, it's likely that you'll be communicating a new TOM to employees. It's more than an organisational chart. It's a blueprint of a vision. It can include capabilities, structures and resources, and will include an &lsquoas is’ model, which shows what you need to move from, and a ‘to be’ model, which is the future you need to get to.
A word most likely heard in an IT implementation, as &lsquousers’ of a system, alongside terms such as user acceptance testing (UAT). They can also be referred to as &lsquoend users.’ They're likely to feature heavily on your communications plan, as they will need to be trained, understand the detail of what's changing, and be kept informed.
A project that spans locations, and possibly different countries and continents, is likely to have a virtual project team, either wholly or partly. Collaborative online working is key. There are web/video conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype and Teams to help you all speak, and Yammer (see Y), SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams to enable you to chat, share, and update.
They can be called other things, such as towers, but workstream is probably the most typical. They are usually the areas within a project, of which communications will be one. Each will have a workstream lead, and the size of the project will determine the size of the team under them.
For a communicator, it's important to get to know each workstream lead. They're likely to be your main source of information, your content providers, and will be in your sign off loop.
Unless your project is about X Rays, this was always going to be a tricky letter! Usually at C-Level, your executive sponsor is ultimately responsible for the project finishing on time, within budget, and with all deliverables (see D) ticked off. They should be a key person on your stakeholder map (see S). They will keep a tight oversight of the project. Keep them informed, in the sign off loop, and take on board any input or requests from them.
It's a cost-effective enterprise social networking tool, and great for internal communications. It gives you somewhere to store and share documents, such as FAQs (see F) and announcements (see A) and gives you a facility for sharing messages, getting feedback, and bringing people together; both within the project team, and with your audience. Other tools are widely available - see V for Virtual Teams.
It's the one that lives forever, taking up more resource and more budget, and missing go-live after go-live (see G). As the name suggests, they can be tricky to kill off, but as they tend to lack tight project management, the right project manager should be able to tackle it, and bring it back to life.