Every project has groups of people—stakeholders, development teams, managers and so on —working collaboratively towards a common objective. Bigger projects usually involve more people working together, often across geographies. As teams grow bigger, the challenge of keeping everyone aligned to the project goals also grows. There is a greater chance of miscommunication or the risk of teams being out of sync on a part of the project that affects their work.
Such challenges can derail a project and cause unnecessary complications that could be avoided with better communication. What can be done to prevent such mishaps from happening? Project managers over the years have identified this problem and one of the solutions that is being used to counter this problem is a Project Communication Plan.
So, what is a Project Communication Plan and how can it help? A Project Communication Plan is a document that identifies the communication needs that would arise during a project and aims to address those needs in an organized and timely manner. This is to be created along with the project plan so that the project moves forward smoothly at every stage.
The plan considers all the different stakeholders and all types of communication that are needed to establish and maintain healthy channels of communication.
Can a document make much difference in improving communications? The document is only the first step in identifying communication needs and planning to stay on top of those needs. The success of the plan will depend on how well it is executed. We will examine how it works in detail. Before that we need to understand what exactly are the things that can go wrong with miscommunication or lack of sufficient communication?
Communication can create massive problems when it is not optimized. Too little communication hampers alignment where teams are not aware of what another team is working on and what they are expected to do. Too much communication can also slow down work. Long meetings that are not focused or clear about their objective can keep individuals away from their work, delaying projects.
When the marketing team receives an update, do they go ahead and inform the sales team, or do they assume that the sales team got the update as well? When one team spots an issue that affects another team, do they flag it or expect the other team to be working on it? When there is a change in the plan who needs to know about it? What stakeholders, both internal and external, will need regular status updates? What can you expect to achieve with a communication plan?
A communication plan is about setting up a project that meets the communication requirements of a project. It sets up and coordinates:
The last point deserves special mention. A communication plan evolves with the project. You can decide to change the frequency of meetings or reports depending on how the project is progressing. You could also add new meetings where you see the need or scrap ones that prove unnecessary. The plan provides details about the purpose of each communication and who the audience should be.
The communication plan is created through a step-by-step process that considers the diverse elements of communication required for the project. Let us see how this process would work if you were to make a Project Communication Plan for your upcoming project.
What are the steps you should follow to create your own Project Communication Plan? We’ve broken the process down for you!
Before starting with any idea of a communication plan you should understand the scope of this plan and what is to be achieved with this exercise. What are the issues that can be addressed in this plan? Who are the people that need to be included and taken on board for the plan to work? For a plan to work the expectation of it should be known to the stakeholders. That brings us to the question of who are the stakeholders?
Stakeholders include everyone that is working on the project and everyone the project impacts. All stakeholders need to be a part of the communication plan, but to what degree they are involved will depend on the role they play.
A particular team like sales may only be involved in meetings that have an issue that impacts them. Accounting may be involved in discussions that have to do with budgets or revising expenses. Members of a steering committee will be involved in regular meetings to take stock of the progress.
The third question that needs to be answered is to fix the frequency of communication. Frequent meetings can create a logjam where people talk about things, delay making decisions. Such projects get stuck. If there is a complicated report that takes up time the frequency of it could be reduced. You do not have to have all the answers at the start of the project. You should plan all the things that could make communications easier.
What tools are to be used to make reports? How are the meetings going to be held? If it is to be done in a meeting room can the room be booked in advance? If the meeting is online, which videoconferencing platform will be used?
These are a few of the questions that could avoid problems when the project starts. Clarity on how a meeting is held or how a status report is to be sent can make the communication process smoother and ensure that all stakeholders adhere to the communication plan.
There is no perfect plan. No amount of foresight can ensure that a plan stays infallible at all levels. There will be unforeseen problems or changes in expectation that require the plan to be flexible. Plans can and should be improved continuously to make them more efficient.
If a meeting is found to be unnecessary, it can be scrapped. Similarly, if there are areas that require more coordination you can introduce new meetings or procedures to address the need for better communication.
