A project communication plan that will guide the messages to a project’s affected stakeholders is a critical part of any project. How well you communicate throughout the life cycle of your project can make the difference between success and failure.
During the planning phase of your project, you need to create a high level Communication Management Plan that defines the general communication requirements for your project. This plan should include:
- The plan’s purpose and approach
- Communication goals and objectives
- Communication roles
- Communication tools and methods, and
- High level project communication messages
It’s also helpful to include any specific requirements or standards that govern your project, if applicable.
Creating Your Project Communication Plan
A communication plan isn’t created in a vacuum. Although there are some standard items you’ll include in your plan, such as Project Kick Off, Review, Status, and Team Meetings, it’s important to spend time gathering input from all stakeholder groups to ensure the plan is comprehensive. That said, it’s also important to note that changes may need to be made to the plan as the project moves forward. Here’s the general framework.
Plan Purpose and Approach
Include a high level description of the plan, why it exists and a general idea of how you will implement the plan on your project. Think of this as a summary section. I always like to do this section last – even though it’s first – because it helps you capture the essence of what you’ve detailed in the plan.
Communication Goals and Objectives
Define what you expect to achieve by communicating. This could be any number of things and is dependent on what your project will accomplish. Generally, these should be focused on educating and updating anyone impacted by the project. Here are a few ideas:
- Increase knowledge about the project and why it’s important
- Create a dialogue among employees and key stakeholders to gain acceptance of the project
- Provide opportunities for feedback from stakeholder groups
Communication won’t come from just one person during your project. Clearly define all roles and their corresponding communication responsibilities. Here are a few roles to consider:
- Project Sponsor
- Project Manager
- Leadership / Management Team
- Steering Team
- Project Lead
- Project Team Member
Communication Tools and Methods
What tools you use and how a message is delivered will vary from project to project. The key to remember is to not get “stuck” using a single method for your communication messages. Your preferred tools and methods should be those where the receiving group will have the best chance for comprehending what you are communicating. Always keep your receiver in mind when developing the content of the communication and the method in which it will be delivered. Methods that offer opportunities for people to ask questions or provide feedback can provide real value for your project. Brainstorming a list of possible methods can get you started. Here are just a few:
- Meeting summaries
- Status reports
- Formal presentations
- Internet / Intranet Web Page
- Informal small group meetings
- Brown bag lunch workshops
High Level Project Communication Messages
It’s a good idea to include a matrix in this plan of the specific project management related communication, such as project kick off, status and review meetings. Define the key objective, topic of discussion, delivery method, frequency, audience, and role that owns responsibility for making it happen. This helps set the expectation and boundaries for project communication.
It can also be helpful to turn your matrix into an informative “at a glance” graphic that can be shared and used by anyone on the project.
Other Communication Plan Requirements
If there’s a chain of command for specific communications, it may be helpful to define a flowchart to ensure everyone is clear on what’s required. You may also need to include a communication escalation process for critical project impacts.
Getting Started with Your Project Communication Plan
It’s important to remember that each project will have a different communication impact and therefore a different communication management plan. Working from a basic framework will help ensure key components are included.
You can pick up a free template to help you get started here to give you an idea regarding the structure and content of your plan.
But Wait! You’re Not Done Yet
In addition to the matrix of project related communication, you need to develop a Project Communication Action Plan to reach the broad audience of stakeholders for your project. Your action plan will dictate who hears what and when they will hear it. It’s a detailed plan that includes:
- Stakeholder or Audience (who)
- Message or Topic (what)
- Communicator (from whom)
- Schedule or Frequency (when / how often)
- Delivery Method (how)
I know it’s a lot of work, but you don’t have to start from scratch. You can get a copy of the Project Communication Action Plan template here.
Moving Forward With Your Communication Plan
Proactively creating your Communication Management Plan and Project Communication Action Plan at the beginning of your project will take some effort, but buy you a lot of time down the road when you’re knee deep in deliverables. Managing it on a regular basis like you do your project plan will save you a lot of headaches and give your project a greater chance for success.
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