Planning for communication in projects
Project manager / planner tend to overlook certain elements of planning which are essential and are required for Successful delivery of the project. Fundamental factors that contribute to defining success of projects are identifying stakeholder needs, gap assessment, planning, communication, execution, monitoring and closer. The wiki article highlights the role and application of communication plan based on prince 2 best practices methodologies. Communication management strategies and adopted approaches for execution are paramount in defining whether project is a success or a project management success. The emphasis of the article will be on highlighting how having a communication plan contributes towards delivering successful project. The article will consist of all the essential element that are required to design a meticulous communication plan. Project that achieves its desired output identified within its allocated budget covering all of it scope is known to be successful projects. In large corporation, due to abundance of resources and involvement of stakeholders with different area of expertise often complicates the process and simultaneously derails efficiency. Communication planning in project plays an important role in mitigating this risk; therefore, it is essential that the project manager hired are also experienced in designing communication plan and understand the role of communication in project. A project management professional will have the acumen and the knowledge to assess gaps and connect dots through gap analysis activity but equally important is also his ability to communicate with both internal and external stakeholders in the project.
Role of communication plan in project
Larger corporation due to its size and cross functional integration of its different department is often encountered with the dilemma of long-delays in project and over expenditure of budget, resources, and time. In certain cases, quality of deliverables in compromised and few of the project fails to achieve its desired output. All of this is essential part of project, and often basic understanding of communication and designing a plan can potentially address most of these challenges. Communication management plan are documents drafted at the start of the project which identifies key stakeholders need, their interest and involvement in project. The frequency at which communication will be shared, mediums and tools that will be used through the project for communication. The stakeholder in projects where stakeholder engagement and management are required is also a part of the document. if implemented and controlled well, communication management plans serve as a key factor in limiting over expenditure of budget in the project and limiting scope creeps. Setting clear Communication management approach and defining strategies at the initial stage of the project is principal in delivering successful project. Due to lack of resources or perhaps lack of understanding on the potential gains, it is often the case that the communication management approach in the project gets overlooked. The impact of this is significant, as it easily unsettles the whole project management plan and causes unnecessary delays or nuisance through different stakeholders. As a part of project planning, Project managers are required to create a document which acts as a guideline and as a standard for communication during the project. The document includes some exclusive information about the project, including stakeholders both internal and external. Information such as they are in favor or against the project, what role they must play and where they belong in the hierarchy highlighting, their overall influence. Communication management approach provides a road map strategy to project manager in relation to communication establishing a bidirectional and a controlled flow of information.
Elements of communication plan
How does it work, and is it as simple and self-explanatory as it is described above? What are the essentials required to create a comprehensive Communication management plan and are there best practices templates available that could be useful? Communication management plan is based on documentation, which includes basic but essential information that is required to be shared and communicated throughout the project. The plan allows Project manager and other stakeholders in setting blueprint on some fundamentals. They are as follows:
- communication procedure
- Tools, and technique
- Records and logs
- Timing of communication activities
- Stakeholder matrix
- Roles and responsibilities
- Scale priority and severity
- stakeholder analysis
Communication plan brief
Based on prince 2 project management methodology plan, a comprehensive communication plan consists of nine different segments, which ensures all areas of communication are covered and are well in corporate within the project brief and initiation phase. The first segment Introduction is used as a general brief highlighting how communication will be conducted through and during the project. The approach which will be adopted underlying the objectivity behind working with communication management approach. A Strong introduction from project management prospective, ensures that strong base is set for the document.
Communication briefs are targeted for large group of audience, and it is essential that brief is well documented. A well complied communication will clearly specify strategy, communication goals and content that could be expected in the communication plan. Beside this, it will also contain information on background of the project, target audience, communication objectives and potential draw back / challenges, if the project team fails to adopt and implement the communication plan. Essentially, the purpose of the brief/ introduction is to introduce the communication plan with a consistent voice and strong message focusing on potential benefits. Figure 1 below is sample collect to display good practice of communication plan introduction.
The second segment marks the communication procedure that will be adopted and is in line with the strategy of communication for both internal and external stakeholders. The key is in consideration for the project manager here is evaluate where they can potentially apply the principles of Stakeholder engagement and management. Every corporation is entitled to adopt and implement its best fit procedure. Considering best practices, procedures should always be in line with the overall communication goals ensuring that procedure documented in the plan provides with an effective feedback loop between stakeholders .
Communication procedure provides a guideline to the project team with handling of information on the project. In many ways, it serves well in refreshing memories on team member with standard protocol they are expected to follow and maintain throughout the project, especially in case of confidential information. In summary, communication procedure not just signifies the channel or medium of communication but also enable team streamline communication needs while refreshing memory on communication policies and protocol like file sharing (FTP), User datagram (EDP), internet message process protocol (IMAP) and simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) .
