Project communication between “non-techie” stakeholders and “techies”


In all the different jobs that I’ve had over my career, I’ve had a mix of technical and non-technical managers on projects. Most of the time, the non-technical managers just leave the technical stuff to the technical ones in the project, but sometimes I don’t believe that’s the best for a project, because each of these disciplines will come at a project in a different manner.

This dual approach may work for you, and it may not. Both teams want the same thing, for the project to succeed, but my take to projects, is you need both teams to effectively communicate for a project to have the minimum amount of issues. So if you find yourself as a stakeholder in a project, and you are non-technical working with technical resources, here are some tips.

  1. How to communicate with the technical resources?
    I list this one first, because depending on your organizations size, this may or may not be a huge problem. You may have a project or IT manager, inwhich to coordinate and communicate with, and in this case you got someone who can filter that coversation. If you don’t have one, or if they just point to a technical resource, then this question becomes even more important. Technical resources often still have day to day tasks to take care of, and you don’t want to bother them at the inoppertune times, so this question lets you understand how best to communcate with them, in a manner that they prefer. For example, I know I perfer phone calls or email, where I’ve met technicians who prefer just emails.
  2. Are you waiting on me for anything?
    Project managers keep track of opened items, but if you don’t have one, this is a great question everyone should ask. This makes sure that you’ve submitted everything that you need for the project to move forward. I’ve seen people think that they’ve completed their part, only to forgotten they agreed to somethnig else or more data.
  3. What’s Testing Look Like?
    I’ve seen many projects where the testing part of the project where things go belly up. I think it should be something that the begining of every project gets discussed. If your testing of the software or application is done correctly (and that’s something that varies), the launch will be smoother (nothing is perfect). If you test with the wrong set of users, you can see roll out identify major issues that weren’t discussed, planned for or even available to assit.
  4. How does this system impact other systems
    Some companies have lots of systems that interconnect with each other, so it’s important to identify or know how a change will affect other connected systems. As stakeholder, you should dedicate some time to thinking through how this project impacts downstream processes. If the new system connects with other exsisting systems, make sure they’re data flow is in the test strategy.
  5. What is the process, when it breaks
    This is kind of lumped in question, that is trying to understand what happens when things don’t work. This one has had different meaning based on many many roles over time, but each part is important to understand. So the easiest one, what happens when I put data in wrong or miss data. This will let you know what the data validiation of the system looks like, and if it throws are error what’s the full process to resolve. Do you contact the help desk, do delevopers need to be contacted, etc.
    If the system goes completely offline or unavailable for whatever reason, what the buisness plan to keep the processes flowing. This is more of a disaster recovery planning piece, what are the mechanisms in place that you’ll pick up if this system is unavailable. You don’t want to have to figure this out, as the unavialbility is occuring. So plan in advace, what’s going to change…are you going to pencil and paper, is the another tool you can load data into and the once availablilty is restore, then load that back in.
  6. Is there System Aduit Trail?
    This is something that from my security background, I think is important (and it comes up often), that should be discussed during the project phase. It is inevitable that some employee somewhere will do somethin that shouldn’t or you need to track down an issue. It’s important to know if there is an audit trail and what data it contians, so that if you want to see if someone accidentially deleted something or if someone changed data, who was it?
  7. Whats happens during project handoff?
    The highest risk for a project falling apart during the handoff from the tech team to the business. Make sure it is planned out exactly what happens when the testing phase is completed. You need to make sure the technical team has a solid plan for moving the system into production and transitioning from project testing to operations. This should identifying the system owner. Also make sure the technicial resources are available just incase to deal with any launch issues.
  8. What are you thoughts?
    This is a powerful question, that isn’t asked enough in my opinion in projects. The business stakeholders can gain some understanding, in the right situation, by asking this to the technical staff. I say this, because you technical staff works with the end user of the projects, they may have insight into the process or atleast let you know of any concerns. Most technical staff, wont just say this during a meeting, so by asking this question, you are giving them a chance to let you know their thoughts.

I’m sure there are a bunch of other questions you can ask at the start or early in a project to help succeed, I know I’ve looked at: 15 Questions You Should Ask Every Time You Start A Project , and there are others. These are just the ones that I’ve noticed through my time, that I think should be helpful. Are there any ones you recommend, let me know in the comments below.

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