Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Happy Monkey

One of my early jobs when Leapfrog kicked off was to support the roll-out of a SAP upgrade for an FMCG company. All that stakeholders wanted to know was:

  • Why do we need it?
  • Will it work?
  • When will it affect what I do?
  • What will I need to do differently?
However, the project comms before I joined the team consisted of vast PowerPoint presentations detailing every aspect of the size of the drill - rather than the benefits of the hole in the wall.

When pitching for the work, I made it very clear how little value I saw in PowerPoint as a communication tool. From a communicators' viewpoint, it's a pig to edit and update, while from the receiver's viewpoint, it is too often densely packed with facts, charts and drawings that appeal to the project office but are as useful as a chocolate teapot to anyone else.

My heart rather dropped when on day 1 I was sent a 70-slide deck on the aims of the programme; 56 slides on the activity plan; a further 44 slides summarising the last week's activities and just four slides on stakeholder impacts. The balance was very wrong. My predecessor's practise was to send the weekly project update, unedited, to a vast stakeholder list. I could see there was next to no feedback, but a team meeting also made it clear that the workstream leaders were having a tough time getting any kind of traction with the directors and team leaders they needed to buy into the change.

My first task was to prepare the next weekly update: I spent the next two days receiving sub-decks from the workstream leaders, while moving from brief meeting to even briefer meeting with the stakeholder base to get their wish list for our comms. It was clear that the project was on track in terms of the technical stuff, but the business felt it was being done to them, not with them.

I sent the project director my first weekly comms deck. It was one slide: a picture of a happy monkey - ok; it was an orangutan, which isn't a monkey, but you get my drift.

I sort of expected a small explosion, but he appeared beside my desk with a smirk on his face. "Okay," he said. "I can't send this, but explain your reasoning." My response was simple. Too many people were getting too much data that was useless for them. At this stage, all most people needed to know was that the project was on track and everyone was happy. A smaller group needed much more engagement (and this was long before engagement was part of our common vocabulary). They didn't need a big fat deck, but did need personal contact; someone to listen to their needs, to understand their business challenges and to explain how this new implementation would make things better - and what they needed to do.

The five minute chat became a two-hour conversation with more and more project members joining in. By the end, I more or less had our comms strategy - I just needed to write it up: and not as a PowerPoint.

That week, we put out a two page comms update. Page one was a Happy Monkey. Page two, my compromise: six green traffic lights with a bullet under each on achievements and next steps. It was still too busy - but getting towards a workable dashboard. In addition, the workstream leads had a lot more meetings in their diaries.

Over the coming weeks, we moved from exclusively push-comms to an intranet site supported by far more targeted people-led proactive engagement. Our home page over the course of the project featured a selection of happy monkeys, a couple of sad ones and a couple best described as 'quizzical'.

The first question in every Monday's project round-up became "Happy Monkey?", and it also became a greeting every time team members were in meetings in the business.

It was a bit daft and a bit stupid but somehow made a pretty dry project more human. The roll-out happened on time and in budget - as it may well have done even if the comms had still been driven by gargantuan PowerPoints. However, the spirit around it seemed more buoyant - users fed in their own Happy Monkey stories and we definitely broke down barriers. Our comms were by no means perfect but at least we weren't continually having to feed the PowerPoint monster. The Happy Monkey helped.