Tools and techniques
The third part of the document is related to tools and technique that will be used throughout the project to share information with ease and effectively. This could be in form of portal, website and dashboards builds to communicate on specific topics related to the project which piques interest of stakeholder at all phases of the project. Communication tools can be software that are used by broader audience in the project such as MS team for virtual meetings. Microsoft outlook for any communication over email, share point for sharing project documents and other form relative material. Every tool mention has a specific purpose and hence they need to carefully select based on the objectivity of communication. In addition, project board needs to ensure that the tool selected and recommended for communication are reliable, secure, compatible and provides easy user interface and can easily secure project team member . Techniques selected for communication are more tailored and project specific. Some of the general techniques used in project communication are verbal, non-verbal, and visual technique’s which includes common practices like seminars, power point presentation, workshops, reports, and standup meetings .
The fourth segment the project managers / planners are required to elaborate and refer to all the potential documents to be used during the project for communication purposes. Projects should never be considered in isolation, as there are multiple activities that are required to be completed for a milestone. Each activity presents its own unique challenges, and due to large project team and fast-paced environment, there is a risk that the information discovered during an activity can be lost. Based on best practices logs and project documents such as highlight report, end stage report, issue reports and other form of register are used to mitigate this risk. This is also a part of communication management plans, where project team are informed and familiarized with all necessary document that are planned to be used during the project. Communication logs and register serves the purpose of storing information, simultaneously keeping track on all communication activities in the project. In addition, it helps and secure that all information is always informed, and project team are well onboarded on project objectives .
Timing of communication activities
Setting up clear guidelines on communication activities is an essential element in communication plan. Project often produce a lot of information and if the information not well planned, there is often a risk of over wheeling stakeholders with overflow of information in the project. Frequency along with medium of communication shall be considered during the planning phase of the project. For example, at the end of each stage of project, formal communication in form of end of stage report should be shared with the project board These activities can either be planned with a physical interaction between stakeholders or be supported through a hybrid model. The fundamental of this activity is to facilitate expectation management. Each stakeholder involved in the team have reasonable level of expectations and stake in the project. The significance of this step is kept them involved at agreed timeline assuring that their expectations will be met in due time and to mitigate the risk of escalation and other form of turbulence in project such as dis information or lack of understanding on a specific milestone .
Reports/ Stakeholder matrix
Based on the work done in the previous two section, stakeholder matrix section in the communication plan is formulation and process to document communication medium (report), frequency and recipient of communication. Project manager that can read and understand the need of their audience often are the more successful. The process to streamline communication activities inform of map, helps project manager to always stay connected to the key member. In defining stakeholder matrix, some of the most recommended question PM/ planner needs to specify are:
Who – who is the main recipient of the information
What – what needs to be communicated to the recipient
When - what will the frequency and what instance in the project
How – what will the medium used for communication, either a report or a power point presentation.
Stakeholder matrix can be considered as quality control checklist, through which PM ensures that they have not overlooked and missed any communication activity planned. The stakeholder matrix in a communication plan safeguards misalignments on deliverable by keeping stakeholder informed and involved. Moreover, the project team are also educated and synchronized on key stakeholders’ interest in the project. Beside this, it also ensures that the stakeholder only receive the information that is most relevant and valuable .
Roles & responsibilities
The section in communication plan emphasis of defining point of contact (POC) for different group of stakeholders in the project based on their expectation. Point of contact assigned in the plan are responsible to led communication with stakeholders. In practice, the aim for this section is to ensure that everyone in the project team is clear and informed in advance on the responsibilities, reducing risk of in efficiencies and miscommunication at certain stage of project.
Project management methodologies supports the ideology of having distinct skill set in the team, where individuals part of the team can directly or indirectly create an influence on the overall communication strategy. The best practice approach to communication highlights the importance of having a communication team approach. The different members of team are delegated with different responsibilities based on the core competence, and it’s not necessary that all member in the team is responsible to led and share information. For example, certain member of the team can be selected based on their relationship management skills, while other are selected based on their skills in documentation and social media .
Scales: Priority & Severity
In the next part of communication plan, it is important to define the project management methodology that will be adopted to prioritize specific of the project. The challenge with misalignment on project deliverable and issue related to “scope creep” often derails the project. It creates great level of misunderstanding and often led to project failure. Communication plans an essential part in mitigating of this risk, provided if in advance the key prioritization methodology adopted is communicated and explained to all stakeholders.
Moreover, simultaneously it is important to also document the severity level and focal point for each level. For example. if there is a challenge with a deliverable of the project but not classified as high risk then if could be addressed through Project leader. If the severity of the issue is high, then it needs to be address through Project manager. Setting severity level at start specify guidelines and clear boundaries for project team eliminating risk of multiple stakeholders addressing the same challenge at the same instance .
