The Importance of a Good Communications Plan

Although there are many types of formal plans as part of a project I consider none more valuable than a formalized communication plan.  In general communication is often taken for granted.  Outside of the tech industry users generally don’t consider the effort required to create communication channels anymore than they consider the amount of chicken feed required to produce a dozen eggs.  

A formalized communication plan benefits stakeholders by creating reducing uncertainty in the overall planning phase.  Often times when establishing a project at work the planning phase involves a lot of ad-hoc communications instances.  This creates uncertainty among stakeholders and increases the project’s risk by having stakeholders unable to receive or transmit information that would demonstrate truthfully the status of the project.  

The same pattern was evidenced in our group for this class.  Much of our time early on was spent deciding the best way to communicate as a group going forward.  Other than email there was no common platform amongst the group members.  So we had difficulty getting each person into a google hangouts group that would allow us to send texts and video chat for free.  Some students had multiple email addresses.  The ones associated with their UMUC account weren’t monitored regularly.  UMUC’s communication tools don’t include features that allow them to send notifications to portable devices and were regularly discarded as being dated and ineffective by the group.

To prepare going forward I’ll be making youtube videos demonstrating communications best practices for the groups I’ll be working with in my next class.  These video topics will include introduction to Google’s document production suite to reduce uncertainty and overall inefficiency within the first few weeks of class.  This video version of a communication plan may cause a few problems for students who have moral objections to using Google’s tools or have limited access to devices that facilitate the technology.

In general I believe the communication plan is the most important of all the plans to establish early on, because it truly gives stakeholders the ability to share the information available to them.  At work we are currently struggling to flatten our communication plans for projects.  Despite receiving training that encourages flattening, our established communication plan and rigid hierarchy limits our ability to innovate.  This struggle only serves to illustrate that whatever plan is created (communication or otherwise) it will need to work within the organization’s culture and operational practices.

IT as a Phaeton Enabler

IT and business alignment happens when a business and its IT department positions both assets in complimentary ways to facilitate greater efficiency and productivity towards the business’s overall goals.  In some organizations this complementary relationship is often channeled to align with a goal that has already passed instead of innovating towards the future.  

The Volkswagen assembly plant in Dresden Germany is a good example of IT and business alignment.  Although it’s not necessarily new to have segments of the automotive assembly process automated with machines the assembly plant in Dresden has a much different approach in their manufacture of the Volkswagen Phaeton.

The Phaeton is a marketed as a high end luxury automobile and competes in a market that values as much hands on time as possible.  This means that for the Phaeton factory Volkswagen had to develop the assembly line process not with more automation, but with less automation to allow it to compete in the luxury hand-built market.

Robots aren’t just more efficient, they are also more predictable.  Putting humans back into the assembly line processes increases some of the technical challenges.  The factory is a wonderful blend of some great technologies.  From the business side it was important to the company to have a plant in the downtown area to revitalize the community after reunification.  The IT department facilitated the engineering software that designed a building with moving floors, robots who automatically resupply parts drawers, and a light rail car system that moves the parts into the building to reduce the amount of trucks in the downtown area.

Just as the IT realm responds to the availability of new technologies updated best practices so too does the business realm as improvements in efficiency are identified and leveraged.  Aligning the two departments isn’t just a one time fix and forget solution.  It’s a marriage.  When the demand of the Phaeton dropped due to a lack of interest in the US market, the factory had additional capacity and the engineers went back to their IT systems to develop techniques to utilize the plant’s capacity and produce similar vehicles in the Volkswagen family.

For the glass factory in Dresden the role of the IT strategic plan was to function as an enabler for the business’s strategic plan of revitalizing a community by producing high quality hand-made automobiles.