Monday, March 01, 2010

Let's not forget the basics

I spent the greater part of this morning with a client turning an inside-out document the right way round.

The document was a detailed project update as the organisation approaches a major milestone on its change journey. It was written by the programme manager and the comms lead sensed it wasn't quite up to scratch. He'd tried to turn it round, but felt that a fresh pair of eyes would help.

He was right, and over a fruitful few hours the work became an object lesson in getting the basics right.

First, there was no clarity on what the piece was meant to achieve. It was more than just an update - buried in the text was a call for some very specific actions. That was half the problem - the important stuff was buried. Much of this morning has been spent digging it out and making sure the call to action would help achieve the project manager's desired outcome.

Second, the piece was written from an internal perspective: the writer simply hadn't put himself in his audience's shoes. There was far too much about what he knew rather than what his audience needed to know. A lot of that was context setting. It wasn't necessary at this point in the change journey. We stripped out the bulk of the context and added some links to past updates - if people want to know the full back story, there's a 'compelling narrative document' underpinning all the comms. There's now a link in the latest update to that.

Third, the piece was written in a mix of passive language and project jargon. Just making the language active made it far less clumsy; far more direct. Turning the project jargon into the everyday language of the business made it more accessible and much more straightforward.

Finally, there was the sheer bulk of the piece. Everything including the kitchen sink was in there: one size fitting at least two, probably three, distinct audiences. We've certainly come up with three slimmed-down versions of the document now - each aimed at a specific segment of the stakeholder audience.

It has actually been refreshing to go back to first principles and turn around something that no-one would have read into a piece of communication that really meets a need. It's being road-tested on a few internal bods this afternoon - I'm looking forward to the feedback.

No comments: