The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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Project communication and how to create a communication management plan

CoomunicationA great deal of a project manager’s time is spent on communication. Successful project managers do the work in a more structured way and communication is no exception. You must understand your company’s environment such as culture and standards. You also need to take into account your company’s processes and procedures for conducting work and communications.

Identify stakeholders and bring them early. Stakeholders who are found later will make changes and could cause delays. Any change that is made later is harder to integrate and is much more costly. Communicate with the stakeholders effectively and on a regular basis. Give a project presentation, list all their issues and concerns, report progress and inform changes and updates to the project management plan. Another important function of a project manager is to prevent uncontrollable changes. Stakeholders have greater influences over the requirements as well as changes in a project. That is why it important to have effective communications within the team and between the team and other project stakeholders.

Let’s try to understand why do you need a communication management plan?

  • Communications management plan reduces and mitigates risk
  • It provides you clear guidelines on how  you formally  interact with the project stakeholders
  • Communication management  plan provides tools to utilize resources effectively
  • It gives you the ability to analyze the impacts of various meetings
  • It also ensures mutual commitments with the sponsor and other stakeholders
  • The Communications management plan clearly documents all the deliverables and delivery schedules
  • You should  be able to deliver  the right message at the right time to sponsors so that you can control  rumors and unnecessary work products
  • A well defined communication management plan enhances your ability to meet stakeholders’ expectations

A project manager inspires people, shares the project vision with the group and creates a very motivating environment.  Communicate with all levels of the members of your team regardless of level. Communicate clearly your plans & ideas and make sure everybody understands them.

Your communication management plan should include both internal communications and external communications. Your internal communication management plan includes status report, progress report, trend report, forecasting report, variance report, earned value report etc. External communications requirements include types of meetings and reports, existing policies and contractual agreements etc.

Here are some simple steps to create an effective communication management plan.

Step 1: Documents the followings

  1. With whom you need to communicate?
  2. What deliverables are needed?
  3. What media you are going to employ in the communication?
  4. When the communication will occur?
  5. Where the communication will occur?
  6. The purpose of the communication

Step 2:  Document the list of deliverables, the list of stakeholders and your stakeholder analysis for each stakeholder. You need to document communications requirements with the sponsor, with the functional management, the subcontractors and with the team.

Step 3:  Determine the needs for media. Your communication management plan should have a media section where you document the types of media that you plan to use for communications on this project. Document the media requirements to make sure that all stakeholders have access to the particular media or technology that they need for their required communications.

Most cases you will be using the following media types:

  • Conference calls
  • Fax
  • Knowledge repositories available on company’s intranet
  • Paper reports
  • Power point presentations
  • E-mails
  • Video conferences
  • Instant messages such as AIM
  • Electronic files, including zipped files, word processing files, and spreadsheets
  • Web sites
  • Information stored electronically on company servers
  • Project management software such as MS Project
  • On line project tracking tools

Step 4:  Document a schedule for the milestones and communication deliverables. You should have a table or calendar that shows your deliverables and other communications time.

Step 5: Determine the assumptions, dependencies, and risks associated with your project communications.

List all important assumptions you considered while creating communications management plan such as all stakeholders speak English or all team members will be company’s full time employees only. This may change the moment you hire contractors.

List all important factors upon which your communications management plan depends. For example, the communication among team members located in several time zones depends on how and when they communicate, what communication media they use and how they distribute reports.  A dependency is an input or output or time-related relationship.

When managing dependencies, confirm that the deliverables are well-defined, within the project scope, and also include a statement of work. Confirm that the schedule and cost are understood by the parties involved.

Identify past, present and potential risks that the current project faced, is currently facing or will face in the near future and list any important risks inherent in the communications management plan.  

Step 6:  Every work involves some cost and in your communication management you should itemize the costs associated with communications. For example, you should have a list of cost associated with conference calls , video conferences, instant messages such as AIM, your and team members time in preparing reports, cost of using other facilities etc.

Step 7:  The final step is to review your plan before you finalize it. Here is a check list of your communication management plan.

  • List of your stakeholders and your detail plan on their communication needs
  • Organizational type such as projectized, functional or matrix
  • Document any geographic or multicultural requirements
  • If you are working with a remote team make sure remote team requirements are met
  • Document use of technology against your stakeholders’ access and technical skills
  • Check to be sure your stakeholders are assigned appropriately to the reports, meetings, and other communications types according to role, level of detail, and personal communication preferences
  • Review all the levels of communication and do not overburden stakeholders with too much or too little information

Your communication plan also should include the communication methods such as formal, informal, verbal and written. You communicate internally and externally to the project team and vertically and horizontally within the company. Use the following guidelines for selecting a communication method. However, please remember that every organization is different and you need to take into account your company’s processes and procedures for conducting work and communications.