The final part of the project to linked directly to the “Report/stakeholder Matrix” section 6. The aim with this section to match the stakeholder needs with relevant documents of prince 2, which can be potentially used for reporting purposes. Often, it is recommended that the project manager is responsible to communicate to the project board on an agreed frequency. The prince 2 documentations are used as a standard, and in domains where external stakeholders are involved, the documentation for that is also identified and tailored based on requirements and confidentially of information that is required to be shared . Stakeholder analysis in communication is a collective summary of stakeholders and by product of all segments of plan. Stakeholders’ analysis is based on information collected, mapping of stakeholder groups, understanding of specific need, influence and prioritization enable PM to monitor and control communication throughout the project. It provides the managers and other stakeholder with strategic framework on planned communication approach., stakeholder analysis in communication plan is of substantial value and have influence on ensuring that stakeholders of influence are always satisfied, contributing towards overall success of project.
Consolidation of information in one document (Visualizing)
Beside collection, analysis and evaluation of the data collected by the planner or the project manager, it is essential that the plan design is easily understandable, easy to follow and does not required lot of effort for control and monitoring. The prince 2 project management methodology includes a very simple template that are recommend for the use specific to planning of communication plan. The figure below shows the template on Communication management plan / approach adopted in prince 2 methodology.
The communication plan shared above to base on a sample pen project, all the essential element that are required, explained, and driven through different activities in the process are well represented and documented. The template offers ease of use, multiple user accessibility as it’s a live document and can be shared with the team member through share point. Project managers are recommended to use this template for communication planning. All element that required to create this plan and their derivation process is explained above in depth.
Furthermore, it is also recommended that project manager tailor the template depending on the need and size of the project. Certain element of the plan might not be required, in such cases project manager can remove them for the template as seen fit for the project. Beside this, there might be instances in the project where it is required to modify communication plan based on unseen circumstances or shift in strategy. Project manager should not be skeptical to modify or change their plans, provided it is aligned internally and communicated to all stakeholders.
Planning for communication has a significant impact on the overall successful delivery of the project. Communication comes in many different spectrums, hence it is substantial to understand and plan for what needs to be communicated, where when and how. No project team are immune to (Scope creeps), people that can potentially impact or influence the project scope during the process. Communication plan in such cases acts as boundary and remind all key stakeholders of commitment made at the initial phase of the project. Moreover, communication plan helps project team to identify gaps well in advance, this allows them plan for the gap and ensure that project is not encountered with unnecessary delays. A well-articulated comprehensive communication plan helps the project team to stay focused and allows them to led communication activities with clarity in thought process and in line of key objectives. Few of the many notable benefits of using communication plan in project management are alignment with all stakeholders, team cohesion, secured and trustworthy input and feedback loop, accountability, assurance on project milestones and less inefficiencies such as meetings or other form of verbal forum for updates on progress.
- ↑ Communication Brief template https://katrinaolson.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Communication-Brief-Template.pdf
- ↑ How does a project manager develop a communication plan (a section of a project plan). How does a project manager develop a communication plan (a section of a project plan.
- ↑ Communcaiton (ISO 9001 Procedure).https://www.iso-9001-checklist.co.uk/communication-procedure.htm#:~:text=What%20Is%20A%20Communication%20Procedure,various%20parties%20that%20affect%20quality
- ↑ Communication protocols https://www.techopedia.com/definition/25705/communication-protocol#:~:text=Popular%20protocols%20include%3A%20File%20Transfer,Mail%20Transfer%20Protocol%20(SMTP).
- ↑ What are some communication tools and technique that you use or recommend for project management https://www.linkedin.com/advice/0/what-some-communication-tools-techniques-1c
- ↑ Communication works for those who work at it https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/techniques-communicate-project-stakeholders-asia-7060
- ↑ Martech https://www.techfunnel.com/martech/essential-marketing-communication-tools-good-marketing-campaign/
- ↑ Communication register https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/techniques-communicate-project-stakeholders-asia-7060
- ↑ Communication planning https://opentextbc.ca/projectmanagement/chapter/chapter-15-communications-planning-project-management/
- ↑ Stakeholder communicaitons Matrix http://www.bawiki.com/wiki/Stakeholder-Communications-Matrix.html
- ↑ Highlight Report https://prince2.wiki/management-products/highlight-report/
- ↑ Risk communication Toolkit https://rct-1.itrcweb.org/
- ↑ Strategic communications framework for effective communications. Geneva : Department of communication
- ↑ Who really matters . Victoria : AgEcon Search
- ↑ Communication Management Approach https://prince2.wiki/management-products/communication-management-approach/