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Preparing for .NET Enterprise Technologies: Communications in an Enterprise Management Framework

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Just like a motor, an organization is a fine-tuned machine that requires appropriate communication flows between its parts. In this sample chapter, Danielle and Nelson Ruest discuss how communication enables groups within the organization to work together and depend on each other.
This sample chapter is excerpted from Preparing for .NET Enterprise Technologies: A Practical Guide for People, PCs and Processes Interacting in a .NET World, by Danielle and Nelson Ruest.
This chapter is from the book

A Critical Change Management Tool

Communications is to the organization what oil is to a motor. A motor could not operate without oil. Given a minimum amount, it would work for perhaps a few minutes, but after a while, the entire motor would break down. Thus, this motor will only work properly with the appropriate amount of oil as per the manufacturer's recommendation.

— Pierre G. Bergeron, Translated from the original French

Just like a motor, an organization is a fine-tuned machine that requires appropriate communication flows between its parts. Communication enables groups within the organization to work together and depend on each other.

The QUOTE System's Transfer Phase

We continue the Transfer Phase with a look at the tools that can assist change management processes within the organization. The first of these tools is communications.

Every organization requires an ongoing communications process. Sharing information is one of the cornerstones of change management within the organization. By announcing upcoming changes, the organization can limit their impact on the user base. Whether it is within their organization or in their personal lives, people have more opportunity to adapt to change when they are forewarned.

Communications is one of the critical processes of the EMF. Because the purpose of the Framework is to manage IT change within the organization and because change is the only constant in an IT world, communications is a process that must be constant and permanent.

The Maslow Model

Remember the Maslow Model for personal satisfaction from Chapter 1? Communications is one of the elements that can bring the most satisfaction in an IT world.

IT personnel may have many skills, but in many cases, communications is a new field for them. How many IT organizations have complete documentation on their systems? How many have complete and up-to-date inventories? How many have nontechnical communications programs? Very few.

One of the most interesting games children play is the telephone game. They begin with a word or phrase and repeat it along a "telephone" chain. Invariably, the end result is not what they started with.

For modern IT, communications is a must. Managing the complex interactions of an enterprise IT system means communicating with several groups.

  • The user base
  • Other departments for non-IT issues
  • Other departments for IT issues
  • Groups within the IT department
  • Partners
  • Suppliers

But communications is not a simple process. When you communicate with a group, you must learn to quickly assess and understand the group's needs in order to respond appropriately. As a result, you'll need to fully understand the communications process and its principles, have a grasp of the tools required for a permanent communications program, and learn how to identify a message and the most appropriate vehicle for delivering a message. All of this is required to support the EMF communications program—the program that aims to support acceptance and integration of the .NET EMF within your organization.

The Communications Process

Communications is the process of broadcasting and receiving information, as illustrated in Figure 8.1. The information included in a message is processed according to factors such as confidence in the origin or the originator of a message, possible criticism, or the possibility of confrontation between people and ideas.

FIGURE 8.1 The Communications Process. Communications focuses on the transmission and reception of a message.

The definition of communications is "an action that enables a link with someone else." Communicating is establishing links with other people.

The word "communicate" comes from the Latin word communicare, or sharing. Communication can be a source of energy, of satisfaction, and of personal and professional empowerment. Communication is a means for multiplication. Without communication, there can be no association.

Listening versus Hearing

There is a major difference between listening and hearing. Hearing means that you pay attention to what is said. Listening focuses on comprehension. When you listen, you pay complete attention to what is said and try to understand it.

The Principles of Communications

Harold Pinter, a British playwright, is renowned for the focus on communications in his plays. Most of his pieces create the appearance of dialogue, but, in fact, each actor is delivering a monologue. An individual actor's monologue is interspersed with appropriate pauses, enabling the other actors to deliver theirs. The actors seem to be speaking with each other, but each is within his or her own little world and cannot seem to breach its walls. This is especially evident in The Turtle Diary, a 1984 film starring Ben Kingsley, which is perhaps Pinter's best-known work. It includes several scenes where you see the actors stare off into space while another person speaks his or her monologue.

Proactive Communications

Managers often underestimate the power of rumor in an organization. Because change situations awaken users' fears, it is always important to ensure that your communications program is proactive; that is, that you anticipate rumors and you ensure that the appropriate message is put forth.

In Pinter's plays, there is little communication because there is no listening. The first principle of communications is learning to listen—learning how to determine the mood of the audience, identify the needs of your listeners, and understand their preoccupations. Every good communicator is first and foremost a good listener.

Marshal McLuhan, a great Canadian communicator, is renowned for his concept of the Global Village. According to McLuhan, the evolution of communications technology and the reduction of distance in the modern world have a direct impact on the total amount of information people receive every day.

The Global Village concept is easily applied to the organization. The sum of information that is output by the organization in a single day is directly related to the size of the organization and the number of people participating in the communications process. What is important in communication is not the amount of information that is broadcast, but rather the quality of that information.

