Your Guide To A Project Communication Plan That Will Elevate Collaboration

An effective communication plan can be a game-changer for project managers, often making the difference between a project's success and failure.

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As project managers, we're constantly juggling different responsibilities, from defining project goals to managing resources and coordinating teams—all while sticking to tight budgets and timelines. One of the most vital aspects of our job is ensuring seamless communication among all project stakeholders.

Enter the well-designed project communication plan.

Effective communication is truly the lifeblood of any successful project. When messages are clear and concise, projects thrive. Conversely, poor communication can result in missed deadlines, budget overruns, and even the downfall of the entire project.

We'll dive into the world of communication management plans, providing invaluable tips on developing a successful strategy for your next project.

The basics of a project communication plan

A project communication plan is a document that outlines the strategies and methods used to communicate information within an organization or team to ensure the successful execution of a project. Sometimes referred to as a communications management plan, it primarily focuses on the practical aspects of communication, such as scheduling regular meetings with a predefined agenda.

The needs of all stakeholders involved in the project should be considered in this plan, as the project manager and other team members will communicate with one another throughout the project.

Ideally, the communication plan should be developed at the outset of a project as part of the project planning process. Doing so not only helps to address potential issues or conflicts before they emerge but also ensures that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and their roles in meetings or communication rhythms.

As the project progresses, it's crucial to update the communication plan to accommodate any changes, such as turnover of stakeholders, sponsors, project managers, and delivery team members or alterations in the process. This way, your team stays aligned and well-informed, leading to a successful project outcome.

Why do you need a plan?

An effective project management communication plan can be a game-changer for project managers, often making the difference between a project's success and failure—particularly when unforeseen challenges arise.

Project managers dedicate time and effort to crafting communication plans because they contribute to a project's success by fostering predictability, minimizing misunderstandings, mitigating potential conflicts, and keeping everyone up-to-date on the project's progress.

Here are some specific reasons why a project communications plan is essential:

  1. Facilitates efficient and effective information sharing: A well-designed plan ensures that information is organized and timely.
  2. Keeps everyone in the loop: The plan guarantees that all parties involved stay informed about the project's progress and any changes that may occur along the way.
  3. Fosters smooth and clear communication: The plan establishes channels for team members to communicate seamlessly and promptly, allowing for quick dissemination of updates or potential issues.
  4. Minimizes frustration among teams or departments: By clearly outlining communication expectations, the plan helps prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications between different teams or departments within an organization.

A project communication plan serves the crucial purpose of defining who is responsible for reporting on what, when, and how, as well as indicating who should escalate communication issues when appropriate. This guiding document helps individuals understand expectations and provides direction on the next steps when communication is necessary.

For those in leadership positions, communication plans are vital for ensuring continuity. For instance, if a highly skilled project manager decides to take a much-needed vacation, the communication plan becomes invaluable. A good project manager can step away for a while, and the project remains on track. The project communication plan plays a significant role in enabling the project to move forward without the project manager's direct leadership and oversight.

Who is responsible for this kind of plans?

The project communication plan is designed to include everyone involved in a project, such as the project team, stakeholders, the project sponsor, and any external partners or vendors.

While the project manager is usually responsible for developing the project communications plan, they should collaborate closely with stakeholders and project team members to collect input on communication requirements and preferences. This ensures that the plan effectively addresses the diverse communication needs of all parties involved.

The components of a project communication plan

A comprehensive project communications plan includes many elements, but not all details may be required to have a successful communications plan for your project. This all depends on the type of project, complexity, how involved you are as a project manager, and how engaged your stakeholders are.

Typical components of a project communication plan include:

  • Objective and approach: This section should convey the purpose of the plan, its essence, and how it aligns with the overall project plan. Project managers should describe the document and emphasize its significance here.
  • Communication types: The plan should encompass all known communication types, from steering committee meetings to daily team standups and everything in between. If communication is involved and can be identified during planning, it should be outlined in the project communication plan.
  • Communication methods: The plan should specify the method for each communication, distinguishing between virtual meetings, emails, reports, dashboards, in-person meetings, and even chat posts.
  • Schedule of recurring meetings: The plan should detail all frequent project meetings across all stakeholders, such as steering committee meetings, daily standups, and weekly update meetings. By incorporating these elements, people know what to expect and when which is particularly useful when new members join the project midway.
  • Communication goals for standing meetings: The plan should establish goals for each communication and explicitly state the rationale behind them. For every recurring meeting, include an agenda to help everyone understand what should be accomplished during the session.
  • Attendee lists for communications: The communication plan is crucial in determining the information each stakeholder group requires and when they need it. The plan should always include details about attendees and recipients to clarify who should receive which communications. By clearly understanding who needs specific information and when, project managers can streamline communication, preventing misunderstandings or delays that could jeopardize the project's success.

