I used to think project communication plans were a waste of time for projects that weren’t huge in scale, but that all changed a few years ago. Today I’m sharing my story of why communication plan matter, so you don’t make the same mistakes I did. I’ll show you how to create your own project communication plan for your projects and why they’re so important to successful project management. Plus, I created a project communication plan template for you to download.
Years ago, I kicked off a project with my team that seemed very exciting. Our client had a small but dedicated team and had just gone through a company rebranding. They wanted a beautiful, functional website to go with their new identity. Better yet, the website’s focus was a subject that I was passionate about. The project sounded interesting, fun, and collaborative, and our whole team looked forward to it.
Unfortunately, we hit a few bumps along the way. My client contact was very slow getting back to us after our kickoff—in fact, they wouldn’t respond to messages for days until I escalated it to the whole stakeholder team. I was stood up for check-in calls, project milestone meetings were requested to be postponed or cancelled many times, and then emails started flooding in from project stakeholders I hadn’t even been aware of—all over the matter of several weeks.
At first, it didn’t seem like too much of an issue: maybe my primary contact was away for the day, busy, or had a lot on their plate suddenly. But after so many warning signs, I realized this was a giant red warning flag. I had to act fast. This is where a project communication plan would have saved me—but I didn’t have one. A project communication plan would have listed project stakeholders upfront, defined communication channels by preference and priority level, and would have given me structure to fall back on even as my client’s communication was faltering.
Why A Project Communications Plan Is Important
Project communications are a two-way street. Much like project planning, expectations must be set and both the project team and client stakeholders have to carry out their responsibilities in order for communication to go smoothly. While a project wouldn’t start without a project plan in place, project communication plan is not as readily discussed—but it should be.
A project management communication plan defines how critical information will be delivered throughout the project, by who, and at what frequency. Throughout a project, successful communication about alignment on goals and milestones, and subsequent re-alignment on these as projects change are crucial to stakeholder buy-in and transparency into a project’s status throughout the entire project timeline. Communication is critical to keeping a good relationship with the client, and a project communication plan can help you to plan upfront in keeping up that shared understanding of what’s happening and what should be happening throughout your project.
Not all projects are created equal, and because of that, a project communication plan is unique to your project—which is why it’s just as important to think about this as you’re creating your project plan after kickoff. Large projects have different communication needs than small projects, and the same goes for projects with teams of stakeholders versus a single project contact. Projects with differing goals, budgets, timelines, and even deliverables all require communication tailored to those needs—and that’s something to keep in mind as you create a project communication plan or with our steps below.
Communication Plan Example
Project communication plans might include things like identifying key stakeholders and primary client contacts, definitions of what types of communication to use and when, or a list of meetings that will take place throughout project milestones. Using the principle above – who needs to know what, in what format, when – here’s what a sample communication plan or stakeholder communication plan could look like:
A communication plan that begins with the project communication goals can really help you understand how make decisions on communication based on what you’re trying to achieve.
Stakeholder Information And Communication Preferences
In this next section, an informal table listing project stakeholders, their roles at their company, and frequency, format, and channel of communication are all listed. On a more complex project you might wish to break the notes section down into even more granular columns. For example, you might also list out style of communication preferred, notes on stakeholder’s availability, contact info, or any other information that’s crucial to how and when you communication with your stakeholders.
Types Of Communication
This last section includes a listing of types of communication throughout the project, how that communication will be shared, what will be included, and who that communication will be with from the stakeholder list. Depending on the size of your team, you might also want to list who on your team is involved in communication of deliverables, leading strategic discussions, or how you’ll handle technical conversations between your stakeholders and your team.
Regardless of how formalized your plan might be, this section allows you to really break down and think about the ways you’ll be communicating with your stakeholders and how do make sure that communication is consistent, meaningful, and successful.
How To Create Your Own Project Communications Plan
1. Understand Your Parameters
A project communication plan doesn’t need to be formal, but it should at least be written down for your own reference. First, it helps to sit down and define the parameters of the project you’re working within: project size, information about the client’s company, project deliverables, timeline, and your project team.
Think about your team’s communication styles and that of your client. How successful have communications been so far in each regard? Has your client indicated any preference for communication—do they tend to reach for the phone when they have a question, or are they email-centric? Have you met in-person or over video? Think about these questions in the context of your team, as well. How frequently does your team interact with you directly on a project? Do they prefer written context over meetings? What else?
Once you have an understanding of the team and clients you’re working with, you can start to apply this direction to a communications plan of action.
2. Define Your Goals And Stakeholders
List out your project deliverables and key stakeholders on the project. Then, add your project goals to this list: think about what successful project communication will look to not just your client, but your team as well. This list will remind you throughout the project of your ultimate goals, and will guide communication-related decisions accordingly.
3. Make A Communication Plan
Now, it’s time to actually make a plan. Define your approach to the communications you’ll have throughout your project. Knowing the goals of your project, consider how frequently you’ll communicate with your client stakeholders, how you’ll do so, and what those communications will include. You might decide to use multiple approaches, like weekly phone check-ins to update on timeline and budget progress, along with daily emails for on-the-fly questions and less frequent in-person meetings to present major project milestones.
Whatever you decide, keep your parameters and goals in mind—these should really help you identify what types of communication will be most beneficial to bringing your project to success, and how detailed or thorough certain parts of your communications will need to be.
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How To Use A Project Communication Plan
1. Share It With Your Team
Sharing this plan with your team will inform them of your communication cadence—which affects their work and delivery dates—but also gives them more context into how you’ll be communicating and with whom. Sharing this information means your team can help support you as you communicate according to plan throughout the project.
2. Stay On Track
Make sure your team knows and understands your communication plan, so that your client gets consistent, meaningful information relayed to them throughout the project. Book any key project meetings as soon as you have a plan in place, and add reminders to your calendar for regular check-ins and even project emails so that you stay on track with the important items you’ve defined in your plan.
If you find yourself straying from your communications plan at any point and have trouble getting back to it, reconsider the approach you’ve defined. Do they still align with your project goals? Have the goals—or stakeholders—changed in any way since the project started? Are there more effective ways to communicate project information at this point?
Communication Plan = Success
Having project communications plan on the project I worked on years ago would have given me the tools to see those red flags as soon as they occurred. A plan would have also allowed me to reevaluate my approach and my client’s needs and communicate through other methods that might have been more effective.
Regardless of how formal or informal your project communications plan might be, it can be the difference between a highly successful, efficient project, and a project that is merely skating by without a solid plan in place. Think of it as another way to set and check expectations throughout a project—and a way to ensure meaningful, successful communication with ease.
What Do You Think?
How essential is a project communication plan for the success of a project? Do you think that we should always write a communication plan for our projects irrespective of its size? Let me know your thoughts, let us a comment!