Over the past two months, we have focused on what you need to know for each of the first two domains of the CompTIA Project+ certification exam (PK0-004). This month, our focus is on the third of the four domains: Communication and Change Management.
Weighted at 26 percent of the exam, this is the second most heavily weighted domain and it is broken into five subdomains (3.1 through 3.5) with the key topics beneath each discussed below.
Given a scenario, use the appropriate communication method
One of the biggest reasons for project failure is a lack of sufficient communication. Once the planning phase has ended, a kick-off meeting for the project should be held and then regular (either scheduled vs. impromptu) meetings held after that until the project concludes and there is a closure meeting.
Attendance at meetings can be either virtual or in-person, but need all relevant parties must participate. A primary cause for virtual attendance is team members not being located in the same geographic area.
Some important things to cover at the kick-off meeting are goals for the project, the members of the team (including the project manager), and stakeholders. Responsibilities of all parties should be addressed, along with the expectations, timing, and budget. On the backend, at the closure meeting the focus is on the sign-off by the sponsor and acceptance of all the deliverables.
Communication throughout the project can be done through a plethora of mediums: e-mail, fax, instant messaging, video conferencing, voice conferencing, face-to-face, text messaging, social media, or the distribution of printed media.
Each of these offer their own set of pros and cons: with face-to-face interaction, for example, it is easy to address multiple issues at one time and add in topics that may not have been thought of beforehand, but this can be the most costly form of communication in terms of travel and time.
Compare and contrast factors influencing communication methods
A number of issues can influence communication methods that need to be employed. These include language barriers, time zones/geographical factors, technological factors, cultural differences, interorganizational differences, intraorganizational differences, and personal preferences.
Some individuals may thrive communicating by telephone, for example, while others prefer to have any other form of communication but the telephone. There are also a wide range of disabilities that can factor in and make it difficult for some individuals to use certain devices. Learning preferred communication styles and accommodating them can help you build rapport and relationships with team members.
Regardless of preferred communication method, however, the content of the message needs to always be a consideration. As much as a team member may prefer to communicate via text messaging, for example, this would not be an appropriate medium to use to inform them of layoffs or other negative information of a similar weight.
Criticality and timeliness needs to also be considered in the dissemination of information regarding the project.
Just as team members will have preferred methods of communication, so too will other stakeholders. Knowing their communication requirements (frequency, level of report detail, types of communication, confidentiality constraints) can help you tailor a communication style that works best with them and keeps them as proponents of yours instead of opponents.
Explain common communication triggers and determine the target audience and rationale
Every project has communication triggers (warning signs that something could happen if a response is not activated) and some of the more common ones are:
Audits: Projects should be periodically audited to see that they are on track and resources (including funding) are being adequately allocated. An audit should also verify that the project will add value exceeding cost after completion. An audit can be done within the organization (internal) or by those outside of it (external).
Project planning: Communication between team members, the project manager, and stakeholders should continue throughout the project. It is good practice to check every so often and make sure that communication channels are being used effectively and messages are being received by all affected parties.
Project change: If there is a change in the project — whether with the budget, the scope, the schedule, or anything of substance — it needs to communicated with the team and the stakeholders.
Risk register updates: The risk register is nothing more than a tool (database) that documents risks to the project, actions for dealing with it, and related information. As soon as risks are recognized, they need to be logged into the register along with any actions taken or that need to be taken.
If there are updates to the risk register, it is usually because new risks have been identified or their likelihood has changed. These updates should be communicated to all affected parties.
Milestones: Milestones are important success points, or progress points, that occur during the life of a project. Reaching those milestones offers an opportunity to share successes and revisit timelines until the next one is reached.
Schedule changes: Any change to the project schedule, for whatever reason (delays due to weather, unavailability of resources, bad estimates, etc.) needs to be communicated following approval. The change can affect milestones, the completion date of the project or task(s) and needs to be shared with the team, the stakeholders, and the sponsor.
