Communication plans matter in your projects because effective communication, both internal and external, is critical to project success. Getting feedback on a deliverable, asking a co-worker where a file is saved, receiving crucial information from a client, conducting the review and approval process, and other daily project tasks all involve communication. Having a project communication plan outlining stakeholders, as well as when and how to reach them, is essential. This article covers:
There’s also a communication plan template you can use to create your own project communication plan.
Benefits of Project Communication Plans
At their core, project communication plans facilitate effective communication. They’ll make your projects run smoother and help you avoid project failure. Some other major benefits include setting and managing expectations, better stakeholder management, and assisting with the project planning process.
Set and Manage Expectations
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.
By letting the client know early in the project process what they can expect, you set the tone for the entire project. It’s also helpful for them to know in advance what you will need from them so they can be prepared when the time comes.
Stakeholder and Client Management
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 on project status.
Communication is critical to keeping a good relationship with the client, and a project communication plan can help you keep up that shared understanding of what’s happening and what should be happening throughout your project.
A project management communication plan defines how critical information will be delivered throughout the project, by who, and at what frequency. While you are completing project planning, you also should be completing communications planning.
Not all projects are created equal, and because of that, a project communication plan is unique to your project—which is why it’s important to think about 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 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.
What to Include in Communication Plans
While the specifics of your communication plan will vary depending on the project type and scope, there are a few key items that should be included in every project communication plan you create:
Key stakeholders: Note all key stakeholders, including your primary client contact. Include contact information such as phone numbers and emails, so that anyone who accesses the communication plan is able to find this information.
Team members: Include the main team members from your project team along with their roles. This is handy for anyone new to or unfamiliar with the project. List who on your team is involved in the communication of deliverables, leading strategic discussions, or how you’ll handle technical conversations between stakeholders and your team.
Communication methods: Outline the main communication methods and different channels you will be using to contact stakeholders, such as email, phone calls, in-person meetings, video meetings, Slack, social media, or any others. Include notes on stakeholder’s preferred channels.
Communication type: Include types of communication, how that communication will be shared, what will be included, and who that communication will be with. For example, you might be providing weekly status reports to the client. Think about how you will provide this, who it will be provided to, and what information needs to be in the report.
Communication style: This can be broken down by stakeholder and communication method. Does a certain stakeholder prefer formal communication only, or can you be a little more casual in your tone?
Meeting schedule: While you can adjust this as needed throughout the project, having an initial idea of how often you’ll be meeting with stakeholders is helpful. Depending on the scope of the project, you might also want to outline how often you’ll be emailing the client. Include internal team meetings as well in your meeting schedule.
Key messages: For each stakeholder, determine the key message or information that will need to be communicated with them throughout the project. This also includes any information or feedback you will need from them.
Communication goals: A communication plan that includes communication goals can help ensure you make decisions based on what you’re trying to achieve.
Communication Plan Example
Based on the items we outlined above, here’s what a sample communication plan or stakeholder communication plan could look like:
List the project communication goals at the top of the document, so everyone who accesses the plan will know them right off the bat. This will help get everyone on board with decisions that work toward achieving those goals.
Stakeholder Information And Communication Preferences
A table can be useful for listing project stakeholders and their preferences. For more complex projects you might wish to break the notes section down into even more granular columns.
For example, you might also include notes on stakeholder availability or any other information that’s crucial to how and when you communicate with your stakeholders.
Types Of Communication
Regardless of how formalized your plan might be, this section allows you to really break it down and think about the ways you’ll be communicating with your stakeholders and making sure that communication is consistent, meaningful, and successful.
How To Write 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: project size, information about the client’s company, project deliverables, timeline, and project team.
Think about your team’s communication styles and that of your client:
- How successful have communications been so far?
- 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?
- How frequently does your team interact with you directly on a project? Do they prefer written context over meetings?
Once you have an understanding of the team and clients you’re working with, you can apply this to a communication action plan.
2. Define Your Goals And Stakeholders
List your project deliverables and the key stakeholders for the project. Then, add your project goals to this list: think about what successful project communication is, not just to your client, but to your team as well. This list will guide communication-related decisions.
3. Make A Communication Plan
Now, it’s time to actually make the 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 help you identify what types of communication will be most beneficial to your project and how detailed or thorough your communications will need to be.
Project Communication Plan Template
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10 Useful Project Communication Tools
As you think through your project communication plan, consider whether you’re using—or could make use of—communication software. Here are 10 examples of communication software that you, your teams, and your clients can use to stay in sync:
How To Use A Project Communication Plan
1. Share It With Your Team
Sharing the plan with your team will inform them of your communication cadence—which affects their work and delivery dates—but also gives them more context around how you’ll be communicating and with whom. Sharing this information means your team can help support you as you carry out the communication plan.
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:
- Does it 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 a project communication plan gives you the tools to communicate effectively and notice red flags as soon as they occur. A plan can also allow you to re-evaluate your approach and your client’s needs if needed, and determine whether communication through other methods may be more effective. Regardless of how formal or informal your project communication 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 project managers should always write a communication plan for projects, irrespective of size? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment!