How to Create a Project Communication Plan
Effective communication is the essence of team collaboration and project management, making a communication plan vital.
According to the Project Management Institute, high-performance organizations who finished 80% of projects were twice as likely to have communication plans in place than their low-performing counterparts.
If you don’t have a plan or want to update your current project communication plan, read on!
Why do I Need a Project Communication Plan?
Communication is a “process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”. Sounds easy? Unfortunately, effective communication is quite rare! Lack of time, personal styles, daily distractions, and assumptions can easily disrupt communication.
As pointed out by playwright George Bernard Shaw,
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
A project communication plan is a blueprint for communication processes during your project. The plan should help provide the right information to the right person at the right time in a format that works for them.
Having a plan will:
- Make it easier to secure stakeholder buy-in and support.
- Set expectations with stakeholders, the project team, and external vendors.
- Improve decision making.
- Keep the team up-to-date with current and upcoming tasks.
- Define roles and responsibilities, for example, who needs to attend weekly status meetings.
- Improve meetings.
- Outline processes for dealing with risks and issues.
- Gather feedback at key milestones.
How do I Prepare a Project Communication Plan?
Creating a communication plan typically takes place during the planning phase of your project. To save time, check if any templates or guidelines exist within your organization you can use.
There are five key steps to follow when preparing this document.
1. Outline the objectives
The first step is to decide your objectives for the plan, and what you want to achieve through effective communication. This can include:
- Building support for the project
- Improving stakeholder engagement
- Gathering inputs from the project team.
It’s important to link your objectives with the goals and deliverables of the project to increase alignment. Also, consider the size and complexity of the project. A small project will require a lighter touch than a long-term, multi-department effort.
2. Define the audience
Next, create a list of who needs to receive project information. Typically, you should involve:
- The project sponsor
- Key stakeholders
- The project team, including remote members
- External vendors
- Relevant internal departments.
3. Decide what information is needed
Different team members team need different information to contribute to the project. Tailoring information also saves time for the recipient.
Think about what your audience needs to know; individual communication styles, and what has or has not worked on past projects.
Here are some ideas to get started with:
- Stakeholders: Project plan, status, budget, change requests, and risk management.
- Project team: Assignments, status, work in progress, issues and risk tracking, and lessons learned.
- External Vendors: Schedule and deadlines, status, and any delays.
- Relevant internal departments: Status, including any changes to deliverable deadlines.
Communication is a two-way street! During this phase, clarify what is expected from the project team to move work forward. Depending on your project, you’ll need the following inputs from the team:
- Stakeholders: Timely feedback on deliverables and advice on project risks or blockers.
- Project team: Regular updates on tasks and risks.
- External Vendors: Status reports, including any delays.
- Relevant internal departments: Updates such as budget changes, new requests, or resource availability that could impact on your project.
These updates can be shared as part of weekly meetings, emails, or as needed – especially if an urgent problem arises!
4. Methods and frequency
The key to effective communication is discovering other people’s needs and adapting your communications methods accordingly. Taking time to understand and implement this approach increases the likelihood that your audience will pay attention to what you share.
Common communication tools include:
- Meetings: Although much maligned, project meetings are a great way to bring the team together and solve problems. Use an agenda with a clear objective and keep the meeting as short as possible.
- Project Reports: Use a collaborative project tool such as BrightWork to quickly pull together relevant information from different sources into the required format. Report types include project progress, the ‘My Work’ report, real-time dashboards, risks, and resources.
- Email: Arguably the most common form of project communication. Although email is a useful way to track conversations and decisions, encourage your team to talk to each other – it’s often more efficient!
- Discussion boards: Online discussion boards and forums help teams to collaborate and share knowledge and are especially useful for remote teams.
- Document Repositories: Create a central location for project documents to ensure everyone is working from the same sources.
- Surveys: Surveys are a quick way to check in with your team during project execution and document lessons learned once the project is over.
Ask your stakeholders and project team how they wish to communicate – weekly meetings, emails, project dashboards and so on. This step becomes even more important when the amount of project data and available communication tools are considered.
Avoid overwhelming the team; this makes it too easy to delete ‘another’ email from you!
Once tools are identified, establish communication frequency, for example, weekly status reports via email and monthly face-to-face meetings with your stakeholders.
Next, outline who is responsible for each communication channel. As the project manager, you’ll own the majority of communication activities. However, as noted above, the team also have a responsibility to share timely updates.
Once the plan is finalized, try these two simple tips from Natalie Semczuk to stay on track:
- Set up any significant meetings, such as milestone reviews, as soon as the plan is agreed.
- Add task reminders to your calendar to ensure you send reports and emails on schedule!
5. Measure of Success
Given how crucial communication is to your project, it’s important to track and analyze your plan at regular intervals. Schedule time to see what’s working, what isn’t, and what adjustments are needed. Also, ask stakeholders and the team for their input. Document your findings to improve future plans.
Project Communication Matrix
Team members and stakeholders are busy individuals with lots of competing demands! If possible, create a quick reference graphic which summarizes key takeaways from your plan.
Here is a sample to help you get started.
Store your communication plan in the project site so everyone has easy access to the document.
Project Communication Action Plan
Having created your communication plan, you may wish to develop an action plan to track all activity. It is very easy to do this using Excel or a SharePoint list. Here are key elements to include:
- Audience: Who will receive the message?
- Message: What is the topic?
- Communicator: Who is delivering the message?
- Schedule: When and how often will this take place?
- Method: How will the message be delivered?
- Status: Updates on communications to date.
Below is a sample SharePoint list using the above data. In this case, ‘Alex Hankin’ is the project manager.
Effective communication is crucial to successful project management. Don’t leave communication to chance; develop and share a plan with your team.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.