The Importance of a Communication Plan in Project Management
By nature of the role itself, project managers are habitually determined to ensure a project is successful in fulfilling its deliverables and objectives. However, even the most well-managed project will be challenged without one necessary component: a communication plan.
From a project manager’s perspective, a strong plan is vital to maintain communication with stakeholders across all levels of an organization.
What is a Communication Plan in a Project?
While communication may seem to be a fairly light lift in the mix of all other project components, it is one of the most challenging.
The challenges arise from the various people involved — from sponsors to customers to team members. It is imperative that clear, concise and complete communication is provided based on each individual interest in the project.
The frequency with which each stakeholder and team member receives communication and the preferred methods to be distributed are also main factors that need to be established. Additionally, communications may fluctuate based on the various project stages as well as span across the world in this "new-normal" work environment.
All of these quick reasons provide a snapshot into the importance of developing a clear and effective communication plan that engages stakeholders early in your projects and provides a framework to continue communication and engagement throughout your project lifecycle to ensure successful completion. There is certainly little advantage to providing communication that isn’t needed through non-preferred methods or at an inappropriate time.
It is necessary to review the communication plan with the sponsors, project team and stakeholders throughout the project. The communication plan gives the project manager and project team authorization to communicate with various stakeholders across the organization without having to ask for permission all the time. Consider it a pre-approval to communicate as needed throughout the life of a project, or like an inventory sheet that must be maintained and utilized on a constant basis.
What are the Five Components of a Project Communication Plan?
When managing a communication plan, it can be helpful to break down the plan into the following five sections to ease the ability to stay organized:
- Sender: The sender is the person responsible for initiating the communication. Often, it is the project manager, but it could be anyone on the team responsible for the communication.
- Recipients: The recipients are the people receiving the communication. It can identify teams or be detailed enough to specifically list out names to avoid missing people in the communication.
- Description: The description is used to describe the communication. Feel free to be detailed in this column so the recipients understand what is being sent.
- Method: The method is simply the vehicle used to communicate. This can be email, meeting, phone call, virtual meeting, shareable document or something else that delivers the communication.
- Frequency: The frequency sets the heartbeat for the communications. It allows the project manager to communicate in a timely manner and set the schedule for the communications.
Project Management Communication Plan Example
A communication plan in project management might look like this:
|Core Project Team
|Weekly Status Report
|Fridays at 9 am
|Core Project Team
|Weekly Project Team Meeting
|Wednesday at 11 am
|Core Project Team
|Product Launch Notice
Additionally, the importance of a communication plan can be associated with the various project phases and should be created and maintained throughout the project lifecycle. It should start when the project begins and be followed and maintained throughout the project to the closing phase.
A clear communication plan is often appreciated by project stakeholders. When stakeholders understand the communication schedule and plan, it sets the tone that they will be kept updated throughout the project.
One example happened on a project I was assigned to years ago while working with the chief technology officer (CTO) on a large enterprise-wide project. Let’s refer to the CTO as Sam. Sam was in a meeting with me, and we required Sam to communicate with various stakeholders about an upcoming go-live replacing critical network equipment.
As a team, we sat around the conference table and listed out each meeting he had to host to brief the various departments. Sam said to me, “This communication plan was exactly what we needed to focus (on) spending time with the right people for the success of the project."
A successful communication plan can prevent most project communication challenges before they even arise and should be included as a foundation to any project. Outlining how tasks within the project will be completed — as well as how and to whom the progress of the work being performed — will be communicated across the team most efficiently.
How Do You Write a Project Management Communication Plan?
There is certainly not a one-size-fits-all rule; however, a successful framework could be outlined as the following:
Project Planning Phase
The initiation of a project communication plan should include:
- A thorough outline of specific tasks, expectations, due dates and resources involved in the project.
- Project team members that will be sending and receiving project information.
- The type(s), expected frequency and preferred methods for which information will be distributed.
- Possible inclusion of information related to team expectations, role responsibilities or guidelines for status meetings and team meetings.
- The primary source where the communication will be stored and can be easily retrieved throughout the project.
Project Execution and Control Phase
Compile and synthesize project status information. Note that:
- Based on project status, the form of communication as well as the recipients may vary based on the impact of information being conveyed.
- As new information is received throughout a project, stakeholder needs may change and/or additional stakeholders may be added to a previously created communication plan. The plan must be updated to reflect the changing needs.
Project Closing Phase
Communication of project results and findings should include:
- Clear determination of success metrics based on the originally established measurements.
- Lessons learned for application into future organizational projects.
The vitality of a communication plan provides transparency and sets expectations throughout the project and can serve as a guideline for each project team member to refer to. One of the significant elements of a solid communication plan is that it can strengthen the ownership of the team members by being involved in the communication of the progress and their contribution to the overall project success.
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Lori Lavallee is a senior director of project and portfolio management at Southern New Hampshire University. She is PMP certified, has held project management roles in a variety of industries throughout her career and earned her MBA from SNHU in 2005.
Michael DeCosta is the director of Southern New Hampshire University’s Enterprise Infrastructure and Digital Services Project and Planning office. He is PMP certified and has worked in senior project management roles since 2015.
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