A strong communications plan dictates the flow of information and ideas between project stakeholders. Knowing how to put the right plan in place for your team will help your project succeed. This guide will show you what a communications plan is and take you through each step for creating one.
What is a project communication plan?
A communication plan sets out how ideas, information, and concerns flow between all project stakeholders. An essential part of project communications management, it puts in place a standard operating procedure that each team member can follow. The level of detail and complexity in your communication plan will vary by project. It should inform your team how to communicate, with what frequency, and who to loop in when.
Why create a communication plan?
You should put together a communication plan at the beginning of a project when you are still in the project planning phase. If everyone involved knows what to expect, the plan will ensure faster and more effective collaboration and higher-quality results.
Writing a solid communication plan will help your team avoid mistakes, misconceptions, and delays. Taking the time to develop a thoughtful communication plan can help you avoid:
- Unnecessary meetings
- Project derailment
- Delays due to too much or poorly conceived communications that cause confusion
Communication plan components.
When you are ready to prepare a communication plan for your project, consider some basic components. Make sure you think through and anticipate the entire project’s communication requirements from the beginning to the end. Some components you should include are:
- Cadence: This refers to frequency. How often should stakeholders anticipate an update? Think about what is reasonable to provide enough information but not overwhelm the recipient of the message.
- Audience: Who needs to receive updates? Is the audience different for various steps or milestones of the project? Think about which stakeholders to include in a chat versus a regular email update.
- Purpose: What is the point of the communication? Whether to provide a regular update or give the specifics of a change, you should provide a clear reason for the communication. It should be as concise and clear as possible.
- Channel: This is where you will map out how to share communications. With so many technologies available, it is important to think about when it is most appropriate to use a phone call, email, or chat feature.
- Updates: Projects change over time, and your communication plan will need to reflect those shifts. Make sure to review and update the plan when needed—and inform all stakeholders when a change to the plan is necessary.
How to create a communication plan.
When you sit down to write the communication plan, make sure you consider what format to use. Many templates are available that might work well for you and your team. Pick one that will help your stakeholders easily understand expectations and provide necessary feedback or ask questions.
With your format selected, you can begin the steps to create your communication plan. The steps outlined below are guidelines. You will need to tailor these to your own project needs.
1. Determine the project communication goals.
Your communication plan should state what you want your communications to achieve. It may be as simple as providing necessary updates, or it may be much more complicated, but you need to articulate clear goals.
When identifying goals, consider every step of the project—all the tasks, needed resources, and potential pitfalls. Getting initial feedback from your team here is a good idea.
2. Identify stakeholders in and outside of your team.
A project will have stakeholders on your internal team and outside your team. Each stakeholder might need a different level of communication. In this section, list everyone. You should include each team member with a role in the project, other teams that might contribute, the CEO, the client, and anyone else with a stake in the project.
3. Establish the purpose and content of the communication.
Everyone is busy, and you do not want to waste their time with unnecessary meetings or confusing communications. Your communication plan is the perfect place to outline expectations for why and how each stakeholder communicates. Make sure to outline what to include in that communication. At a minimum, every communication should inform, educate, or ask for feedback.
4. Determine communication methods and preferences.
When deciding how to communicate, keep in mind how to balance effective communication without slowing down productivity. In some instances, it is also helpful to think about how a stakeholder prefers to communicate.
You should also consider how best to relay information in certain circumstances. Meetings are sometimes useful for gathering feedback at once, rather than exchanging days’ worth of emails. On the other hand, communicating about a change request with a client may be best over email or phone. You may find it easiest to keep team members up to date on projects over a dashboard.
5. Set a communication schedule.
State how often stakeholders should send certain communications. In some situations, this may mean a regular email on project updates and progress. Communication between team members will typically be more frequent than contact with the CEO or the client.
Make sure stakeholders know who is responsible for each communication to avoid confusion and overlapping contacts. If the communication is supposed to happen regularly, for example, a weekly email update from the project manager to the CEO, schedule that onto a calendar or task manager.
Once you have your plan, each team member will know when, how, and why to communicate with other stakeholders on the project. It’s the project manager’s job to manage and enforce the plan throughout the project lifecycle.
To improve communication, stick to the plan.
Good communication between stakeholders improves project outcomes. Giving stakeholders the tools to communicate when sharing information or asking for feedback keeps them involved, connected, and productive. It also helps avoid miscommunication, frustration, and costly mistakes. The tips outlined above will help you increase collaboration and get the work done.