Indeed, the communication plan should be comprehensive enough to allow anyone to facilitate and execute all necessary communications for the project without consulting the project manager. While this entails including a substantial amount of detail, it's a crucial step that generally proves beneficial later in the project.

A summary of communication types

We mentioned that your project communications plan should encompass various types of communications or meetings. Make sure you consider all of them that apply to facilitate information sharing among all parties involved. Typically, the types include:

  • Project kickoff meetings (assuming the communications plan is created before the kickoff)
  • Project status meetings hosted by the project manager or status reports
  • Project team meetings with workstream leads (those leading specific aspects of the project and representing their teams)
  • Project team meetings with the extended project team (everyone involved)
  • Steering board or committee meetings
  • Risk review and escalation meetings
  • Weekly summary reports to leadership
  • Company-wide status update emails
  • Delivery review meetings
  • Team retrospectives

A well-documented communication plan ensures a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, helps maintain project continuity, and keeps everyone on the same page, ultimately contributing to project success!

Seven steps to creating an effective communications plan

Here are seven crucial steps to create your plan:

1. Define the purpose of the communications management plan

Begin by clarifying the plan's purpose within the context of your project. What are the objectives you aim to achieve, and what types of information do you want to communicate to stakeholders, the delivery team, and sponsors? A clear understanding of the plan's purpose will provide a solid foundation for developing your communications strategy.

2. Develop a communications strategy

Design your strategy to help you accomplish your project goals and keep everyone informed throughout the project's lifecycle. Consider the target audiences for each communication, the key messages you want to convey, and the most effective methods for reaching your intended recipients. When developing your strategy, consider any organizational expectations, communication preferences, and potential communication barriers.

3. Create a schedule of communication activities

Establish a well-organized schedule that outlines when and how often you will communicate with stakeholders and team members. Detail your methods, such as email, blog posts, or meetings. A comprehensive schedule of communication activities ensures that everyone remains up-to-date on project developments and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings or delays that could impact project success.

4. Identify resources needed for communication activities

Determine the resources required to execute each communication activity successfully. This may include additional staff, volunteers from the team, software, equipment, or meeting spaces. Identifying the necessary resources ahead of time enables the proper execution of communication activities and prevents potential obstacles.

5. Assign responsibility for communication activities

After identifying the resources needed for each communication activity, delegate responsibility to the appropriate team members. Ensure that everyone knows their role in scheduling and executing each activity. Spreading the work across the team not only lightens the load for the project manager but also empowers team members to take ownership of certain communication activities. (Tip: Real-time capacity and availability for work are easily found in planning software like Float.)

6. Establish mechanisms for monitoring and reporting on communication activities

Implement systems for tracking and reporting on communication activities to ensure their effectiveness in achieving their goals. Define the metrics you will use to measure success and establish how often you will report on progress. By setting up these mechanisms, you can continuously evaluate your communications management plan's performance and make adjustments as needed. The project manager, a highly-involved stakeholder, or a sponsor often facilitates monitoring and reporting on communication activities.

7. Share the plan widely, and keep it available for updating as needed

Distribute the project communication plan to all stakeholders and team members, making it easily accessible for review and updating in a central repository. As the project unfolds, periodically review the communications plan and make revisions or changes as needed based on the team's experiences, the milestones achieved, or the upcoming steps the team is about to tackle. Regularly updating the plan ensures it remains relevant and valuable to everyone involved.

Can you start with a communication plan template?

It's always a wise idea to begin the development of project artifacts, like a project communications plan, by thinking about the desired outcome and searching for templates that address your specific needs. The Project Management Institute, for example, has good resources that can help you in this process.

One practical example of a project communications plan, which can serve as the basis for a good communication plan for your team, is the publicly available document prepared by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) in the United States.

The WSDOT Project Communications Plan illustrates the artifact's purpose and role in ensuring all project participants receive the correct information at the right time. It outlines the protocols for sharing information with everyone involved in the project, from the general public to the head of WSDOT.

The key is to find a template (or create your own!) that addresses the essential aspects of communication, such as the purpose, content, timing, and target audience. By selecting a suitable template and adapting it to your project's specific needs, you'll be well on your way to developing an effective project communications plan that supports your project's success.