Communication is strange. It should be so easy. You say something and someone listens and understands. But it doesn’t always work out that way, does it?
So, what can you do to ensure your words are heard and the message you’re trying to convey is comprehended and acted on correctly? That’s a tall order. You’ve probably noticed in both your personal and professional life that it’s easier said than done.
But there’s a way to make communication clearer through a process. If you have a project communication plan, like our free template, then you have a way to get information to those who need it in a way that’s understandable and actionable.
What Is a Project Communication Plan?
A communication plan is used to define the information that’s disseminated to the project team as well as project stakeholders. It not only defines what should be communicated but also when it should be communicated and how often. The communication plan will also decide on the channel that the communication should be delivered. This information likely varies depending on who the communication is targeting. For example, stakeholders will only need a general understanding of the project, while team members will get more detailed information.
Project management software helps you schedule communication more efficiently. ProjectManager helps you create the schedule for your communication plan on a Gantt chart, so there’s an easy-to-read visual of its frequency. Meetings, newsletters, social events, conferences, seminars, etc., can all be charted on the timeline to keep track of your various communications. You can also set up recurring tasks so you don’t have to add the same thing over and over again throughout your project. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.
How to Create a Project Communication Plan In 4 Steps
A project communication plan should be a thorough and comprehensive review of the who, what, where, how and when of communication. To make sure you’ve hit all the key points, the following must be included when writing your communication plan.
1. Define Your Communication Guidelines
Define what is appropriate communication for each group that will receive communications throughout the life cycle of your project. As mentioned above, such guidelines will include what type of information will be shared with which member of the project team.
2. Identify Your Target Audience
Communication is tailored to the target audience, but in a project, there’s more than one group that gets communication. There are stakeholders, team members, possibly architects, engineers, subcontractors, vendors, et al. List all these groups.
3. Determine a Communication Schedule
Everyone who’s listed in your target audience for communication will have a different schedule by which they receive information. Determine whether they require communication daily, weekly or monthly.
4. Choose Delivery Channels
As noted earlier, there are different channels for communication. A team might get their communication in a meeting, while stakeholders might prefer email or even a phone call. Define the preferred channel of communication for each.
Project Communication Plan Template
To help you create your communication plan, ProjectManager has a free project communication plan template for Word. Here you just have to fill in the blanks to define everything from your vision and objectives to schedule. This is one of dozens of free project management templates for Excel and Word you can download from our site. There’s one for almost everything you’ll ever need when managing a project.
Why Is It Important to Create a Project Communication Plan?
Communication isn’t just about barking directives or conveying your message, it’s also about asking questions. Communications are a two-way street, and if you’re only going one-way then you’re going to get stuck at a dead end.
There’s enough data to support the idea that communication is crucial to project success. Everything you do in project management is partial if not entirely a communicative process. Planning is a way to communicate your path through time to complete a series of tasks. Managing those tasks is a constant communicative effort with your team. And so on.
You wouldn’t start a project without a plan in place, and so a communications plan is equally important. It defines how you’re going to get the critical project information to the people who need it, clearly and in a timely manner.
Different projects, of course, demand different communication management styles. Large projects require more structure to your communication plan, but a smaller one doesn’t mean you can just wing it. Communication plans must be made in context, but they must be made.
When you formalize the process of communication in a project, you’re taking steps to make the project successful. If you don’t, your project could fall off course.
Benefits of Using a Project Communication Plan
A communication plan might not seem as important as your resource planning or risk management, but it’s an essential part of the proper way to manage a project. It will keep stakeholders informed, which is one way to manage their expectations, and it helps your team stay on track and avoid overspending on the budget. This increases the chance of a successful project and a product or service that meets your client’s or customer’s satisfaction.
12 Tips for Creating an Effective Project Communication Plan
Now that we’re all on board with the validity of creating a communication plan, how exactly do we make one that can work fluidly across all the channels we need to communicate? Let’s define the communication plan for a larger project, as it’s easier to take away what you don’t need than add it later.
1. Know the Project Culture
Knowing the context of the communications is critical to creating an effective plan. That means understanding the culture of the organization for which you’re working. How structured or casual is it? How have communications been handled in the past? Have those communications been successful? Know the environment you’re working in first.
2. Start with the Project Background
Before effective communication can start, you should have a clear picture of what exactly it is that you’re communicating. By describing the project landscape, so to speak, you know what your parameters are, and it’ll help you get buy-in from the stakeholders and your team. In short, you lead through your communication.
Start with a project vision and its objectives and jot them down. This is the lodestar you’ll follow throughout your project, so you want to have them clearly defined from the start and remind people throughout the project of the importance of this mission.
Next, you must assign an owner to the communication process. If you have too many people responsible for communications, then your message is scattered and less effective. Pick that person and provide them with the right project collaboration tools.
You’re also going to need a review method in place to monitor the effectiveness of your communications. This way, if your metrics show that you’re not getting a message across to those who need to hear it, you can tweak the process before it negatively impacts the whole project.
And you’re going to want to record the measurement process after you close out the project. Now you have a record of how well your communication plan worked and where it fell short, so you can address those issues when developing a communication plan for your next project.
3. Have an Actual Communication Plan
It seems obvious that a better communication plan requires having a plan, but it’s surprising how many people fly by the seat of their pants. Communication is sending emails, setting meetings or talking with someone. You tell them what they need to know and then they take that information and apply it.
Sure, but it doesn’t always work out that way. You need to have a process in place to make sure no messages fall through the cracks. A plan helps you reach the right people with the right information.
