Having a well-thought-out and documented communications management plan from the very beginning of a project can often mean the difference between success and failure.
Too often project managers (PMs) approach their projects without planning communications. They may focus all their communication efforts on issuing status reports. Status reports are, of course, important, but all they do is describe where your project currently stands: they don’t address the communication needs of the project from beginning to end. Given how crucial communication is to the project and project team, a failure to plan communications can lead to misunderstandings, rework, and other problems.
Planning communication on the project doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does require some thought. You need to consider all the communications required of you and everyone involved on the project. Doing so will keep the project deadline on track (think of all the delays communication problems can cause!) and can help you prepare for any obstacles the project encounters along the way. Such planning will guide you and the team in creating information that is clear and understandable, reaches the right people, and allows stakeholders to take action when necessary.
Six Considerations for Planning Project Communications
Here are a few suggestions to consider as you plan communication on your projects:
Contemplate how to communicate.
Think through the different types and methods of communication available, and make sure you choose the best approach for each item that needs to be communicated. Information can be communicated in different ways—formally or informally, written or verbal—and through a variety of methods. What’s important is that you stop and consider what approach to use for the different communication needs of the project.
Analyze stakeholders’ communication requirements.
Keep in mind the phrase “to each their own.” Ask your stakeholders how they prefer to give and receive information, and try to follow their preferences—within reason. As the PM, you will likely need to communicate to individuals on your team using several different methods. Although this may mean extra work, it can be worth the effort if it prevents communication problems in the long run. You want to do everything you can to prevent miscommunication, especially miscommunication that can be avoided by asking a simple question like, “How would you like me to pass this information to you?”
Consider the company culture and existing systems.
You also need to take the company’s culture and expectations into consideration when planning project communications. If people in the organization are resistant to technology, for example, that’s probably going to impact your thinking about what types of communication tools or software to include on the project. Similarly, the company may already have existing systems and programs in place that you’re going to need or want to make use of for communicating.
Refer to lessons learned from past projects.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Instead, draw on existing procedures, issues, and lessons learned from past projects. Assessments of what has and has not worked in the past can be a great help for communication planning.
Take advantage of available communication technology.
Modern collaboration tools such as Trello and others can help keep project communication and the team organized. Such tools help the team track progress on deliverables and allow the team to communicate about the schedule and other project concerns. These tools might document deadlines, ownership of tasks, updates, and time span required to complete tasks.
Follow the plan.
Make sure everyone knows about the communications management plan and how important it is to the project. Then, make sure you follow the plan in your own communications, and constantly refer the team back to the plan until the habit becomes ingrained.
You can’t plan for everything, and many unique situations will surface throughout your projects that you may not have anticipated. But planning and documenting in advance how you’ll communicate on a project—including how you’ll communicate around these unexpected situations—will help your projects run more smoothly.