A communications plan helps you get the message across about your project. I’ve worked on projects where the comms plan was a list of dates and what newsletter would be sent out when. That’s OK for a project with basic messages and a small stakeholder group, but it’s often far better to take a strategic approach with a bit of proper communications planning, even on small projects. Here’s a quick guide to the important 7 steps in making a communications plan.
1. Understand the project environment
Your project isn’t taking place in a vacuum so it’s important to understand the overall project environment. Is it the biggest thing your company is working on, with lots of management oversight and people asking you to write status updates all the time? Or is it a small, tactical project that won’t affect many people?
And what about the culture of the business? Is there a culture of openly sharing status, even if the results aren’t that good? Or do project managers typically keep information to themselves as a misguided attempt to keep power?
Knowing what sort of environment you are working in is important for getting project communications right. You don’t have to write this stuff down – just think it through before you start and if it’s appropriate, have a discussion with others on the team to get a common view.
2. Identify the stakeholders
Who is going to be getting these project messages? You’ll probably have already done stakeholder analysis on your project, so get out that stakeholder matrix and check that you can communicate to all of them. And if you’ve identified any new groups, get them on the matrix!
3. Set your goals
What are you trying to achieve through your project communications? You’ll find it is a mix of things including:
- Raise awareness of the project
- Provide information for decision making
- Inform people of project status
- Get support for the project and/or secure resources
And probably other things. Write these down and get them agreed.
4. Define the approach
Your goals form the basis of your strategic approach. If your overall communication goal is to raise awareness about the project, then your approach could be to make communications as far-reaching and inclusive as possible. If your major goal is to secure funding for Phase 2 of your project, then your communications will be more targeted and focus on the people who need to understand the benefits and who control the cash.
5. Define the messages
So what are you going to say? Ideally everyone on the team should be consistently repeating the same thing – the project benefits, for example. If you have one group saying one thing (“The project will finish in December”) and another saying something else (“The project will take 6 months unless there are any change requests”) people will get confused. And confused is something you don’t want your stakeholders to be.
Make sure everyone on your project team understands the importance of the party line. And knows what that is!
6. Create a plan
You know who you are communicating to and what the important messages are: now you have to plan to actually do it. Create a schedule of activities ensuring that key messages make it out to the right people at the right time. Book the relevant workshops, town hall meetings and presentations now, and if you need to put time aside to write Frequently Asked Question documents or similar then block that out in your diary now too.
Incorporate these key dates into your main project schedule so that you don’t overlook key dates.
7. Assess what worked
Communication isn’t over when you hit ‘Send’. Make sure you factor in some time to assess whether your communication activity was successful. This is as easy as asking the people who got the message whether they understood it and will take action as a result. Even better, wait a month or so and see if they can remember anything about your project then!