When Confidentially Threatens Project Progress

Many projects involve sensitive information. Sometimes organizations are changing how they will compete in the marketplace—a project to retool a manufacturing line, for example. If that data was leaked externally before the project was complete, it could compromise the company’s position. Other initiatives involve staffing changes, such as when operations are relocated from one facility to another. Projects that impact employees often contain data that should be shielded from internal disclosure until the appropriate time.

Unfortunately, the need to protect sensitive information can sometimes hinder a project’s forward momentum. For executives and project managers trying to navigate these waters, knowing what to do when the need to maintain confidentiality threatens a project’s progress is crucial if they want to drive their initiatives to a successful completion.

Identify who already has access to sensitive data. One sure way to derail forward movement on an important project is to curtail information sharing unnecessarily. Because some people, either internal or external, probably already possess a subset of the confidential data your team is using, you can avoid some of the most common problems by knowing who has approval to access sensitive information. That knowledge will enable you to keep communications flowing without risking an unauthorized disclosure.

Confirm any mandatory timeframes for the release of information. Data related to some activities—workforce reductions are one example—must be disclosed during a specified time period in order to remain in compliance with labor laws and other regulatory mandates. If your project touches any of those issues, determine when data is required to be shared, how, and with whom. You may need to draft internal memos to the people affected or submit paperwork to the regulating agency. No matter what type of disclosure is mandated, knowing the details will empower the team to protect information appropriately and also give them time to plan disclosures in a way that’s least likely to disrupt operations.

Create a plan to deal with information requests. Stakeholders are sure to ask questions along the way, but some of those answers may not yet be available for release. If you don’t respond to requests right away, people may feel they’re being lied to or that the team isn’t responsive to their inquiries. Don’t let misunderstandings about data sharing distract people from more important project tasks. A simple statement letting stakeholders know that some of the information they seek can’t be released until a later date may be enough to satisfy them without compromising the team’s commitment to confidentiality.

Assign a communications person to handle inquiries. Another useful strategy is to create a single point of contact for information flowing into and out of the project team. This provides stakeholders with one place to send questions and ensures that someone in the group doesn’t inadvertently release information that should be kept confidential. This approach removes the burden from individual team members to know the disclosure schedule and invest time in responding to the requests that come in. Instead, the contact person can have visibility into those details and make the necessary determinations on information sharing.

Consider the advantages of working with a third-party partner. One significant benefit offered by outside consultants is their position as a neutral collaborator. Delays may occur if internal stakeholders learn their jobs will be impacted by the project—they may try to negotiate timelines or workarounds. Neutral third parties can work with sensitive data without being influenced by it, and their perspectives on where risks exist and which strategies will effectively avoid or mitigate those risks won’t be tainted by a desire to protect their own interests.