Task initiation/completion: When tasks are completed, it is often helpful to acknowledge the team responsible for it. Since tasks are often dependent upon one another, the completion or initiation of a task should also trigger notification to all of those involved in the project in case one task needs another to complete before it can begin.
Stakeholder changes: Stakeholders can make changes affecting a project (scope, budget, etc.) or they themselves can change. Because of the value stakeholders offer, once a change of one has been approved, the change needs to be communicated and documentation updated.
Gate reviews: The phase-gate model divides a project into stages (phases) and each one of them is divided from the next by a gate. When a stage is completed, then there is a review done before the project moves to the next phase. Quality checks are done at this time and the sponsor holds sole responsibility for the review.
Business continuity response: Business continuity is the ability to continue operating following an incident (discussed next). It is the responsibility of the project manager to focus on an appropriate business continuity response and to keep all vested parties suitably updated.
Incident response: The best way to think of an incident is as something that could disrupt the project. During the planning process, potential incidents should have been anticipated and responses to them thought through and documented.
If an incident occurs that was not previously evaluated, the project manager and project team must formulate a response to implement and document with business continuity being a priority.
Resource changes: Once a resource change has been approved, it should be communicated with the team and stakeholders involved as it has the ability to affect the projects schedule and other dependencies. As with everything, documentation needs to be updated as well.
Given a scenario, use the following change control process within the context of a project
Change control process: The most important thing about the change control process is that it is a formal process — a change control board evaluates all change requests and approves or rejects them. On a very small project, the change control board may consist only of the project manager, but on a larger project, there are typically many individuals involved.
The steps involved in the change control process are as follows:
- Identify and document
- Evaluate impact and justification (regression plan; revers changes)
- Identify approval authority
- Obtain approval
- Implement change
- Validate change and perform a quality check
- Update documents/audit documents/version control
- Communicate throughout as needed
There are a number of types of project changes that can occur. Regardless of which type of change is occurring the steps listed above need to be followed. The most common types of changes are:
- Timeline change
- Funding change
- Risk event
- Requirements change
- Quality change
- Resource change
- Scope change
Recognize types of organizational change
Business merger/acquisition: An acquisition occurs when one company purchases another while a merger occurs when two companies decide to join together. In either situation, there can be reductions in the number of employees working for the new/combined organization and that can mean some team members are lost or replaced with new people. At the extreme end, it can also mean a shift in priorities and support for the project.
Business demerger/split: Just as separate businesses come together in a merger, one company can divide into two with either a split or demerger. Such a split can lead to some team members now working for one entity and others working for another and/or needing to be replaced to prevent negatively affecting the project.
Business process change: When businesses want to cut costs, they often implement business process changes. While such changes have the potential to generate positive outcomes and make the project execution smoother, many slow the process down — at least during the initial transition period if not longer — and can negatively affect the project and its schedule.
Internal reorganization: A reorganization of the internal structure of the company is often done to cut costs, reduce redundancy, and increase efficiency. The issues this can lead to are the same as those associated with business process changes.
Relocation: When a company moves from one location to another, it is often a lengthy process and not everything can be moved at one time. This can lead to downtime of valuable assets and difficult communications as departments are forced to operate from multiple locations until the move is complete.
Outsourcing: Rather than moving an entire company from one location to another, sometimes parts of the organization are moved to out another firm: outsourcing. While this is often done for cost savings, it can affect communication and getting timely responses since the employees working for the outsource firm are not employees of the primary firm and can be faced with a set of priorities other than helping with the existing projects, thus resulting in delays.
When faced with any of the types of organizational change mentioned here, the number one thing the project manager must do is anticipate the impact of them on the project and do what he or she can to keep the project moving forward.
This month, we looked at the third of the four domains on the CompTIA Project+ certification exam (PK0-004). Next month, we will look at the last domain, Project Tools and Documentation.
In May, we will follow that up with a number of questions based on the topics in each of the domains. Those questions offer the opportunity to see if you should start planning for more studying or start planning to ace the exam.