Communication Plans: A Project "Must Have"

May 17, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

Have you ever worked on a project where information was just scattered everywhere? Everyone had different bits and pieces of the same information, but no one had all the information. The people involved kind of knew what part of they were responsible for, but they weren’t certain. As a result, there was no real sense of ownership. Though there was a project plan, something just seemed to be missing from it. If the project completed, you were so frustrated you didn’t even talk about it. If this sounds familiar to you, chances are that your project was missing a communication plan.

What Is It

A communication plan outlines what information is being shared, how it’s shared, how often it’s shared, and who’s responsible for it. The plan details how change requests are handled, how uncertainties (risks or opportunities) are monitored, how often status updates are released, and anything else that needs to be shared regularly. It should be used for all projects – no matter what industry, or size of the project. It should be an actual document shared with all the members of the project team.

The communication plan identifies the stakeholders and their roles in the project. The stakeholders include, but are not limited to the project manager, the business owner, support personnel, internal departments, and vendors. The plan lists all the contact information for everyone involved. It includes their name, organization, title, role in the project, and pertinent contact information. The plan should also list the preferred methods of communication, as well as templates and forms for information that’s distributed regularly (e.g. meeting minutes).

Why Use It

A communication plan keeps everyone on the same page. It helps avoid conflict, and develops a sense of ownership amongst the team members. Most importantly, it sets boundaries.

If you’re in IT, you may have heard horror stories about customers bypassing the project manager, talking directly to the developers, and somehow convincing them to make changes without proper approval. As you can imagine, this causes a plethora issues, such as scope creep, going over budget, and in extreme cases, job losses. These issues could have been avoided if all parties involved followed a communication plan.

Keys to an Effective Communication Plan

The key to creating an effective communication plan is flexibility. I often work with clients in the arts and entertainment industry. Sometimes they will complete a project in the wee hours of the morning. They are alert, excited, and are on cloud 517. They will call, text, or e-mail me at two in the morning with the next 18 steps or ideas! Because I am sensitive to their needs and I understand that when they’re at that creative level they just need to exhale, I am flexible. I won’t tell them not to contact me, but I will outline in the plan that I will respond within 24 business hours.

Preferred methods. Know your preferred communication method, and be patient and flexible with those members who prefer methods different from yours. For example, if you’re a telephone person communicating with an e-mail person, don’t repeatedly call and hang-up when they don’t answer. Leave them a message, and try not to be too irritated when they respond to your voice mail with an e-mail. Personally, I prefer e-mails because they’re less invasive and they don’t interrupt a person’s work flow. If I’m in a creative zone, I don’t want to be interrupted with a phone call or text message. In fact, I’m writing this article now with headphones on and Tchaikovsky blaring in my ear.

Other key factors things to include in the are emergency contacts, late policies, and unacceptable communication methods and times.

Negotiate Your Communication

Everyone must agree on their portion of the plan. If you don’t agree, or if you feel you can’t provide what’s being asked of you, negotiate! Don’t feel guilty about negotiating, because you will be held accountable. Guilt is very common amongst support personnel. They sometimes feel that they are disappointing their boss if they say “no” or “can’t”. If you are a support personnel, you want to always be at your best so that you can provide the best support. That may mean that you cannot accept phone calls and text messages after 7 p.m. Quite honestly, you are not at your best if you are irritated because your family time is being interrupted with work, especially if it is not an emergency. It is alright to negotiate, or to offer suggestions that everyone can agree on.

Creating a communication plan for your project will save you time, money, and frustration!

If you feel your project is all over the place and you need help, contact me for a FREE sample communication plan. I can help get your project back under control!

Senita L. Sullivan, PM



P: (678) 801-6342

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