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Six Data Points Needed to Create a Great Project Communication Plan

Even before children learn to walk, they start to communicate. Human beings have the inherent gift of communication. It is the most basic part of our daily lives. But, what is there to plan in communication? Well, day to day mundane communication does not need any planning, but project communication requires serious planning.

Try to think about a typical day in your professional life. How do you spend most of your time? Which aspects of project management take up the most substantial parts of your day?

You probably only spend a small part of your day on budgeting or scheduling activities. Even risk management should not take up too much of your time. For most project managers, a major chunk of time is spent on meetings, tele-cons, email reading or writing, creating status reports, etc. All of these tasks are nothing, but part of project communication.


It is said that project managers spend ninety percent of their time on communication.


Most of our entire days are spent communicating. Communication is one of the most important aspects of project management. Hence, the communication plan becomes the most crucial ingredient of any project plan.

I have written the following to help you to make a great, and actionable, communication management plan. You will find a step by step method in the following article. Additionally, you can read this article, which describes various constituents of a communication plan.

 

What to Ask to Prepare a Great Communication Management Plan

To prepare a great communication management plan, you need to answer five W’s and one H question. The five W’s are Who, Why, What, When, and Where, and one H is How. Answering these questions will give you a basis the six basic steps to create a communication management plan.

Let’s take a detailed look at these questions.

 

Who Needs Project Information?

All project stakeholders need some information. The first step is to identify all the project stakeholders and make a list of them. A project stakeholder is any person, group, department, entity, or organization that is interested in or impacted by the outcome of the project.

Although all stakeholders need information, all are not equal in what they need. They lie somewhere in-between two extreme ends of project spectrum. At the one end, stakeholders who are involved in day-to-day activities require a constant and regular flow of information. At the other end of the spectrum, stakeholders who are very distant from the project may only need a high level overview of the project every once in a while.

As an example, senior project team members will be highly interested in the project and want to know almost everything that is happening on a daily basis. On the other hand, the CEO of a project performing organization may be happy with only high level quarterly status reports of all active projects.

Most stakeholders, like customer representatives, sponsors, and vendors, will lie somewhere in-between the two ends of the spectrum.

 

Why Do Stakeholders Need Information?

After identifying and making a list of the project stakeholders, your next step should be to understand their interest in the project. You need to find out why they are involved in the project and what kind of information will help them to take the project forward.

As an example, a project sponsor may be interested in financial and resource utilization information. This will help him/her to make the necessary changes to the project budget. Project sponsors may also be interested in schedule related information, but that information may not be of primary interest to them.

A user champion, on the other hand, will be primarily concerned about scheduling information. Financial information is not relevant, as it will not help the user to do her job.

 

What Should Be the Format of the Project Information?

Once you have gathered together a list of the stakeholders and their interests, you can talk to them to ascertain the format of the information they need. It is possible that two different stakeholders have similar interests and similar information needs, but that the quantum and format of information required by them is entirely different.

For example, both user champion from the customer organization and your reporting manager may want to know about the project risks, but their expectations might be very different—a user champion might want a detailed report on technical risks, whereas your reporting manager may want high level risk information.

 

When Should the Information Be Shared

While the format of the information to be shared is important, equally important is frequency and timing of sharing such information. You can perform this step along with the step above. When talking to the stakeholders, determine their overall communication requirements.

For example, your reporting manager might need weekly status reports, but your Project Management Office (PMO) may only need status reports on a monthly basis.

 

Where to Put the Shared Information

This step is important for establishing a communication protocol between you and your stakeholders. You can jointly discuss and determine the communication medium for sharing the information. Different type of information will require different communication channels and storage mechanisms.

For example, a status report in a Word document can be sent over email and stored in a shared repository.

 

How to Produce the Information That will be Shared

After determining the communication requirements of various stakeholders, you will need to document how the requisite information will be produced, who will produce it, and what tools will be used to produce it.

For example, you can document that scheduling reports will be produced by the project manager. Secondly, he/she will use MS Project to track the schedule and disseminate scheduling information on a weekly basis.

You will able to produce a good communication management plan by following the above six steps but, in most cases, you will need to repeat these steps throughout the project. The reason being is that project stakeholders and their communication requirements are not static. They can change as a project progresses. Project managers should keep on identifying new stakeholders and their communication needs on a regular basis. They should update the communication management plan when the new communication requirements are identified.

 

Contents of a Communication Management Plan

A well-made communication management plan contains the following information:

  1. Stakeholder identification information
    1. Stakeholder name
    2. Department/organization
    3. Contact information
  2. Stakeholder communication needs
    1. Stakeholder’s interest
    2. Reason for information needs
    3. Description of information needs
  3. Information to be communicated
    1. Format
    2. Language
    3. Level of detail
  4. Timeline and Frequency
  5. Method and Medium for communicating
  6. Responsible Party
    1. For creating
    2. For distributing
    3. For storage
    4. For destroying
    5. For authorizing the release of confidential information
  7. Glossary of common terms used

 

Conclusion

Projects are performed by groups of individuals. Group work and collaboration is extremely important for the success of a project.

Project managers should start developing a communication management plan immediately after defining the initial scope of the project. This way they can start taking inputs from the stakeholders and increase the collaboration. Without a sound communication plan, collaboration will not be effective.

Communication is an integral part of group work, without which projects can get out of hand. Gaps in these data points can lead to project failure.

In your opinion, which project document is as important a communication plan? What practices do you follow for defining a communication plan? Does your organization use a defined template? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Praveen Malik
Written by Praveen Malik

Praveen Malik, PMP, has two-plus decades of experience as a project management instructor and consultant. He regularly conducts project management workshops in India and abroad and shares his project management thinking in his blog, PM by PM.

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2 Comments
  1. Hi Praveen – thanks for the article. I agree with what you have written here. I might also add to the section on ‘needs’ to factor in a) what is the Behavior we are looking for (e.g. a response, an action, vote, some signal of consensus, etc.); and b) how can I evaluate whether or not my communication was effective (often tied to the behavior).

    When it comes to the content, my pet peeves are pronouns and generalizations. It may take a little more energy and time to be specific in your communication, but that investment pays off in effectiveness and reducing misaligned expecations.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Hi Pete,

    Well said. Acknowledgement or response are must in any communication.

    BR,
    Praveen.

    Reply

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