Yesterday, I downloaded a couple of apps for my beloved iPad, and got the now familiar message about updated Apple iStore terms and conditions, which I was required to review and agree to before I could proceed with my purchase.
The new terms and conditions were laid out for me in plain black and white text…all 44 pages of them! Beside the fact that I wasn’t willing to spend time reading all of it, even if I had, there was no easy way for me to tell what had actually changed. Short of getting hold of the previous version and comparing it word for word, it just wasn’t feasible for me to spot the difference. So I clicked “Agree” and who knows (well some lawyer somewhere does I guess!) what I have signed up to…
This is a good example of bad communication about change. It’s the same on projects: Project Managers constantly have to communicate changes (what it is, why it’s happening and what impact it’s going to have), and it’s always a challenge to get the message across to project stakeholders, particularly when the change needs approval. Failure to communicate effectively about project changes leads to two possible situations:
1) Your stakeholders don’t approve the change until they understand what it is, and you end up spending a huge amount of time going back and forth with them to explain it all;
2) Your stakeholders sign off even though they don’t understand it (sometimes finding themselves in a “no real choice” situation very much akin to my iStore terms & conditions scenario above). Now you might get away with it (hey, after all, it is their responsibility!), but this can lead to dire consequences, and honestly the last thing you want is a pass-the-blame game between you and your stakeholders about “who approved what without understanding it” and “who didn’t make it clear in the first place”.
Because change is often difficult to accept, it’s really important to make it clear to your stakeholders what’s changed and what it means to the project (and to them). When you are communicating a change, whether it is a revision to the project schedule or an updated baseline scope, don’t just issue a new project plan or a new version of the scope statement: make it clear to your audience what’s new and make it simple for them to understand what it means.