The Ultimate Guide to Effective Communication Plans

communications management technical Sep 26, 2021
The Ultimate Guide to Effective Communication Plans

According to the PMBOK® Guide, communications is 75-90% of the work of a project manager.  However, it's important to note that it is not just about talking. The work of a project manager includes writing reports, giving presentations, engaging with stakeholders, conducting meetings, training, mentoring, and of course, a large dose of active listening. In addition, other core or extended team members are often responsible for communications such as facilitating meetings, providing training, and writing documentation.

Unfortunately for many projects, communications planning is either weak or forgotten entirely. On the other hand, even small projects can benefit from communications which go beyond the weekly status report.  So here are the five steps to take to develop a solid, engaging, and complete communications plan.

  1. Stakeholder Analysis  Communication planning starts with a thorough stakeholder analysis.  While conducting your stakeholder analysis, be sure to determine what communications stakeholders are expecting and how they expect to receive them. For example, senior executives may want a project dashboard providing the big picture while end users may expect to receive a users guide and training on how to use the product or service to be provided.  Be sure this information goes into your stakeholder register.
  2. Message Platform  The idea of a message platform comes from branding and marketing.  It is likely you may have to "sell" the idea of your project at many stages - to doubtful stakeholders, concerned executives, and those that can take away project funding - so don't skip this step. It will also bring focus and clarity to all communications. Your message platform should consist of 4 key items:

    • Tagline - a short and catchy phrase that can sum up your project in just a few words.
    • Elevator pitch - expand that tagline idea into a 30-60 second statement you can give in response to questions like "What are you working on?" or "What's your project all about?" Be sure to rehearse it so the delivery is natural and confident.
    • Key Messages with Proof Points - What are 4-6 of the big ideas you want people to know about your project? Many of the should focus on benefits, but there is room to promote other successes along the way and communicate the importance of your project.  Write these down and back them up with 4-6 proof points - evidence that stresses the importance of achieving these benefits and facts that support your statement.
    • Branding  - Everyone's email inbox and agenda is full these days. Consider creating a logo and/or document theme that will make your communications stand out when your messages arrive or are delivered.

  3. Message Strategy - Now divide up your project into phases and key milestones and consider the largest communication needs that fit into each.  For example, during the closing phase, you may want to begin to transition project ownership to the client.  During execution you may want to focus on the importance of completing the project. As part of planning, you may want to begin to socialize the project and start communicating with key stakeholders regarding benefits. Document 4-6 key communication needs, presentations, meetings, or other things you want to accomplish in that phase.
  4. Message Tactics - There are many different ways to communicate, so for those needs listed in your strategy, begin to pair them with how they will be delivered.  Emails, phone calls, meetings, presentations, reports, and more should be included.  Some key communication needs may require more than one means of delivery.
  5. Write the Plan - Now it is time to write the plan. Starting with your strategy and tactics, start to fill in the specific communications that will be delivered.  Include any regular meetings, reports, or updates.  And be sure to include all the details.  For example, the big idea of project turnover may need a meeting, key documentation, and training sessions.

Your final plan should be specific, and include information such as who will develop the communication, who will deliver it, what key messages should be in it, and when, how, and to whom it will be delivered.  Smaller, simpler projects may be able to just think about the prior steps and jump right to this document.  Larger, complex projects should have sufficient time devoted to complete a comprehensive plan.

Are you ready to develop an effective communication plan?  You may also want to check out 5 Essential Communication Practices for Project Managers and 4 Critical Tools to Improve Project Communications.  And if you need a communication plan template, be sure to check out our downloadable templates.

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