Getting the word out: An IT communication plan that works

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A communication plan serves many purposes, from publicizing successful rollouts to keeping execs in touch with the IT roadmap. Here's how to build your plan -- and a few templates to get you started.

I recently had the opportunity to step outside of IT for a few months and work in some other areas of the company. Once I was no longer living in the daily chatter of the department, it became clear that, as a department, we were not doing a good enough job of communicating with the rest of the organization. We were sending out notifications around software releases and upgrades, hardware changes, outages, and security bulletins. However, that was all "just-in-time" communications. We never thought to communicate much beyond that.

As a result, I began compiling a formal IT communications plan. Regular communication serves so many purposes; its importance can't be overemphasized. Just some of the goals are:

  • Informing users about events that may affect them (the just-in-time communications mentioned above).
  • Publicizing IT wins. The more you do this, the more capital you have to effect change down the road.
  • Justifying your costs. IT is a major cost center. Don't leave the corporate executives wondering what they are spending that money on. Give them transparency.
  • Keeping your eyes on the prize. The biggest wins are usually the result of a complex, long-term initiative. These are transformational efforts where the real ROI comes only after a whole series of less exciting projects. Reminding the business of the long-term benefit helps keep everyone focused.

An IT communication plan needs to be both reactive and proactive. Table A and Table B show sample communication plans that cover both.

Table A

Table A

Table B

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Table B

Timing

It may go without saying, but the scheduled communications should be staggered. A schedule might look something like Table C.

Table C

Table C

In those cases where multiple communications are scheduled for the same month, they should be sent a week or two apart.

Substance and style

The content of all these communications is important. They need to be informative and as brief as possible. The style of the communication is also critical and is frequently overlooked. These should be professional-looking communications (spelling, grammar, proofreading; you will be judged by these or the lack thereof). I'm a strong believer in developing a consistent format for these communications with a touch of IT-specific branding. These are important messages. The style should reflect that importance.

Remember that these are, in part, marketing pieces. Treat the style much like you would a website: intuitive and clean. And like a website, do a "refresh" on the look-and-feel every couple of years to keep them from getting stale.

Sample templates

We've created a couple of template packages to get you started:

We'll be adding more in the weeks to come, and we welcome your suggestions and requests for specific types of communications.

You can download what you need, copy it into your favorite text editor, and make any desired tweaks to the content and format. Then, just paste it into an email for distribution to the appropriate recipients.

All of these short communications are intended to be placed directly in an email (i.e., they are not attachments) to make them easy to read -- and harder to overlook.

More than anything else, the goal of these pieces is to project the impression that "the IT department really has its act together." We know how much value and service IT delivers to the organization. With a communication plan in place, everyone else will too.

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