Project managers have a lot on their plate, from keeping their team focused and creating achievable schedules, to dealing with deadlines and needy stakeholders. This is one of the most challenging roles in an organization because it involves so many responsibilities.
But do you know what makes a great project manager? We'll tell you a little secret. Great project managers have managed to master communication on time. If you are struggling with clear communication, there is one tool known as a communication plan, and it makes a significant difference. A communication plan is a project management artifact delivered in the project's planning phase.
This article will explain how a communication plan fits into project management, how you can make one, and how it benefits your team.
What Is a Communication Plan in Project Management?
A communication plan is an agreement between a project manager and shareholders that decides what, when, and how the information will be shared. This agreement includes meeting details, task-related options, and status updates, to name a few.
Additionally, a communication plan helps stakeholders and project managers better understand what type of information will be shared with them, what channels will be used for project communication, and who will be in charge of those channels. We could also explain a communication plan differently. Generally, this tool identifies how important information will be communicated to stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle. It also determines who will be on the receiving end, when they will receive information, and how often.
Let's say you are in the middle of launching a new product. You have developed packaging, researched the market, and defined your marketing strategies. But have you decided what you will tell your stakeholders at each project stage? This is where the communication plan comes in!
What Are the Five Components of a Project Communication Plan?
- Introduction: This part describes what the document covers. It also identifies the organization and the customer for which the project is being performed.
- Methods of collecting and storing information: This section identifies formal and informal communication and shows how to share and store information across team members on both sides. Formal communication includes meetings and status reports, while informal communication includes emails and phone calls.
- Distribution structure: The distribution structure helps us identify how formal communication on the project plan will happen and who is part of this process. Formal communication can be done through the project schedule, status reports, and meetings.
- Formal project communication matrix: This is a visual representation of formal communication and should include: a person who is an organizer, people who attend the meetings and receive communication, frequency or how often communication happens, and the source of communication.
- Sign-off page: The final page of your communication plan.
What Should a Communication Plan Include?
A communication plan works in two ways. While you must work with stakeholders and establish expectations on what's being built, you must also set expectations on how updates, issues, milestones, and critical information will be shared throughout the project.
Therefore, a high-level communication plan should include the following:
- Purpose and approach: This stage is, in some way, a summary of your communication plan. Why is it in place, what approach will you take, and how is it connected to the rest of your project?
- Goals: You start working on your expectations and the milestones you are trying to accomplish.
- Stakeholder information: Make sure to know who you need to communicate with throughout the project, what type of information they need to receive, and how they wish to be contacted.
- Tools: You must decide how to communicate with stakeholders at different milestones. For instance, will you use project dashboards, formal presentations, or meeting summaries?
- Outline methods: It's a good idea to identify the methods you will use in daily communication.
Communication Plan Example
It's relatively easy to create a communication plan template. You need to include categories such as:
- Description: Project status updates, virtual project team meetings, external stakeholders, milestone updates, and project check-ins
- Frequency: Daily, weekly, monthly, as needed
- Channel: ActiveCollab or other project management tool, Zoom, Slack
- Audience: Project manager, project stakeholders, team members, the project team
- Owner: Project manager
Let's say two teams are working on a product design for a client. One team has a communication plan set in place, while the other doesn't. Let's also assume that the client is an old friend of your company's CEO.
You've submitted your latest design, and something went wrong. Your designer apparently branded their product with the old company's logo. If a team doesn't have a communication plan, the client won't know who, how, and when to contact, to fix this issue.
Stakeholder Communication Plan
A stakeholder communication plan is designed to improve communication between the company and its stakeholders. It also helps assess their feedback regarding significant projects on the company plan.
With the help of a stakeholder communication plan, you will be able to identify the people the company needs to get in touch with, the message it needs to transfer, the communication channel, and the frequency.
The main goals of this plan are:
- To assist the company in reaching its goals and accomplishing long-term objectives.
- To improve the company's operations and their effectiveness.
Elements of a Good Communication Plan
- Audience: To create a good communication plan, you need to know who your audience is. Just ask yourself, who needs to know this information? Is it a project stakeholder, a project team, a project sponsor, a regulatory agency, suppliers, partners, vendors, or someone else?
- The content of communication: Depending on the context and your specific audience, each message should be created carefully. For instance, you can provide technology-related information to developers. However, the end users don't need to know about these technical aspects, only how a particular device works.
- Medium: While email is the most convenient option, not all communication should be done through it. Face-to-face discussions, meetings, debates, and group presentations are sometimes necessary.
- Timing: Keep in mind that any type of communication should start at the initial stage. Later on, as the project moves along, you can decide what information will be delivered at various stages of the project.
- Feedback: When measuring success, it's important to consider stakeholders and their views. Every stakeholder might have different parameters, so this is something to consider while framing communication.
Importance of Communication Plan in Project Management
A communication plan is crucial because it keeps your stakeholders and project team on the same page. It also ensures projects are delivered on time because it facilitates sharing information and tracking responsibilities. The communication plan minimizes disruption by focusing only on the important message.
You might go without a communication plan if you are working on a short-term project with minimal scope. In any other case, you don't want to fall behind due to poor communication.