Defining Roles and Responsibility in Complex Projects

Defining roles and responsibilities is important in most projects, but in complex projects it should be mandatory. It reduces validation and time wasting, without clear and defined communication channels then it becomes confusing and disjointed. There is a difference between strategic communication, project management communication, and change management. When this confusion is brought into large, complex projects, it can create waste, ineffective resourcing and dissatisfied stakeholders.

In most organizations, the people who perform these three distinct functions have built their expertise on very different professional backgrounds. Regardless there are many occasions when a project manager has been tasked to produce a strategic communications plan, or a strategic communication manager been asked to handle the “team” communications on a large project.

As business increases in speed, scale and complexity, clearing up this confusion is more important than ever. Just as each function is critical to success, so is learning how to resource, structure and execute each of them effectively – without tripping over each other.

Being clear and definitive in each role is a must, when this is clear from the start the ability to drive the most important strategic work forward between the three distinct functions of strategic communication, change management and project communication occurs.

It’s useful to think of these functions in terms of what drives them:

  • Strategic communicators use storytelling to move employees’ hearts and minds and get everyone on board to advance broad organizational objectives. They support employee engagement, leadership and growth by sharing timely and meaningful news across the organization. They speak on behalf of the organization and often own the voice of the organization internally and externally.
  • Status Updates. Project managers use communications to deliver project-specific information to relevant parties and ensure that all objectives, plans, risks and time constraints are clear and aligned. They speak on behalf of the project, but not the organization.
  • Transformation. Change management experts help employees make successful transitions to new roles, responsibilities and ways of working. They connect people to the reason for change and move the organization to help assimilate to the needed level of change. When done well, change management increases the business value of what is being delivered. Change management strategies usually accomplish this through tactics using communication, engagement, readiness, training, and enabling strong project sponsorship.

For this to occur successfully, it is best to build a RACI to define roles and responsibilities. Before developing any project, communication or change management plan, take the time to jointly build a RACI (exercise of identifying stakeholders who will be responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed throughout a project) that clearly defines these overlapping roles and associated responsibilities. Keep the plan and actions aligned with each role; the RACI should only be adjusted to close project gaps or address new discoveries.

Once completed, a RACI can also provide insight on the effort it will take to achieve the project goals and to ensure it is properly staffed for successMeet with sponsors and key leadership before the project begins to review roles and responsibilities, request additional staffing, or reduce scope as indicated by the RACI. As part of this effort, decide when and how often to meet and with whom. Establish a structured meeting cadence to address critical intersections in work deliverables.

Once the RACI is defined, keeping resources within their respective lanes while meeting overall project needs can be a task on its own. Project managers, strategic communicators and change managers will each approach planning differently. In order to align them on a project, then they should be aligned to the deliverables.

Format may seem like a minor thing. Yet some programs have struggled for months over how to insert a change management plan into a project management plan. Decide up front which format should be used, who will manage the plan, and how. If change managers and strategic communicators will be managing their own plans, decide how they will provide project managers with usable updates and core milestones for tracking.

Coordinated reporting on progress is essential to staying on track. Project managers, change managers and strategic communicators often report to different people. Make sure all of them are on the same page. Once a decision is made on a format for managing the project plan, leverage the same status information into all reports and updates to key stakeholders. This will avoid duplicate and/or uncoordinated reporting, a common source of confusion and wasted effort. Don’t forget to let plan management get in the way of work. People need to respect each other’s roles and focus on status updates, not the format.

It is important that each person works to their strengths, this will ensue effective and be cost-efficient, while increasing employee satisfaction. Valuable skills, dedication and know-how of internal and/or external resources shouldn’t be wasted. When everyone’s working at the top of their game, then the full value of each resource is received. Project management communication, strategic communication, and change management are three very different functions. Organizations that clarify these three distinct roles, and align them before launching a major project, can finesse the integrated structure, message and activities that lead to success.

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