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COMMS – Criteria

So here we are in Comms. And for the avoidance of doubt, Comms is short for communications.

This is less about ‘doing’ and much more about thinking, preparing and defining. It’s the preparation in Comms that makes sure you are ready for the next stage, Deploy. Think of it as an essential desk exercise with lots of headspace and lots of thinking required.

There’s a couple of things I need to share with you first before we get into Comms:

Pilot it first?

As the Project Manager, one of the jobs on your list is to make sure that people have had training for this new thing.

You’ll also want to be sure they had the right information communicated to them at the right time before you release it into the world. But, before that, you’ll need to know what the approach is to put it out there. Let me explain a bit more.

For example:

  • Are you training everyone all at once? Or can you just to train a few people first off?
  • Are you phasing this thing in, or are you going big bang in terms of launch?
  • What are you telling people? Perhaps you’re launching a new product to existing customers first and maybe new customers is phase two?
  • Maybe you’ve got this fancy invention, but you don’t know if anyone will want to buy it?

You’ll work out with the team the best way to do it and whether to perhaps pilot it first and give it a trial run. 

You need these decisions from the team so you can make plan your Comms accordingly.

Pilot if you can.

Your pilot should be as lifelike as possible. Not a mockup, otherwise it won’t properly test it out.

Whether you decide to pilot first or not, no one wants to flog a dead horse, right? So that’s why you develop criteria to understand, “How am I doing? How do I know? Am I getting there?”

Not sure whether to Pilot?

This really comes down to the nature of the product, your sponsor’s appetite for risk and how much they’re prepared to lose. If they say, “No, we’re not going to pilot. We’re going to go full on into production. I’m really super confident of this.” How badly could the company’s reputation be impacted if it didn’t land well? What would the impact be? Either way, you need to know.

“Are we doing this in pieces or am I doing it all at once?”

Sometimes it’s only by test driving your new idea that you get to expose both the strengths and the weaknesses of what you’re doing. It allows you to demonstrate on a small scale before you go large and you’re doing it in a controlled way.

When I say ‘controlled’, you want to control it because before you commit to doing lots of something, you want to be sure. So, you set your Criteria before you embark up on it.  And controlled means using a data driven set of results, not opinion. (Although a bit of opinion is okay ????)

Remember the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) from AIM

Just a reminder that sometimes we repeat the Build, Comms and Deploy sections of the framework because we’ve got different versions and iterations of our product.

Perhaps you’re taking a phased approach. Or perhaps you’re launching a new product or doing a pilot first.

Your sponsor decides what that MVP is and you’ll deliver the first chunk of stuff to meet that MVP. You might go around this loop again a few times, and that’s perfectly okay.

The second thing I’d like to share with you before we dive into Criteria, is our new product we’re going to launch.

Just like we used the example of a house build in previous sections of ABCDE. This time we’re going to bring the method to life using a different example:

ScheduleIT – our new app example

Example app concept for ScheduleIT
Example app concept for ScheduleIT

Welcome to the brand-new appointment booking system called ScheduleIT

  • It’s very fancy ????
  • It’s a multipurpose system
  • It allows customers to self-serve their own appointment bookings
  • Customers can download the app or use the desktop site
  • It allows colleagues to make appointments too.
  • It’s got reminders and automated calendar entries in it.
  • It’s going live on the 1st of June.  We’re all very excited for the launch.

We’ll be using this product to product to illustrate the method over the next 10 minutes or so.


The purpose of Criteria is to work out what your success criteria is for your launch and how you’ll know whether that launch has been successful.

So why do we bother with this then?

We bother with it because we know it’s natural to be keen and want to make progress. But how do we make sure that we’re on the right track? How do we really know that we’re getting there without just blindly bashing on regardless?

The reason that we bother is because it’s important to set those criteria before you start.

Go back to your Why in Aim to remind yourself why you’re doing this.  You put a lot of effort into the Aim; it’s important to go back to it.  Here are the main reasons we bother:

Opinions are important, we’ve all got them, we’re all entitled to them. But that just makes for a big mixed bag of views. That doesn’t usually lead to a data-led decision. Remember the Hippo in the Hypothesis section of Aim? The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion? It could come to that if the sponsor makes that call, but usually the sponsor will want to make a sound decision based on facts.

Optimists and Pessimists: You could have some excited teammates who’ve been involved and invested lots of time in the build. They might want to go live, even though they’ve forgotten why they started it in the first place, because they’re very enthusiastic about it.

On the flip side of that, you’ve got doom goblins who didn’t believe in the product in the first place and they’d be absolutely thrilled if it didn’t go well. Our own conscious and unconscious bias will come into play much more if we don’t have our criteria set.

Why else is Criteria so important?

You need to draw a line in the sand.  You need to know when to start, and you also need to know when to stop. Think not of the road just travelled, but the time saved should you decide not to proceed.  Likewise, waiting for perfection could take a long time. 

