Brilliant communication can make a difference to the success of any project, helping to engage the project stakeholders and the wider elements of the business.
Communication planning can be seen as a process, one for which the PM is ultimately responsible. Because of its’ importance in garnering support, communication planning and execution is often seen as one of the most important components within a project. Starving the stakeholder community of information is one sure fire way to set your project upto fail. Unfortunately communications is often one of the hardest things to get right, it can affect performance, and important internal and external relationships.

Fundamentally communications planning is all about

• Agreeing what information needs to be shared
• Agreeing who that information is to be shared with
• Agreeing how the information will be shared
• Agreeing the frequency of when the information will be shared

While the communications plan will be to an extent determined by project specifics such as size, complexity, spread and so on. The process is fairly standard whatever the project you’re working on.

Expectations: The communication plan helps in setting up the standards for the method and frequency of communication during the project execution. It helps in controlling the project better by ensuring that the project stakeholders get all the pertinent information on time. The communication plan would help in setting up the communication standards such as the methods of communication – email, telecons, memos, meetings etc. Scheduling meetings, ensuring the participation of the members can be taken care about with a good communication plan.

Consistency: An effective communication plan ensures that the project is handled consistently. The communication is consistent and the stakeholders receive the same information in connection to the project requirements, change requests, specifications etc. This is essential for the project success if the stakeholders do not have the same project requirements or are not aware about the changes, then this would result in project delay, errors and increased project risks.

Productivity: If the project team members get regular information on the project details, updates, changes etc. then the overall productivity increases. This is because they would be aware of the progress, the changes, the delivery dates, the plans and so on making it easier for them to execute their tasks. They would be having all the pertinent information needed for project delivery without having to spend time gathering missing information.

Results: The communication plan assists the project manager in leading the team towards the successful project delivery. Having clear, unambiguous communication between all the stakeholders would help in identifying the project requirements better and in turn help in greater collaboration between the project team.
Reducing risk: Every project comes with its own specific risks. When it comes to consulting projects the risks are manifold and can range from technical issues, resource unavailability, bandwidth problems or even external factors. This risk elements along with the difficulty of working external service provider or consultants would mean additional issues. But this can be substantially reduced by establishing a solid communications plan and implementing it.

Which information to share?

This is typically determined by the type of stakeholder – for example your project sponsor will have different needs from a user of your deliverable who in turn will have different needs to that of a external supplier. Part of this is will be determined through understanding expectations and partly by reviewing the standard set of project documents and reports and consider their usage. For example – your top level schedule may be widely shared while your budget details may not be

Who needs what?

Using a matrix of key stakeholders and stakeholder groups you can swiftly determine what information needs to go where. Often this is determined by “as needed” approach – do be careful though – you can sometimes fall into the trap of constraining sharing of information (often driven by fear of people knowing too much! And senior managers ending up micro-managing!).

How to share?

Usually your inundated with opporutnities to share information – this typically isn’t the problem (choosing the right one is!). Your options include:
Email, Meetings, Video, roadshows, posters, Memo’s, Newsletters.

How often to update?

Now you have the who and the what and the how you need to consider the when. Again this often depends on the stakeholder group for example your stakeholder group might need monthly updates, key consumers of your deliverable might need weekly updates, suppliers might need less frequent. (consider here how frequently the information you will share changes and it’s importance to it’s recipient).
While crucially important to your project planning your communications should be overly difficult (use our communication plan template to give you a headstart). Consider your communication strategy early on in your project, review the who, what, how, when approach. Effective communications planning is essential – remember if you skip it (or get it badly wrong) you can really cause yourself problems later on, so put the time in upfront to get it off to a good start.

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