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7 Steps to Clear Communication

(Excerpt from Eliminate the Confusion)

The steps described in this section can be helpful in any endeavor that requires definition and a communication structure. This routine can be used as a process to aid the facilitation of meetings or events. It can also be used as an outline to draft project documents. It has never failed me and provides a structure that gives confidence when approaching any situation - known or unknown. Follow it faithfully and never be surprised. In many cases you won’t need each and every step. I encourage you to use all seven steps but it’s not always necessary.

Situation Analysis

The situation analysis is a snapshot of the current events. It is facts about the environment; it is a chronology of events leading to the present or to the need. It does not include decisions or alternatives. It includes what is around you now, not what will be around you following completion of these steps

Purpose

This is a simple statement of the overall purpose of the plan, such as, "The purpose of this plan is to communicate an effective method of problem solving", or "The purpose of this plan is to ensure the accuracy of an unknown outcome." This section is a sentence or two and at a high level… no detail, no why or how. The why should be fully understandable in the Situation Analysis… the How comes later.

Objectives

These are the outcomes and should be written with all the clarity you can muster. There can be any number of objectives; but, too many (maybe more than 5 - 8) indicate too broad a project. When too many objectives exist there is usually more than one project trying to be communicated.

Objectives are rarely prospective and require two elements… by when, and, as evidenced by what. In other words:

At the completion of this project, users will have:

  • created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel which adds 3 columns of 16 numbers by April first as evidenced by the completion of worksheet 3.

At the completion of this meeting, participants will:

  • understand each step of the transaction cycle as evidenced by a score of 90% or better on an oral exam administered by the Transaction Cycle Police.

It is these objectives that provide something to monitor and measure. Without the ‘by when’ and ‘as evidenced by’ portion of the Objectives, you won’t be able to determine if you got where you wanted to go by when you wanted to be there.

Research and Synthesis

This is just what it sounds like… all the research and knowledge that can be brought to the party. Who are the vendors being considered; what are the alternatives; how do the alternatives fit together; etc. This should be the empirical piece that presents just facts or at least irrefutable logic.

You’ve already identified what objectives you want to accomplish. In this section try to identify what you have to work with and how it fits together to accomplish the objectives.

  • Who am I trying to influence and what are their characteristics?

  • What information or tools do I have or can I develop?

  • What are the resources I can drum up?

  • How do these things all synthesize (blend or integrate) so that I can apply them to this project?

Concept

Part One of the concept is the fun part and should be written like a screenplay.

"At 9:00 am the room lights go down and the video begins. On the screen is Mike Jone addressing a group of kindergarten students. The students are handed crayons and are asked to draw their favorite animals, while in the meeting room an attendant hands crayons to the meeting participants.

"Each participant is asked to add three columns of six numbers by hand. Each number must be 10 digits. After the mathematics, the participants are all handed laptop computers and asked to open the lids and turn on their computers.

It needs to flow and convey a concept to the reader. This is the sell. This is where you capture your reader and make sure that they are inside the concept looking out. The concept section is where the execution of planning (everything you’ve written so far) meets stated objectives. Everything written here must move toward realization of the objectives.

Part Two of the concept is the actual, step-by-step list of what needs to be done, when, and by whom. A Time and Responsibilities Schedule is often the best tool for developing and communicating this.

Budget

Obviously, how much will this cost… or how long will it take… or how many FTEs will it require… or what resources do we need?

Follow-up (for effectiveness)

Follow-up is the most often overlooked step. As mentioned before, "Plans never work, but planning is essential." It’s true. And the follow-up keeps the planning process alive. There is absolutely no such thing as a static plan. Plans change. DON’T WAIT until the end of a project only to find out it didn’t work. It will always work if you keep the planning process dynamic.

This is the section where you plan how you’re going to monitor progress and measure the extent to which the objectives are being met. Remember, in the Objectives section you stated ‘by when’ and ‘as evidenced by’ statements to determine how you’re doing against each objective. You need a concrete method of monitoring and measuring.

Revisit your objectives often, change stuff if it needs to be changed… but be prepared to explain why. Objectives might change, actions might change, responsibilities might change. Don’t be afraid of this… throw the flag early. If something isn’t working as expected, don’t let the whole project go down the crapper.

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