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How to Design a Perfect Project Communication Plan

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Communication plays one of the major roles in project success. Even if project goals are clearly defined, project resources are well-allocated, and the right performance tools are in place, the risk of failure is enormous if you can’t communicate with all the relevant stakeholders in an organized way.

Hence, it’s pivotal to dedicate enough time and attention to crafting an effective project communication plan. Let’s learn what it should include and which benefits it provides.

What Is a Project Communication Plan?

A project communication plan is a written agreement between people involved in a project.

It determines how information should be communicated during the project and answers such important questions as:

  1. What information should be communicated?
  2. Why should this information be communicated?
  3. When, how often, and under what circumstances should it be communicated?
  4. How should it be communicated (methods and formats used)?
  5. Who should communicate what and to whom it should be communicated?

A communication plan is an important part of project management because it keeps stakeholders, managers, and project team members on the same page regarding project goals, deliverables, stakeholder expectations, and many other vital issues.

Benefits of a Clear Project Communication Plan

1. Less confusion and misunderstanding

A project communication plan clarifies expectations and responsibilities and prevents a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. Both stakeholders and team members will be on the same page regarding what they should do and expect in return, and everything will be done according to the set expectations.

2. More rigorous project planning

As part of your project planning process, you need to define how people involved in the project should communicate with each other. The main questions are:

  • What types of messages should be delivered and through what methods?
  • Who should deliver these messages and when and how often should they do this?

Answering these questions will make your planning more rigorous, and will in turn increase your confidence when executing your plan.

3. Team and client management

A good communication plan can build trust between team members and stakeholders. Depending on your team members’ or clients’ preferences, you can set rules for the reporting and feedback process. It’s quite common for project team members (especially at large enterprise levels) to consider stakeholders or clients as obstacles to project completion. Getting their approval might seem to slow down your team’s work.

On the other hand, it’s also common for clients to consider project team members as erratic and unreliable people that need to be rigidly supervised all the time. Having a communication plan in place can manage expectations and clarify responsibilities and avoid these issues.

6 Main Elements of a Good Communication Plan

1. Key stakeholders

You need to include a list of the stakeholders involved in the project as well as their contact information.

According to the Project Management Institute, stakeholders are “individuals, groups, or organizations that have an interest in the project and can mobilize resources to affect its outcome in some way.” Key stakeholders, as the name indicates, are the main decision-makers, sponsors, and approvers of your project. This typically includes your project managers, project owners and clients.

You should also mention the key stakeholders’ expectations or responsibilities in your communication plan:

  • What are their communication preferences?
  • Who should report to them?
  • How should they be reached out to, when and how frequently?
  • How do you expect them to respond to your reports and give feedback?

You need to include a comprehensive list of the stakeholders’ expectations and responsibilities in your communication plan.

2. Team members

Include the team members involved in the project alongside their contact information in your communication plan. Your developers (or writers, designers, etc.) and project managers are the main team members that should be specified in your communication plan. Explicate your expectations from every team member:

  • Who should communicate to whom?
  • In case of emergency, who should your team members reach out to?
  • How do you expect your team members to be available for contact?
  • Who is responsible for communicating to the project managers or key stakeholders?

3. Key messages and goals

Determine what kind of message should be communicated to the stakeholders and what kind of feedback is expected from them. Some stakeholders prefer to receive detailed reports of the work’s progress while others are more interested in receiving final approved files.

You should also determine the communication goals. Some of these goals could be keeping stakeholders informed about the project’s timeline, budget, and needs, getting structured feedback from stakeholders, etc. Once you determine the goals you expect to achieve through communication, it’s quite easy for you to decide what communication methods you should use.

4. Communication methods

What are the communication methods and channels you prefer to use to communicate with your team members or project stakeholders?

Don’t rush to determine these methods. Ask team members and stakeholders to find out what they prefer. For remote teams with different time zones, it’s a good idea to prioritize asynchronous methods such as text messages, emails, project management tools, voice messages, etc. to make it easier for them to communicate from their different time zones.

For reporting to stakeholders you can use synchronous and asynchronous depending on the stakeholders’ preferences. You can send them written reports, or hold meetings to explain things on the spot. For review sessions, you need to take advantage of synchronous communication methods such as meetings, video calls, phone calls, etc.

5. Communication type and style

After you identify the necessary communication methods, you need to define what type of messages are preferred by stakeholders or team members.

Some stakeholders prefer weekly status reports delivered to them via email. Others expect presentations through online meetings. And if you’re using Scrum project management (or at least using its core principles) your team members are supposed to hold daily meetings to discuss their progress, as well as Sprint review sessions to review their performance and plan ahead.

You should also determine communication styles and formats. Some stakeholders are happy with informal meetings and typical reports, while others prefer a well-structured and formal presentation accompanied by a written report. The same is true about your in-house communications.

6. Communication timing and frequency

How often do you expect your team members to get in touch? How often do the stakeholders expect you to report to them? When should these communications happen? Instructions for communication frequency and timing should be clearly indicated in your communication plan.

As a general rule of thumb, your team members should be available for reaching out in some predetermined hours. Teams in the same time zone are expected to be in touch during working hours. For asynchronous working hours, there should be a consensus on the availability of team members and the communication methods they should use.

To keep track of the time your team members spend on each task and to manage/modify this time, you can use a project time tracking tool such as actiTIME. Check out a quick demo of the tool and how it can help you track time.

How to Use Your Project Communication Plan

For a project communication plan to function properly, you need to know how to use it. Here are some tips:

1. Consider the interests of all people involved

You need to consider the interests of all the people involved in the project, not just the stakeholders. As an example, consider the preferences of your team members in all steps of project completion.

New team members need more time and resources to adapt to their new team, so you need to provide them with hands-on resources and onboarding sessions to give them more confidence. Consider using employee engagement software tools to manage your team members better.

Remote team members might prefer to have flexible working hours and communicate via asynchronous methods such as messages rather than in-person meetings. Find out what works best for all people involved in the project and give them the right to choose.

2. Make sure everybody gets it

All stakeholders should know their responsibilities when it comes to communication. So, you need to make sure all of them have a copy of your communication plan. This also helps them to know what they should expect from other team members.

For example, team members should know who to contact when they have a question or an issue to discuss so they won’t reach out to the wrong person. In most cases, a project manager or communication coordinator is available for the development team to reach out to in some particular format.

3. Change and adapt if needed

A communication plan is not written in stone so you need to consider a change of plan if it’s not working. Analyze the efficiency of your communication plan all the time to stamp out any nuisance in it.

  • Are your stakeholders comfortable with current communication methods and formats, or is there room for more communication efficiency using a different method?
  • Does your communication plan still align with your project goals, or is there a change in project goals and deliverables that demands a change in the communication plan as well?

You need to maintain the efficiency of your communication plan throughout your project.

Finally

Having a proper communication plan can help speed up project completion. It makes your planning more rigorous, eliminates all the confusion regarding communication issues, and makes expectations and responsibilities more manageable.

It explains:

  • Whom your team members should reach out to in case they encounter any issues
  • How this communication should happen and in which formats
  • How the stakeholders prefer to receive updates regarding the project’s progress
  • What kind of feedback should team members expect from them

A project communication plan that covers these issues is a must-have in every project.

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