Are there lessons learned from how IT has grown up over the years that could make Internal Communications nimbler?
Over the last several years, I have spent many hours talking to internal communication professionals worldwide. I have had the pleasure and privilege of learning from smart and driven individuals in the field. My background is in Information Systems (IS) and Information Technology (IT). I have worked as a consultant building corporate communication solutions for large and small organizations alike.
Agile Software Development changed IT, and I believe some of the fundamentals are adaptable to Internal Communications (IC) field. In my experience, Internal Communications in most organizations follow a two to three-year cycle:
If you and your organization are not following this cycle, then congratulations. You are in the minority.
I could not help but notice that this is how Information Systems used to work years ago. We used to execute projects in what we called a Waterfall model. We had to understand and document detailed requirements, do an upfront design, estimate the project, and then implement it. It just did not work. Business users were disappointed by IT slow progress. There was wasted opportunity between the time in which a project was conceived and when it was finished. The company would often change dramatically between project concept and the eventual project completion, so much so that the anticipated benefits no longer aligned with what the company needed. This results in disappointment and frustration. Then it usually starts all over again with a new initiative.
That’s why a new model was created and adopted by most organizations – Agile Software Development. Agile is a term used to describe approaches to software development emphasizing incremental delivery, team collaboration, continual planning, and constant learning, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end.
How could Agile work for Internal Communications?
The main goal is to reduce the cycle time that I described above and deliver results to the organization sooner. As a CEO (and admittedly, an impatient one), I work with my teams to prioritize good over perfect and starting early over extensive planning and analysis. We experiment and adapt as we head towards our goal. We review what’s not working and incorporate it into our next iteration of improvement.
How could we complete analysis and planning upfront if the world around us changes so much? This is not the same as not having a plan. We simply do not spend months, or years, putting together a plan that will likely be obsolete before it could be started, let alone finished.
Here is how Internal Communication can apply agile principles:
Years ago, IT didn’t have a seat at the table. Now it’s hard to think about a company that doesn’t have a CIO. Internal Communications is in a similar position to what IT was years ago. One of the great challenges IT had, and Internal Communications often still has, is the classic “take a year to make a strategy which we won’t get to start executing until the middle or end of the following year.” I believe that taking an agile-style approach can help make a difference.