Project communications plan is something that you skipped for sure. Why? It doesn’t seem important. We all know how to communicate. Moreover, there are traditional ways organizations use by default.
I get it.
I have been there too. However, once I actually dedicated time to get through a project communication plan. I wrote a strategy. I defined metrics to measure the performance. I tracked communications.
It was an eye-opener.
Communications before it was a total mess.
I started a new project, as always, following general guidelines. All communications were in the emails. There were quite a lot of people reading our daily correspondence.
By default, I assumed email suits our clients well.
I can’t say that there was something wrong with how we interacted. It’s just that I wanted to try the “correct” approach.
To begin with, I asked one question, “How would you describe our communications in emails?”
Guess what the client responded?
“It is such a stress for us. It is so inefficient,” he said, “We have a small team here. We are so used to solving all problems in life conversations…”
So much for knowing the true state of communication efficiency.
At first, I was going to write an in-depth article on Communication Management. Explaining processes of encoding and decoding messages, formulas for communication channels, and comparing different media.
But it is your first communications management plan, isn’t it? I want you to actually write one.
So here is the deal.
I’m going to cover only two aspects here:
- A broader understanding of communications.
- Action plan for you to create an efficient project management communications plan.
1. Accept Communications in a Broader Meaning
If you limit the project communications plan to the preferred mediums and prescribed meetings, you miss the point.
The exchange of information happens on many levels:
- Written words
- Spoken words
- Choice of words
- Meaning between the lines
Here is where I’m leading:
You need to consider the specifics of each stakeholder on different levels to create an efficient Communications Strategy.
Your client isn’t that good at writing specifications. However, she uses a lot of emotions and gestures to describe features and requirements. She is a master in drawing it all out on a whiteboard.
Would you restrict her to emails only because it is a prescribed way to communicate?
And one more important aspect:
Context of the Shared Information
We tracked and worked on the risk together with clients. So, they were fully informed, ready, and cooperative.
I mentioned the fact of the risk in the weekly report.
What I missed to recognize is that one of the senior officers was on a long vacation.
She was completely out of context of the project progress. All communications with the client on the risk happened in live sessions. So, there was no clear picture in the email.
(Yeap, that was a fail on my side as well).
So, from her side, it seemed like the risk had happened unexpectedly, and we didn’t know what to do.
It was around 12 a.m. until everyone got in sync with the situation.
You got the point.
You need to control what people know about. A piece of information out of context will inevitably be misinterpreted. You want to make sure key stakeholders have an uninterrupted line of project context.
So, keep them informed.
The One BIG Thing I Want You to Takeaway
I suggest you spend more time thinking about the actual specifics and requirements of project communication. Don’t waste time on thinking how to write it down into a Project Management Communications Plan.
At the end of the day, your plan will only outline information flows and technical means to use. It will not explain the subtlety of your clients and other stakeholders.
Also, learn the specifics of different cultures, their mentality, and approaches to the project work.
If you work on a project with cross-cultural teams, these two books may help you:
- When Cultures Collide, 3rd Edition: Leading Across Cultures
- The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
2. Action Steps to Create Project Communications Plan
1. Identify Broad Categories of Messages
Just to give you an idea of what it may look like:
- External communications with Clients
1.1 Daily communications
1.2 Human Resources/Contracts/Budget (something that requires approval from your management)
1.4 Reports/Meeting Notes
- Internal Communications With Team
- Internal Communications with Stakeholders
3.2 Keeping Informed
- Internal Communication with Supporting Teams
4.1 IT Department
4.2 HR Department
4.3 Dev Ops
The idea is to think through all regular types and categories of communication that usually happen on a project.
These groups will mainly dictate the medium you will select to share information.
2. Identify Communication Groups of Stakeholders
Look at the message categories and start asking yourself:
- Who should participate in escalation?
- Who should be getting meeting notes (for meetings with clients team’s brainstorming)?
- Who should approve estimates/budget/risks?
It will require some creativity here. Quite often, I limit myself to the following groups:
- Stakeholders I want to keep informed and confident that the project is on track. These stakeholders should keep away from daily work.
- Stakeholders I want to have full support and engagement on a daily basis. Includes stakeholders that have the authority to “approve the next step.”
- Stakeholders that support the project work.
- Project Team.
After you get through all categories, there will be similar stakeholder groups. Stack them up.
The idea of this exercise is simple:
You should not waste time thinking about who you need to communicate with to solve each separate problem.
On the other hand, you don’t want to include people who don’t have a direct impact on the problem at hand.
So, the information you share should be relevant, actual, and actionable for them.
Next, you can create chat groups, email lists, projects, and virtual rooms just for these groups of stakeholders.
3. Select the Most Appropriate Medium
Some information flows should leave a trace. You need to keep them and the archive after the project ends. Moreover, years after, you need the ability to review these materials.
It means formal communications that affect the project should be made in the emails.
Learn everything about writing efficient emails on the project in this article:
But keep in mind that you don’t need to keep the whole conversation thread in the email. It might be enough just to formalize your decisions as meeting notes or summaries. The rest can be some in IMs or life conversations.
As for the rest, ask your key stakeholders to learn what will work for them the best. Simplify and speed up information flows. Prefer mediums where you can see or hear people.
However, keep also security in mind. Some information should be shared only through secured channels. Especially when you transfer deliverables that should be available for a long time.
How not to make decisions on the spot
A side note. How to overcome the fear of instant decisions? You know, sometimes clients want an answer here and now in the video conference. And it should be final. You need to have a ground rule – “I have a right to correct myself in the meeting notes.” Works both ways.
It’s about making communication easy and efficient, not to put you in stressful situations.
4. Select Metrics to Measure
You can skip this one for now if it is your first communications plan.
Do you have a goal in here?
OK, if not, do you want to improve something in the way you interact with people on the project?
Until you don’t know what you want to achieve with mediums and groups of stakeholders, there will be no metrics that can help.
I would say, do not bother at this moment.
Here are two things you can measure in any case:
- Lead time to solve a problem in email/chat/conference. Time in hours from initial email till the action plan on the decision taken.
- Cost of a decision. How much does it cost to make a decision on a meeting?
Most of the time Project Communication Plan is more about your clear understanding of the people you need to share information with. No written plan will help you until you talk to them and work out a valid option to streamline your interactions.
Only this knowledge will help you to create efficient flows of information.
Now, you need to go and ask.