Criteria will help you decide if you’re ready. Sometimes we sit in what we call, ‘analysis paralysis’. You can get quite comfortable, experimenting, having fun, tweaking and improving the product.  But that won’t make you any money. You need to know when good is good enough.  You’ve got to get some decisions made and move forward.

Lastly, to save time. Like many things associated with the ABCDE framework, agreeing all this stuff up front saves time wasting and arguing further down the line. Before you put this thing live, you’ve already collectively agreed at what point it can go live and whether it meets the criteria.

Hurrah for Criteria! ????

Just one more thing. Remember that your Sponsor could say, “We’re going live even if we didn’t meet the criteria”. Of course, it’s their prerogative to do that. You are there to help the Sponsor think things through, point out the facts, keep them honest and help them make conscious decisions.

Famous flops

If you’re as old as me you might remember some famous flops. Some of these projects failed because the criteria weren’t set or somebody decided to ignore the criteria and go ahead anyway.

Remember Clive Sinclair?

The C5 electric vehicle
The C5 electric vehicle

He did some great things back in the day, but I’m afraid the C5 electric vehicle was not one of them.

The market was badly defined, advertising messages confusing. And in addition, the C5 didn’t go up hills and you got wet in the rain. It famously flopped.

I mentioned earlier that Comms is very much a getting ready phase rather than a doing phase. But how do you know when you’re ready? How do you know when to hit the go button? The answer is when you’ve met the criteria that you agreed.

Criteria falls into three buckets:

  1. People criteria: you’re going to need some people to help you make this a success. Whether it’s your operational colleagues learning a new system or a customer hearing about your great new product, they all need to be ready.
  2. Marketing: You’ll need to work out “Who will I tell about my new product? How will I know that they know about my new product? Are they ready to receive my new product?”
  3. Performance criteria: That could mean take up rate or responses to early promotional activity. It could be colleague performance. It could be functional performance of the product itself. The point is, you’re not doing this for nothing, right?

In Workshop in Aim, you defined your critical success factors.

Maybe you said, “I’m going to sell 500 cars in five years for your new product.”

That critical success factor still stands. But how long will you wait before you sell your first car? If you do all this marketing and no one buys a car in the first four months, why would they suddenly start buying it in month five? You can’t wait five years to achieve that success.

And a bit like our ScheduleIT app that we talked about earlier, if you burn a load of cash building a swanky new system, but customers don’t use it, then you’ll have achieved nothing.

You need to work out the things you need to get ready. What you’ll record, what you’ll need to run it, and the critical success factors that you’ll use at the end to help the sponsors decide whether to continue. All of this is your criteria.

Entry and exit criteria

Time to introduce another project-y term; entry and exit criteria.  

Broadly speaking, this asks us to define what must be true before we start and what must be true before we finish. A bit like Criteria when I explained ‘why bother.’

This is all about making informed decisions in a data-led way.

A helpful warning. I know that it can be hard to define criteria. You don’t have a crystal ball. You don’t know if you’re going to sell five, 50 or 500. But if you don’t consider and write this down early on, you won’t have a clue what good is and chaos will ensue. What’s harder than writing criteria is going into this without having thought about that, because you might never get out of it again.

We’ll look at some specific examples to bring it to life for you, but let’s start off with the who, what, where, when, how scenarios we often use.


You need to work out who your who is. So, your who is usually different sets of people with different needs. And because you have different sets of needs, you’ll have perhaps different groups of people to target.


How is about how you’ll know if anyone’s reacting and responding to you. Is anyone showing any interest? How are you going to measure that? What are you going to tell them?


Where is about, “Where can I put it to make sure that people know about this stuff? And how will I be sure that people can find it? How will I signpost colleagues and customers to it? Where will they find out what their call to action is?”


When is when will you know that you’ve done enough?

The answer to all these things is calculated by setting your criteria first.

We’re going to get a little bit detailed now.

Remember our new app, ScheduleIT?

Well, we need to define some customer criteria. And I’ve had a little go at doing that at a high level here. Just a few examples to bring it to life for you.

Before we communicate to our customers, we need to understand, “What are we telling them then?” And here we’ve defined the ‘what.’

We need to have thought about that before we embark on any sort of communications. We need to agree what criteria we need to meet before we go out to customers – our entry criteria. Then after we’ve communicated, we need to agree what criteria we need to meet. We call that our exit criteria.

So for example, remember, we’re not actually going to train anybody in the Comms phase. We’re not actually asking people or communicating to anybody just yet. We’re not launching a product to customers yet. What we’re doing is just trying to be really clear about what needs to be true before and after we communicate with these customers.

So for example, in the ‘what’ tier below, we’ve just listed what the key messages are for our customers. We need to go and tell customers that they can now book their own appointments and we need to get our house in order. The entry criteria is your measure to say whether your house is in order.