You can use the calendar feature in ProjectManager to create tasks for key dates. Those tasks have descriptions, comments, file attachments and assignees, priority levels and more. By planning out your tasks ahead of time, you’ll maintain a steady flow of communication for everyone involved.
For more information about how project planning software can help you with your communication plan, watch the video below. Create plans, communicate with team members, store files and track results in real time with online software. Improve your plans and your project communication with one capable tool. Learn more:
4. Analyze the Situation
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your plan? You might have a project team that’s very well organized and communicates easily. But maybe stakeholders are not happy with the method you’ve chosen to communicate the project’s progress with them.
These strengths and weaknesses are not etched in stone. They can be springboards of opportunity, and you should use them as such. Now you have a chance to improve your communication. Be aware of all strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and even threats to your communication process, and record them all.
5. Review Lessons from Past Projects
If this isn’t your first project, then you have a historical record to look back upon. That’s a great resource, one that’ll give you precedent and direction on moving forward. Even if you’ve never led a project before, chances are that the organization you’re working for has, and they have archives of past projects, which can be a valuable tool at your disposal.
Start with a list of the basic communications that have taken place, how they were made and if they were successful. Now document what you’ve learned from this research and apply it to the present communication plan.
6. Be SMART!
What are you going to achieve with your communication plan? Good communication, of course. But how do you make sure of that?
Well, begin with a list. What are your three top objectives? Got those. But make sure you’re SMART about it. Yes, SMART is an acronym to remind you to be:
- Relevant; and
Relevance is key. Don’t assume everyone wants the same amount of info delivered in the same way, but most everyone wants their information delivered consistently on time.
7. Have Communication Guidelines and Follow Them
With your objectives in place, you now need to formulate a plan by which to achieve them. So, you need to set guidelines to help you get those communication objectives out.
For example, you must determine how you’re going to deliver the message, whether you want structured and regular feedback, meetings, a procedure of approval before sending a missive, what to send, etc.
Define the core types of communications you are producing, and then set about clarifying the method of delivery and process for feedback and approvals for each method. The communications owner or liaison should own this chart and process to make sure they are followed up on.
8. Make Rules for Meetings
Meetings are a great communication tool and should be part of any project communication plan. But meetings have a bad reputation as time-wasters. They certainly can be, but they don’t have to be inefficient. That’s why you want to have guidelines to make sure your meeting is getting the right message to the right people.
Start by only having those people in a meeting who need to be there. Then make sure you have an agenda to keep you on message. Keep meeting minutes and assign action items. Not all meetings need such structure, but you want them to facilitate the work, not interrupt it.
9. Determine Who are Your Stakeholders
These are people that you’ll be in communication with throughout the project, as you note the progress, so they can feel things are moving smoothly to a positive end. If you miscommunicate with them, you risk the very project itself.
So, you want to make a list of those stakeholders, what their role in the project is and what it is that they need to know about the project, what frequency you need to communicate with them, etc. Make sure you also ask your stakeholders how they need information. Some of them have stakeholders of their own!
Make sure this list is shared with those stakeholders, so they can approve or comment. This will help to keep them in the loop and you focused on the project at hand.
10. Focus on What Truly Matters for Stakeholders
You can get inundated with data when you’re managing a project. That’s why it’s important to prioritize the most important data points and define where that information needs to go.
Communicating on projects means focusing on one thing or else you have too broad a message. There are many metrics to communicate, from project status and issues to project risk and deliverables. Decide which are most crucial for which people.
11. Choose the Right Channels
There are many channels to disseminate your message. One method might not be the magic bullet to cure all your communication ills. Some like email, others prefer text or chat and there are those who still like to get a printed document. Know who needs what and set up those channels.
12. Monitor Your Project Communications
Yes, communications aren’t thrown into the void with the hope that they’ll connect. If you want to know if your communications are hitting their marks, you must monitor them. You can simply ask if they’ve been received or require an acknowledgment of receipt. There is also software that can automate this process for you.
Key Project Management Reports to Include in Your Project Communication Plan
When communicating during the execution of a project, there are several vehicles that best deliver the information to show your progress. Of course, different stakeholders need different reports, but the following are the most substantial ones.
The status report periodically updates the work being done by the project team to the project manager and stakeholders. It’s a marker that shows where the project is in relation to where it’s supposed to be at that time. They help with the communication of keeping everyone focused on the same issue and provide a record of the project’s progress. They should be clear.
The budget report is focused on the costs of the project as they are being spent in real time and compared to the established budget from the project plan. The only way to communicate how much money is being spent on a project is to monitor it and report back periodically to capture a picture of your spending at that time. Then you can look at where you planned to be in your budget at that point in the project and determine if you’re on track or not.
The workload report charts the workload for your project, according to the progress of the teams and their tasks. Workload reports communicate how far along each team member is with their tasks by showing if the task is completed, still in progress or overdue. This is another way to communicate the progress of the project as well as keep everyone abreast of where they are in the larger picture.
A dashboard is going to track a series of project metrics and just crunch that data to show in charts and graphs where you are in the project. This takes what’s often complex and hard-to-digest information and delivers it in a more palatable and understandable way.
If your dashboard is illustrating metrics in real-time, like ProjectManager, then that data is current and you can easily share the information with your stakeholders. This makes communication clear and offers stakeholders a visual for the project’s progress during presentations.
If you’re ready to take the leap into the 21st century, then start using project management software to facilitate your project communication needs. ProjectManager is an online tool that means you’re messages are delivered and received in real time, and your communication plan folds in seamlessly with all the other aspects of the project. Get started with ProjectManager and take this free 30-day trial.