When you start a project, the first thing you do is create a project plan. A project plan is a document designed to guide the control and execution of the project. In simple terms, a project plan establishes tasks, milestones, and deliverables and assigns people to each task.
There is a lot of data and effort that go into a project plan creation. Yet there is one thing that a project plan doesn’t include, but that one thing can jeopardize the entire project.
Communication is an important part of every project but, as it often happens, the two parties involved in the project - the client and the contractor - assume that both are interested in the successful completion of the project.
This is not always the case. While the contractor is charged with the huge responsibility of executing the project, the clients often do not realize how much input is needed on their part. A Project Communication Management Plan helps the contractor get the client involved while also setting the standards and frequency of communication that work for both parties.
A Project Communication Plan is a document that defines when, how, and what kind of information is shared with the stakeholders and what input is expected on their part. Not every project needs a Project Communication Plan.
Large-scale projects with multiple stakeholders will likely experience some problems if the stakeholders are not fully committed to building extensive communication patterns. Small projects, on the other hand, imply a limited number of stakeholders and simplified communication patterns, so a Project Communication Plan would be redundant.
The most important thing to remember about a Project Communication Plan is that its main goal is to bring everyone onto the same page. As a contractor, you get a guarantee of a timely response which allows you to move the project forward.
As a client, you get a clear plan of communication that you can schedule other activities and projects around. Ultimately, a Project Communication Plan is beneficial for both parties.
Apart from keeping everyone on the same page, here are some other benefits of a Project Communication Plan:
Everyone hates excessive meetings and conference calls that don’t bring any results. A Project Communication Plan establishes just the right amount of contact necessary for the project and prevents wasting everyone’s time.
A project plan is all about producing great work, a project communication plan is all about keeping the connections going. No project can survive without a clear understanding of expectations. A project communication plan helps you set the expectations right and provide a high level of communication service.
There is a lot of communication going on around the project, but not all of it needs to be relayed to the client. You do not want to overwhelm the client with too much information and delay decision-making. A Project Communication Plan helps you determine what information is imperative to be passed on to the client, and what information can stay within the team.
In case something goes south, there is always a document that the arguing parties can refer to and see whose fault it was. No project has ever suffered from too many documented processes.
When a stakeholder knows they are going to get a project status update, say, every week, it really helps to ease the pressure and make sure everyone on the project is concentrated on doing their best work. “Predictability” is the key word here.
With the wealth of information that a project management communication plan provides, no one is going to ask questions “Why is this so?”, “How soon will you be able to finish X?”, “When am I going to get my report?”, and so on.
Sometimes, stakeholders can give the project team some really great insights into the work process or help them to identify issues before they become problems and jeopardize the project. A project management communication plan facilitates this perfectly.
When everything is clear and everyone knows what to do and when their deadline is, there is not much need in constant meetings that seem to only eat up your time and rarely yield any positive results anyway.
Here are some basic points that most project communication plans include:
Project goals (to make sure everyone is on the same page)
Stakeholders’ information and communication preferences (not everyone likes to use emails so it is important to set the preferences BEFORE the work on the project commences)
List of types of information that can be shared (depending on their role in a project, certain people need (or do not need) access to certain information)
Types of communication that are to be used and in which situations they should be used (email, phone calls, video calls, in-person meetings, etc.)
Tools and software that you and the client agree on using for communication (again, to make sure there is no misunderstanding)
Another example of a project management communications plan features a more detailed approach and could be used for various projects in IT and software development.
There are no set rules for creating a Project Management communications Plan, but here are some general directions:
Before you start creating a Project Communication Plan, see if you need a Project Communication Plan in the first place. Understanding your goals will help you determine how a Project Communication Plan falls into the bigger picture of the project.
Your goals might include keeping the stakeholders informed of the project needs, providing opportunities for collecting feedback, providing comments and explanations to accompany project deliverables.
The next step is to list all the stakeholders, their contact information, record their communication preferences and availability. This part of a Project Communications Plan will help you see who exactly is involved in the project from the client’s side and how much involvement is needed from each stakeholder. You might also want to write down your personal comments next to each stakeholder - these will ensure a personal approach and help you deliver a great customer experience.
Types of communication vary from weekly meetings to daily emails. As you create a list, think about what types of communication will help you keep the stakeholders informed as opposed to creating redundant communication strings to show the client you’re busy working on the project.
Lastly, you do not want the client to get lost in the multitude of communication channels. Among project management tools, email, chats, and messengers choose the channels that work both for you and the client. It’s best if the project has a dedicated space where all the information is shared. Usually, this dedicated space is a project management tool.
Before you start working on a project, make sure you communicate to the client how the project management tool is set up and what kind of client involvement is expected. The information on the project management tool used by the team should also be included in the Project Communication Plan.
Your work as a project manager does not stop once a Project Communication Plan is complete. You need to present the plan to the client and have them agree to it. Even when the client agrees to the plan, it doesn’t automatically mean they are going to follow it.
As a project manager, you need to constantly remind the client that for the project to go smoothly, adherence to the Project Communication Plan is a must. But even in a perfect situation where both sides understand their responsibilities and are excited to work on the project, an approved Project Communication Plan serves as an additional testimony of the client's dedication to the success of the project.