The Value of Paper

Paper is a traditional means of communication. Many people feel comfortable only when they have a piece of paper in hand. The age of the paperless office may still be far away—not because technologies cannot replace paper, but rather because people are not comfortable with today's paperless technologies.

Recent advances such as Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, and especially the Microsoft Tablet PC (to be released in 2002) are trying hard to displace paper in the near future.

The second principle of communications is learning to express yourself—knowing how to build a bridge between yourself and your audience (see Figure 8.2).

FIGURE 8.2 Building Communications Links. A communications process builds a bridge between speaker and audience.

Knowledge Management: The Internal Village

An example of communications within the enterprise is knowledge management. In order to share information among its personnel, the organization must put in place information-sharing technologies. These technologies must fulfill a specific need.

Today, few organizations have not yet tried to take advantage of intranet technologies. These technologies enable the indexing of all documents and the publication of pertinent information on Web-like pages. But the implementation of these technologies must follow a precise plan. In an EMF, technology is not a goal in and of itself.

Many organizations take the Field of Dreams approach to their intranets. In the film, Kevin Costner fulfills his dream when he begins to believe that "If I build it, they will come." Taking this approach when putting together an intranet does not translate into a winning strategy. As with every other aspect of the EMF, intranet technologies must respond to specific needs. Simply putting the technology in place does not fulfill the need.

The third principle of communications is message content—knowing what to include in your message.

When used properly, the intranet quickly becomes a great vehicle for communications. People quickly learn to rely on its content and use it every day because it is always up-to-date and completely indexed. But the intranet is not the only tool that is available for communications within the organization. There are several others: bulletins, newspapers, training manuals, e-mail, telephones, video-conferencing, meetings, and so on.

The fourth principle of communications is choosing the proper vehicle—learning to use the appropriate method of delivery for each message.

Communications is a change management tool. Be wary of changing traditional communications vehicles at the same time as you perform radical technological changes. For example, if you use a new electronic vehicle to distribute your message at the same time you modify computer systems on all desktops, you are compounding the changes you are introducing. Because people fear change situations, you must limit change as much as possible. Thus, you may choose to use traditional communications methods during the initial introduction of new technologies, and then later, when your personnel are comfortable with this initial change, you can move on to introduce new communications vehicles.

Communications in Migration Projects

Migration projects—projects whose focus is to migrate from one technological platform to another—are often projects that introduce massive change. As such, these projects disrupt daily operations and affect all users. Even though users welcome the changes introduced by these projects, they will still undergo the emotional cycle of change.

Communicating the Proper Message

Communications is especially important in a migration from Windows 95 to Windows 2000. In Windows 95, users are allowed to install components and software on their workstations. In Windows 2000, the average user does not have the capability to perform any installations. If the reasons behind the change from an "open" system to a "locked" system are not fully communicated, an organization will have a mutiny on its hands.

It is important to communicate with affected personnel beforehand to limit the impact of the change on business operations. Most projects will include a communications program whose purpose is to limit the impact of the change and to inform affected users about project status and objectives. But this is often not enough.

In many cases, the people who are in charge of communications within the project are also users who will be affected by the change. They are responsible for this critical change management tool at the same time as they are affected by it. It's a vicious circle. Because they are also affected by the change, they often tend to focus only on the project status. But it is also essential for people to understand the reason behind the change.

When you communicate the impact of a change, it is essential to include the objectives of the change. This part of the communications strategy must focus on the reasons behind the change—the reasoning used to justify every critical selection made during the elaboration of the solution. It must include at every level the information required for people affected by the change to fully understand the proposed changes. Comprehension ensures participation.

The communicator must create an environment supporting the desire to change. This is the point where communications becomes a marketing tool supporting the acceptance of the change. The success of a proposed change relies heavily on the quality of the communications during the transition period between the initial introduction of the change and the full integration of the change within organizational processes.

The negative impacts of a change are always reduced by a strong and effective communications program. This program must identify both favorable and unfavorable impacts of the change and design communications that put both in their best light. Proper communications makes the difference between the way people perceive the change: as welcome or unwelcome. If you implement an inappropriate communications program, your project will suffer the consequences.

A well-structured communications program includes information for each of the audiences affected by the change and identifies for them processes and methods they can use to reduce the impact of the change in their own situation. It's simple: The greater the change you intend to introduce, the more comprehensive your communications program must be.

The message needs to be simple and clear. It must be easy for people to understand; it must be at their level of comprehension. If it is intended for users, it shouldn't be too technical. If it is intended for managers, it needs to be in terms that they understand and that interest them. If the message is appropriate, it will invariably result in greater participation and easier acceptance of the change. Everything depends on content and method.

It is important to know at which stage of a change process communications should be introduced. During the change management implementation, communications provide ongoing risk management, as shown in Figure 8.3.

FIGURE 8.3 Communications and change management

In society, as in organizations, communications are essential. Every human interaction begins with communication. One piece of advice communicators should heed is to listen before they speak.

