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An introduction to communications plans

Image (c) Five Wun o Clothing

Does your project have a communications plan?  It’s often something that less experienced project managers forget to do, although even experienced project managers can find themselves half way through a project without a clear communications approach.

The purpose of a communications plan is to define all the people or groups who have an interest in the project and to document how and when they communicate with, or receive communication from, the project.

Who needs to receive communication?

The first step is to work out who your project interacts with.  You probably have a list of stakeholders already, so use those.  Don’t forget any groups of people or external parties.  The marketing department, for example, could be one entire group – you don’t have to list everyone in that team.  Equally, you may have to deal with a government body; an external stakeholder maybe represented by one named individual who is your main point of contact.  Make sure all these people and groups are on your list.

Plan how to manage each individual or group

Establish the following for each entry on your stakeholder list:

  • What information do they require?
  • Who will provide that information?
  • How often do they need it (or how often is it produced)?
  • How will it be communicated?

So, let’s take your project steering group as an example.  It is probably made up of 3 to 5 senior managers and let’s say you all meet monthly to review progress.  We can answer the questions above for them like this:

  • They require a status update on how the project is going against the agreed scope, timescale and budget.  They also require copies of the minutes from steering group meetings.
  • The project manager will provide the information.
  • They need to see the status update in advance of the steering group meeting, on a monthly basis.  The minutes of steering group meetings will be circulated within 3 days of the meeting taking place.
  • The status update will be produced in Excel format and will be emailed to each member of the steering group.  The minutes will be produced in Word format and will also be sent out by email to each member of the steering group.

The more experience you have at managing projects the less likely it is that you will need to document every last thing that needs to be communicated.  However, even experienced project managers work to a communications plan.  You can put communications milestones in your project plan: send out steering group minutes, send out Marketing briefing, circulate user guide and so on.

Image (c) Five Wun o Clothing

Don’t forget non-written communication

Don’t forget that not all communication has to be written.  You can also include on your communications plan people with whom you communicate verbally.  Face-to-face meetings count as communication.  Telephone calls count as communication.  They may not be so formal as a briefing note that you write and send out on email but they are more appropriate for some audiences.

Finally, establish who needs to communicate with you.  Your project sponsor should be passing down information that is relevant, and other people or groups will need to keep you informed. They may not be as organised as you are, so make a note on the communications plan to chase them for updates when you need them!

Key Tip

Communication is important to all projects, so make sure you know who and what you need to communicate at every stage.

A version of this article appeared on PMTips.net in December 2008.

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