Customer Comms Criteria:

Overview of the Customer Comms Criteria
Overview of the Customer Comms Criteria

Entry Criteria

Before we tell the customers, we’ve got to at least make sure that the self-service function is working correctly. You wouldn’t want to communicate this great new self-service function facility to customers if it was still full of bugs and issues and faults. So that could be your entry criteria.

Do the customers actually use the product?

Then after you’ve told customers they can book appointments for themselves; you want to know that they’re actually using it and getting the goodies from it.

So, you might have an initial success measure that says “We are going to have 30% of transactions self-served by week four”. Or you might have a critical success factor from Aim that says “Within 6 months, all appointments will be booked on the app”. You wouldn’t necessarily expect to achieve that all in one go. So, you define entry and exit criteria to ask yourself how you’re doing.

Let’s look at user criteria. In this example are the operational colleagues who use the system. They use it like customers do, but they’ve also got access to other tools and facilities on the app that customers don’t have. They’ve got a workflow function. They’ve got a reporting suite and other goodies on there as well.

User Comms Criteria:

Overview of User Comms Criteria
Overview of User Comms Criteria”

The What

The What shows us “What do I need to tell my user?”.

We’ve listed the key messages here. One of the key messages is that our users need to be savvy enough to be able to respond to customer queries on the help desk. But we understand that they’re quite new to this system and they won’t be able to respond to those queries without perhaps being a little slower, or without having to refer to their support pack and materials. And of course, they’ll need their training first as well.

Entry Criteria

Before we tell users these key messages, we need to meet the entry criteria. So we need to make sure that training materials and workbooks are available for at least 40% of colleagues. We don’t need everyone to be ready at the same time. Why only 40%? Well, we don’t need everybody trained for day one. And you wouldn’t want to train these users if the materials weren’t ready. How could they respond to the queries if the guides weren’t there? We should expect them to refer to their training and support materials in the first few weeks and during their training.

Training Environment

Likewise, another entry criteria might be about a training environment. If you’ve got a fancy new system, it’s quite usual to have a training environment where colleagues can practice first. And indeed, in our training, we’ve said that they should attend some face-to-face training, but then they should also have some practice every day before going live so they can get more experience and accustomed to the system.

After we told users that they need to be able to handle customer queries on the phone, we’ll know they’re doing that because of our exit criteria. In the example here, 35%. And we say foundation, because it’s likely that people progress and get better at what they do as they get used to the new system. You might also say, “I know I’ve made it when I’ve got my internal trainers trained to an intermediate level because they’re trainers and they need to be trained to a bit of a better standard.

Trainees will all have play time in their sandboxes to have a bit of a practice.”

These are the type of things that ‘need to be true’ if you’re a user and what needs to be true after we’ve communicated and trained our users.

Only one more to go. You’re doing really well ????

Overview of the Employee Comms Criteria
Overview of the Employee Comms Criteria

In this third and final example, we’re going to look at employee comms. Our next group of people is people who work at your organisation. But they’re not users, unlike the previous group we just talked about.

Although they don’t serve colleagues directly, they are important and we want them to know about this stuff. And we want them to get excited about the new products and the prospect of the new app.

The What

So again, in the ‘what’, we’ve listed our key messages. One of the key messages is to tell them how launching this new app helps us grow as an organisation. And we’ve decided that we’re going to do that in our monthly town hall briefings and team meetings.

Entry Criteria

Once again to our entry criteria. What needs to be true before we go and communicate that to employees? So we need to get our slot booked for the town hall early on, because we know there’s always competition for agenda time. So, we’d better get that booked nice and early. The comms team are going to help with materials, but they usually need at least a month’s notice to and fro with content and get that agreed, so that all needs to be lined up beforehand.

Did the message land?

After we’ve made those announcements to employees and we told them about the app we’ll need to understand: How do we know the message has landed? Did anyone even listen to the briefing? Some were on holiday. Some were poorly that day, but we do know that all teams have been asked to complete mandatory training every month. We always put the latest news in the mandatory training. If everybody’s getting the question right on that news item in the mandatory training, or if 80% of them are getting right, that might be your criteria for saying, “Right, I’m satisfied that enough of the rest of our employees know about this stuff”. And you meet your entry and exit criteria. Perhaps you send them a follow up email, and you measure who reads the email, who clicks on the link in the email.

You get the drift. Different things that you can do, before and after, regarding your entry and exit criteria to decide if we’re getting it right or not.

One last tip on criteria

Just a reminder that your criteria should be SMART.

  • Specific
  • Measured
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

I recommend to just dig this out occasionally to keep us honest.

Or if you’re not sure if your entry and exit criteria is SMART, just use this acronym as criteria for your criteria. Just in case you haven’t already seen enough criteria ????

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