Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy, a leading provider of public relations and communication education. Her special areas of interest are internal communication and project communication.
Ann leads PR Academy’s CIPR internal comms certificate.
Do you give up trying to plan because as soon as you do it, it’s out of date? Do complicated planning models that look rather like central heating systems put you off? If so, perhaps it’s time to get agile.
If you work in a project environment you are probably familiar with the term agile as a methodology for developing IT software. Well now Dutch Professor Betteke van Ruler has got us thinking about how to apply that to communication planning. As she explains, the beauty of this approach is that unforeseen dynamics and complexity are not seen as obstacles but are incorporated into the planning method.
I loved her book “Reflective Communication Scrum” straight way – not only because I really believe the days of dry communication plans that languish in drawers (or more likely on an unvisited SharePoint page) are over – but because it is also written and presented in such an engaging way.
Betteke explains agile and the concept of the “scrum” and “sprints” and tells us how to apply them. So what do these terms mean?
Well, a scrum is where the team reviews progress and discusses what will be done before the next session. It’s usually held standing up and there is a scrum master (what a great title!). A sprint is a predetermined period during which actions are developed and implemented. Each sprint is followed by a validation meeting that includes the project owner and possibly stakeholders.
This approach allows for much more flexibility and adaptability. With traditional approaches to planning, changing the plan as you go because the environment is changing can sometimes be seen as a failure to plan properly in the first place: surely we should have thought of all these things from the start? The reality of course is very different. We are often dealing with complex stakeholder demands and a fast moving business environment. I do a lot of communication on change projects and the projects themselves are changing all the time. Scope can change, new stakeholders emerge, all sorts of things impact on what you are trying to do – most of which could never have been anticipated.
Unsurprisingly the result of this can be that people give up trying to plan altogether. And we all know that failing to plan is planning to fail.
My one caution would be that if you adopt this approach, you really must embrace it. I have worked on change projects that have adopted the terminology but not the methodology – that’s straight to the naughty step in my book!