Each project that you will handle will have challenges of their own. All projects will benefit from having a communication plan. A basic communication plan will look like this at a high level.
|Participants||Agenda / Topic||Medium / Platform||Frequency||Timing||Owner||Review|
|Team A||Item list||Face to face (Conference Room A)||Weekly||Every Monday 3:00 pm (Local Time zone)||Team Leader||Feedback form|
|Team B||Item list||Web Conference (Zoom)||Bi-weekly||Every alternate Wednesday starting on 15/12/21 at 11:00 am (Local Time zone)||Division Head||Online survey|
|Customers||Newsletter||Mail Report||Monthly||Last Day of the month 5:00 pm (Local Time zone)||Marketing Head||Online survey|
|All Stakeholders||Progress Report||Mail Report||Monthly||Fifth of every Month 5:00 pm (Local Time zone)||Project Manager||An email mailbox for feedback|
|Steering Committe||Review Meeting||Face to Face Meeting (Conference Room A)||Weekly||Every Thursday 2:00 pm (Local Time zone)||Project Manager||1 on 1 discussions|
There would be more detailed plans at lower levels of the project within teams and for specific purposes depending on the scale or complexity of the project.
If you look at holding the summer Olympics as a project, there would be thousands of people involved. A team that is tasked with the accommodation of athletes, officials and support staff will have frequent meetings with each other on the specific issues affecting them. The availability of specific accommodation, the proximity to the venues or the routes they need to take may be topics of interest to this team.
When somebody from this team attends a high-level meeting with other members from different functions like telecasting, these issues may not be discussed or brought up unless there is a clear connection between them. A good project communication plan also takes care to streamline the flow of information according to its relevance.
Having a great communication plan does not ensure that it will be followed, and everyone will accept the plan in the right spirit. You need to be vigilant of gaps in communication and fix them wherever they appear. Ensuring that a communication plan stays effective cannot be guaranteed, but there are some practices that can dramatically improve your chances.
It might be tempting to be comprehensive and cover all aspects of a project early on. This might overwhelm or confuse the participants, especially if it is a meeting. Make meetings, emails, and other communication focused and target only a few topics at a time. This way the participants or audience will know what the meeting is about and what was the outcome of it.
Projects can involve individuals from different teams having distinct functions. The vocabulary used in communication should be simplified or the context should be set so that someone who does not know about the aspect of the project will still be able to make sense of what is being discussed and how it may relate to them.
One of the biggest risks that you should watch out for in your communication plan is the possibility of the audience missing important facts. An email going into the spam folder or looking too routine to be opened may not communicate what it was supposed to do.
Similarly in large and extended meetings individuals are bound to lose their attention from time to time. Keeping meetings short and small can help make communication more effective. Look for signs of disinterest or confusion from your audience.
If your audience is engaged in communication, they can and will give input. These inputs could be used to make the communication plan more effective and relevant to the stakeholders. If the participants of a particular meeting do not feel like there isn’t value in it then it would make sense to scrap it.
You do not have to bear the entire burden of improving communication across the projects. Individuals in different profiles and roles will have unique inputs.
You should keep looking out for the changing needs in communication throughout the project. Who are the stakeholders not receiving information in a timely manner? Who are the participants that are not contributing to or benefitting from a meeting? Asking such questions would make communications more relevant to the audience.
If the participants in a project do not share a good relationship with each other, it would help to account for some time for them to get properly acquainted before getting into the project. Understanding who is responsible for what would increase clarity and improve the quality of communication.
A good project communication plan that is executed in the way it is meant to be can help your project on several levels.
There is no need to stress the importance of communication. What needs attention is how the needs are evolving. We are changing the way we communicate. People expect information to be readily available. We are also working on more complex projects that span organizations, continents, and time zones. To keep all stakeholders informed at every stage can appear to be a challenging task.
A good project communication plan makes the job of all the stakeholders easier. A thorough, and flexible plan can go a long way in helping you and your organization achieve the desired project outcomes and could be seen as a critical component in your project.
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