Case Study

Migrating to a "Locked" PC

Organization Type

Public Sector

Number of Users

2,000

Number of Computers

2,000

Project Focus

Migration to Windows NT

Project Duration

9 Months

Specific Project Focus

Migrate from a Variety of Operating Systems to a Standard

Administrative Type

Decentralized


This organization invested millions of dollars in a massive migration from a series of different operating systems to Windows NT version 4.0. The project was extremely well prepared and very well managed, but when it came to the communications program, the internal communications department refused to support or implement it because "no IT project will communicate to the entire user base." As a result, the communications program was delayed until the actual deployment phase of the project, and no communications about the specific content of the migration program were made available to users. Nobody was forewarned of the content of the new system.

Like all projects, this one included an acceptance-testing phase. In this phase, end-user developers were invited by a different project group to come to the testing laboratory to install and test their own applications. The crunch came with the very first developer to arrive. Because his objective was to test his application on the new system, he began by installing it. It took less than two minutes for him to receive an Access Denied error message. At first, he thought he had made a mistake. Then he discovered that as a user, he did not have installation rights.

He immediately left and went to consult his peers. They called a special meeting with the project director and told him to put an immediate stop to the project. They refused the station as it was and refused to provide further support to the project.

In the end, the project went ahead and the station remained as it was, but only after some extensive risk management operations. Had the communications department been willing to support the initial communications program, this situation would never have occurred.

Managing Change through Communications

Chapter 6 introduced the cyclical nature of IT change. IT is constantly faced with change and must therefore constantly communicate with affected personnel. But it is not necessarily IT's responsibility within the organization to perform these communications. It is their responsibility to provide message content, but in most organizations, it is the responsibility of the communications department to manage the communications process.

In fact, it is within the communications department that the organization's communications experts are to be found. While most communications departments tend to focus on external communications, it is also their role to manage and provide internal communications. Just like the IT group, these experts provide a service to the organization.

As such, this department must also undergo a change with the implementation of the EMF. Its staff must create and provide a specialized IT communications service. Because IT tends to introduce technological changes through projects, the new communications services should be a project-oriented communications team. It should be designed to integrate with and support IT projects on an as needed basis.

In this manner, the organization will not have to reinvent the internal communications process every time a new IT project is initiated. This team will require a structured communications approach—a communications plan, in fact—that can be adapted to any IT change situation.

Case Study

Making People Listen

Organization Type

Private Sector

Number of Users

10,000

Number of Computers

9,000

Project Focus

Systems Deployment

Project Duration

6 Months

Specific Project Focus

Deploy a New Technology to Users

Administrative Type

Centralized


This large organization had done everything right. It was about to deploy a new technology to the entire user base. But this deployment called for users to perform some initial activities on their systems beforehand. This required an integration of a sound communications program into the project.

Project organizers began by warning users through an internal memo identifying what the project aimed to do, how users would be affected, and what benefits users would gain from the project. This memo was sent off one month before the project was to affect users. A second memo was sent two weeks later indicating the process used for the change and the dates involving users. Finally, a third memo sent out the week before the deployment indicated to users what procedures they would have to perform in order to ensure protection of their information.

The day of the deployment, IT personnel found that very few people had performed their operations themselves. Most people had read and understood the contents of the memo, but they had simply decided that it would be IT personnel who would perform these tasks and not themselves. They felt sure that IT personnel would do it anyway, even if they had asked users to perform the tasks.

What went wrong? What can this organization do to correct the problem? It is clear that users read the memos, but they simply didn't take them seriously. The cost to the organization was a longer deployment time and a frustrated IT group.

IT brought in some communications experts to see if they could correct the problem. Following are a few of the changes that were suggested and implemented:

  • Demonstration rooms were set up to provide more information to users and to promote the results of the project before its implementation.

  • Presentations were delivered to the user base to identify what would change and how users would be affected. These presentations also focused on the user's role during the change. The presentations treated the user as a partner in the process.

  • Coaching personnel were introduced before, during, and after the change to assist users with their activities.

  • A common vocabulary was identified to ensure that users understood everything in the messages sent by IT.

  • Key users were identified in each department and included in the project team. These project user representatives were empowered to act in the name of the users they represented. They were also involved in the acceptance process of all of the deliverables of the project. These representatives were always the first to receive and review the change to assist in making messages clearer.

  • A special program was initiated within the IT department to ensure that technical personnel would learn to include the user's point of view when examining new technologies.

  • Another program was designed to incite administrators and managers to become more involved in the technological change management process.

All of these programs were designed to help form a bond between IT and other representative groups within the organization. Users learned to take IT processes more seriously. IT learned to pay more attention to user requirements when designing solutions. And management learned to treat IT as a strategic asset.

The result was a better integration of all of the IT processes inside the organization and the inclusion of members of every level of the IT organization in change management processes. Today, IT projects are more unified and users are treated as partners with IT. In addition, users have learned to respect IT. They have learned that when they have specific responsibilities in a project, it is important for the organization that they perform them.

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