Formal written:  Project charter, reports to the management, project management plans, communicating between divisions etc.

Formal verbal: Presentations and speeches

Informal written: Notes, e-mails, memos, status updates among team members, online chat etc.

Informal verbal: Conversations, meetings, discussion and often water cooler gossip  

In step 3, we will discuss about project changes and  how you manage a change.

About the Author

Amit is a Silicon Valley based project management consultant. He is a PMI certified Project Management professional (PMP) and a Certified Scrum Master. He has a bachelor degree in aeronautical engineering and MBA with over 20 years of experience in many areas such as Aerospace engineering, Software development, Project management, Products / Projects development, Offshore development, Strategic management, International business development etc. He is also an experienced scrum master with over 30 projects. He has experience in teaching Scrum practices to multiple groups that evolved into agile teams delivering quality software.
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11 Responses to “Project communication and how to create a communication management plan”

  1. Excellent coverage of an important topic.

  2. Thanks Rosemary. Many project mangers think comunication means organizing status meetings.

  3. Thanks Amit for presenting the subject in a simple easy to understand manner for anyone.While you have touched upon some of the basic issues,some more (possible overlap with your text):-

    a)As part of understanding cultural aspects, it is important for the PM to understand and manage various stakeholders – their personalities,respective styles of leadership/management,whats in it for each of them (WIIFT),what their priorities are;where are the potential clash of priorities/interests ( these are RISKs)and managing them efficiently to achieve project and organizational goals.

    b)Identification and Involvement of all stakeholders at early stage-so problems,issues are thrown up,debated and addressed and all have a common understanding (managing expectations)

    c)Being frank,transparent and admitting what you don’t know and seek advice,inputs when necessary.

    d) Constantly ask oneself when faced with a problem-what is the impact,risk?what are the possible solutions,which appears to be the best course of action and why? and then be able to articulate these thoughts verbally and in writing.

  4. Thanks Mohan for the added points.

  5. In anything on this earth, communication is very important. How much more with project management? It gives people tell their minds and suggests what they think is good to the project. A good communication in a team could lead the project to success.

  6. So hard to put in place but so well written and so right!

  7. Communication is many actions and is achieved through many different functions and methods. To consider communication as just a meeting or a conversation is very short sighted.

    When completing my degree, Cmmunication was a significant study subject and a major requirement across all business management. Without going into to too much theory the learning for me, albeit some 20 years ago, was that there are five forms of communication that is necessary when considering a holistice approach to information sharing.
    Mechanistic : sender to receiver
    Psychological :feeling and thoughts surrounding the communication
    Social Constructionist Interaction and sharing without constraints.
    Systemic: May include organization communication systems and best practices such as auditing, monitoring, review and reflection.
    Critical: control,s monitors, in keeping with the organizational beliefs and values, – positive and negative.

    So how do we achieve all the above, very simple : Good business plans and principles. Solid and concise meeting and exchange of ideas. Meetings that reflect the progress and reflect honest facts of the progress. Establish team behavioral expectations that is measurable and accountable.

  8. Keeping tight control of your project schedule and meeting your deliverable deadlines will go a long way to keeping project stakeholders happy. An effective project leader will be available to his or her team during all phases of the project in order to assure they have all the information and supplies necessary to meet these goals. Should they fall behind it is the project manager’s responsibility to find out why and correct the reasons for the shortcoming.

  9. With respect to the issue on stakeholder management, it is an absolute fundamental to lay the foundations of the project on a positive note. An unspoken rule by nature, it would be effective to create a plan, which avoids foreseeable problems; rather than tackling them as they come along – this would inevitably place a constant strain on resources, and also showing a clear indication of poor management.

  10. There are many facets of loss management. Some are personal, but much is devoted to asset management, principles and theory. In order to adopt the best practice for your organization a thorough research on asset management and loss prevention is required. This usuall falls under the Safety and Security practice for a company.

  11. I have tried a number of PM packages including MS Project but haven’t really got on with anything. Does anyone have any personal recommendations? Do I just need to pick a package and stick with it until I get used to using it?

    At the moment I am trying to hack together some things with Google Docs to create a bespoke package that suits my needs. Has anyone done this successfully and have any tips?

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